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Gerrymandering is cheating. Don’t let them get away with it

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The Republican majority members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Top row from left, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Bottom row from left Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photos.

Missouri Republicans thought they could get away with it.

“Democracy will cease to exist in Missouri,” declared one newspaper editorial, if state Republicans ignore the will of the people on Medicaid expansion. They tried. For over a year. GOP lawmakers turned their backs on a majority of Missouri voters who amended the Missouri Constitution to make thousands more low-income adults eligible for government health insurance. Republicans in Missouri’s legislature refused to implement voter-approved policies on Medicaid until ordered to do so by the state supreme court.

Ohio Republicans think they can get away with it.

Democracy also hangs by a thread in Ohio as state Republicans ignore the will of the people to overhaul how legislative and congressional districts are drawn. Ohioans are fed up with politicians crafting constituencies around party in manipulated districts whose boundaries defy logic. A wide majority of voters amended the Ohio Constitution to reform the redistricting process with criteria for more equitable results. The first test under the new rules came with map-making for Ohio House and Senate districts. Ohio Republicans failed it outright.

They refused to implement the voter-approved redistricting changes outlined in the constitution. The legislative maps produced last week are as bad, if not worse, than the overtly partisan ones party operatives drew a decade ago to rig elections. What’s especially infuriating this time is the cavalier acknowledgement of Republicans that their likely unconstitutional maps will probably be challenged in court. Oh well. If they can get away with another gerrymandered advantage for a couple more election cycles, so much the better. Besides, the GOP spin ludicrously suggested, those redistricting provisions in the Ohio Constitution are more “aspirational” goals than requirements anyway.

But what are Republican politicians saying to us by disregarding the reforms we voted to enact for fairer state districts? Are they saying that our votes don’t matter? That our overwhelming support for two statewide referendums — which mandated fair, competitive districts not drawn to favor one party — was a joke?  How else to view the grating betrayal of public trust displayed by every Republican member of the Ohio redistricting panel who signed off on a flagrantly gerrymandered map of legislative districts that absolutely favored one party?

Five prominent state Republicans turned their backs on the voters of Ohio who spoke loud and clear about curbing the worst redistricting abuses. Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp all approved new House and Senate maps heavily skewed toward the GOP in clear defiance of the letter and spirit of the redistricting amendments that we put in the state constitution. Why vote at all if the party that controls your state just ignores your decision?

Are Ohio Republicans so drunk on power that they consider themselves above the law and unanswerable to the citizens of this state? We demanded change to rein in the extreme gerrymandering that cracked and packed and wildly contorted district boundaries in Ohio to deliver preordained election outcomes for one party. Without fail. For ten years. That’s not playing fair. That’s stacking the deck to win by cheating.

In Ohio, the number of Republican voters and Democratic voters are about equally divided. State and federal elections can be decided by a handful of percentage points. The balance of power in the state should mirror that reality. But it’s way off under the gerrymandered districts drawn by Republicans to guarantee Republicans all the power in state government and effectively marginalize minority party voters.

The GOP typically gets just over half of the statewide vote. But Republican commissioners awarded their party a two-thirds super-majority in both the state House and Senate with district maps favoring Republicans. Again, that gives the GOP a disproportionally large percentage of seats in the Statehouse in defiance of redistricting reforms that stipulate legislative maps “must correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio.”  The Republican super-majorities lording over the General Assembly — with roughly 70% of Senate seats and some 62 percent of House seats — do not correspond to the party’s statewide vote share of 54%.

But Ohio Republicans are following their own rules to advance partisan gain because they think they can get away with it. They are trampling on the expressed will of Ohio voters because they think they can get away with it. Who’s paying attention? Republicans claim, with a straight face, that the new redistricting measures worked. They didn’t. Republicans rammed through a four-year legislative map, with no buy-in from the minority party, that grossly misrepresents statewide voters drawn into lopsided Republican districts. There is nothing fair or competitive or remotely tied to the statewide preferences of Ohio voters.

Yet Huffman, a Lima Republican, bragged that the partisan map is “compliant with the directives” in the law, complained about advocates pushing “so-called representational fairness,” and insisted (without evidence) that the “General Assembly truly represents the voice of the people.”

Huffman thinks he can get away with his false narrative. The others with him who endorsed more of the same with gerrymandered districts, also gambled people would forgive and forget how leading Republicans thumbed their noses at them.

And they may be right. If that happens, Ohio’s slide away from a functioning democratic government will be on us. Don’t let them get away with it. Call the governor out. Use the power you still have as voters in next year’s election to change what you see — and fight on.


Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.


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