Republicans ignore map fairness
It was obvious Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both Lima Republicans, were driving the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s plan to ignore a vote-approved constitutional amendment to draw fair state legislative districts.
They seemed content to forego bipartisan support on 10-year maps. Instead they drew four-year legislative maps that don’t reflect voting trends in Ohio, which was a major item the commission was supposed to consider.
Despite the concerns expressed by the three other Republicans on the seven-member board — Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber — to maps that unfairly favor their political party, they went along for the ride and voted for the maps.
Thursday, some organizations filed a lawsuit challenging state district maps’ constitutionality.
Cleveland.com even recently published a story noting the possibility of removing commission members for violating oaths of office through a costly and obscure citizen petition effort. But that seems highly unlikely.
The two Democrats on the commission — House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and her father, state Sen. Vernon Sykes, both of Akron — saw the Republican gerrymandering issue coming.
When maps with even more Republican districts were proposed Sept. 9, Emilia Sykes said Republicans often introduce outrageous proposals to make the ones they really have in mind seem more reasonable.
The original maps proposed by Republicans gave that party 67 House districts to 32 for Democrats and 25 of the 33 Senate districts.
The maps approved last week, a few minutes after the deadline, gave Republicans 65 House districts and 23 Senate districts, though Huffman contends Republicans have the advantage in 62 House districts. Either way, the Republicans keep their supermajority.
The current makeup of the House is 65 Republicans to 34 Democrats and the Senate is 25 Republicans to 8 Democrats. New maps would make the tiniest changes in legislative makeup.
New lines are supposed to reflect statewide partisan election voting trends over the past decade favoring Republicans 54 percent to 46 percent for Democrats.
We didn’t get close.
Republicans had the gall to say since they won 13 out of the last 16 statewide elections, they were justified in giving as much as 81 percent of the districts to their party.
In Mahoning County, the state House lines largely remained the same except the 59th District, which flipped for the first time to Republicans in 2018, became redder with the addition of three Columbiana County townships.
That new district is 58 percent Republican.
The commission slightly grew the 58th District and kept it solid blue. The district is 64 percent Democratic and includes Youngstown, Austintown, Struthers, Lowellville, Campbell and Coitsville.
The 33rd Senate District got more Republican with the addition of Carroll, a small but very red county. The Senate seat was first won in 2018 by a Republican, Michael Rulli of Salem, and includes all of Mahoning and Columbiana counties. It will now be 54 percent Republican.
There were big changes in Trumbull County.
The current 64th House District leaned Democratic and the Republicans’ original map had it at only 46 percent Democratic. Republicans initially put Warren, the most Democratic city in the county, in a different district with rural communities in Trumbull and Portage counties. That original map, proposed Sept. 9, also had a new 65th District (currently the 63rd) that favored Republicans with it being 47 percent Democratic.
The final map grouped the county’s most Democratic communities into the 64th, including Warren, Girard, Niles, Hubbard, Liberty, McDonald, Weathersfield, Howland and Vienna. The changes resulted in the district going from 46 percent Democratic to 54 percent.
In making that change, the new 65th is now 60 percent Republican. It includes the Trumbull communities not in the 63rd and more than half of Portage County.
State Rep. Mike Loychik of Bazetta, the first Republican to win in the existing 63rd District, should have little trouble getting re-elected next year.
Finally, wait to see how Republicans carve up the congressional districts. Don’t be naive to think they won’t do the same, or worse, with those.
Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.