Throughout their political careers, Lima’s Matt Huffman and Bob Cupp have built well-earned reputations for being able to broker agreements among people who disagree. It’s one of the reasons today why Huffman is president of the Ohio Senate and Cupp speaker of the Ohio House.
Yet, after months of traveling the state’s back roads and highways to offer residents the opportunity to voice concerns about legislative districts, not even Huffman or Cupp could find the magic to reel in a 10-year redistricting map.
The attempt by The Ohio Redistricting Commission to reach an agreement went down to the final hours Wednesday night with members huddling behind closed doors in hopes of meeting the midnight deadline. When they came out, they weren’t holding hands and singing kumbaya.
It was yet another example of today’s world of ultra-partisan politics, where the thought of someone crossing party lines on an issue as important as redistricting is a long-lost wish.
In Ohio’s case, the seven-person commission included five of the state’s top Republicans: Huffman, Cupp, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber. The Democrats had respected voices in Vernon and Emilia Sykes.
Under a constitutional amendment that voters passed in 2018, if commission members approve a map on a party-line vote, the map must be redone in four years. If a proposal is supported by two Democrats as well as two Republicans, the resulting district maps would be in force for the next decade.
The obstacles leading up to the vote were many.
First, there were deadlines set that didn’t mean anything. State officials didn’t receive U.S. Census data until Aug. 11, almost five months late due to coronavirus-related delays from the federal government. Not surprisingly, Republican legislative leaders missed a Sept. 1 deadline to introduce a map for public consideration.
Then more than two dozen map proposals were submitted to the commission by numerous voting rights groups, each arguing their proposal was the best in reflecting voters’ preferences.
“We’ve done the work for you,” Common Cause Ohio Chairman Samuel Gresham told commission members. “And I want to let you know if you adopt another map and we have to go to court, we’re going to use our map to show the difference.”
Others said the current proposals diluted minority votes by “packing and cracking” communities.
“This has been a blatant unfairness for generations,” said the Rev. Joel King, first vice president of the Columbus NAACP.
Jen Miller, the executive director of The League of Women Voters of Ohio, also was vocal about what she called “missing a momentous opportunity” to restore faith among voters. “Ohioans passed redistricting reform in 2015 and 2018 with over 70% of the vote and then showed up in droves pleading for a transparent, bipartisan process that would result in fair, representative maps. Instead, Ohioans got more of the same: a breakdown in the bipartisan process and maps that serve the shortsighted interests of political parties, not voters. Ohioans deserve better,” she told cleveland.com.
Don’t be surprised if there are lawsuits. There usually are when it comes to redistricting. And things are fuzzy.
The Republican members argue that because they have won 13 out of the 16 statewide elections — 81% of the elections — it justifies awarding the GOP anywhere from 54% to 81% of the seats. But even LaRose and DeWine admit there is some shakiness there. Ohio’s new rules also require maps to be politically proportionate with recent vote results, and Republican lawmakers presented a map that would allow the GOP to retain a veto-proof majority.
A lawsuit would be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 split in favor of Republicans. The court has the ability to order changes to the maps or to reject them outright if they find them too flawed.
Maybe Faber provided the best perspective.
“When you draw maps, you have to allocate disappointment,” he said. “The reality is, compared to some other maps we’ve had a choice to go with, this map isn’t that bad. It’s not that good, either.”