There is agreement from nearly everyone that Ohio’s current system to periodically redraw district lines is flawed. The key question is, “Is the proposed amendment to Ohio’s constitution an improvement?”
“Why change Congressional district lines?” Redistricting is a state’s required task more annoying than spring cleaning even though it, fortunately, takes place only once every ten years instead of annually. Populations between states and within a state will literally move over time so that redistricting is necessary. After each Census, each state’s number of House representatives is set for the next decade. Even if that number is unchanged, each state must adjust districts within the state to ensure similar population between the districts. Historically, the party in power dominates the map-drawing, usually to the displeasure of the minority party. Such has been the case in Ohio as the Republicans have had the upper hand for the last three redistricting processes. Nine states have gone to a form of appointed citizens commissions to redraw the lines according to the Springfield Sun-News on 10/6/2012. Ohio is looking to pass its version on November 6.
“No politicians on the commission”… not true. The proponents of Issue 2 say that it will remove politics from the process by creating a commission of twelve (four Democrats, four Republicans and four Independents), none of whom are “politicians,” to redraw the boundaries. This is a very noble start. How will this be accomplished? An article by Ellis Jacobs, attorney with the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, printed in the Hamilton JournalNews (9/30/2012) said Issue 2 was “a proposal that would take the power to draw district boundaries away from the politicians and put it in the hands of the people of Ohio.” However, Brad Smith (a law professor at Capital University) with an article in the same issue, countered with “…, but this is misleading. State and federal politicians are banned from the commission, but local politicians and their families are welcome to apply.” There would be an ample supply of local politicians to become involved, Mr. Smith reminds us, because Ohio has “88 counties, 1,308 townships, 247 cities, 691 villages and 718 school boards.” The Springfield Sun-News reported on 10/6/2012: “Jim Slagle, an attorney for the Campaign for Accountable Redistricting said those officials would likely be cut during the selection process that grants party leaders the opportunity to eliminate candidates.” In actuality, there is no guarantee that politicians will be excluded, especially since party leaders are involved in the selection process which includes local office holders as candidates for the commission. It creates a “foxes will not be guarding the hen house, but they will help to choose who will” scenario. Guess who wins there.
Ohio State Bar Association and Ohio Judicial Conference Oppose: The Wheeling Intelligencer News Register described on 10/9/2012 how the selection process would work. “Applicants for the panel would be narrowed down by a panel of judges, then shaved even more by Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.” Not only is the direct involvement of incumbent politicians reaffirmed, but the paper goes on to state “neither the state Bar Association nor the Ohio Judicial Conference like the Issue 2 proposal in part because of its complexity and the likelihood it would be challenged in court.” Brad Smith quotes the Bar Association which stated “by directly involving the judicial branch of our Ohio government in the most political of activities, that is, redistricting, the proposed amendment attacks a most fundamental of Constitutional safeguards, the separation of powers.”
In other words, the judiciary must not participate in the political mechanics of government. The problem of this inappropriate involvement would be compounded further if the state’s Supreme Court had to rule on the constitutionality of a process it participated in!
“Real Issues or an Agenda?” That the current system is flawed is without dispute. Still, one can gain an insight to possible ulterior motives when reviewing other reasons listed by proponents for the amendment. Ellis Jacobs wrote, “The passage of Issue 2 is vital to the future of our state. The biggest issues that we face—jobs, taking care of senior citizens, women’s health, poverty and rebuilding our crumbling public infrastructure—will not simply solve themselves.” His view is that the current General Assembly will not work together, claiming “gridlock” in Ohio.
- Regarding jobs, Ohio’s unemployment rate is below the national average. The seasonally adjusted rate for August was 7.2%, which was lower than other states which also benefitted from the automotive bailout. Something must be going right with the current arrangement in Ohio led by Governor Kasich. Redistricting cannot alter the effects of a national economy dragged down by the other thirty states with higher unemployment rates.
- If senior citizens and the problem of poverty are not receiving the funds we feel they deserve, we should look again to the slumping national economy (impacting employment and pay rates across state boundaries) which reduces tax revenue. It’s easy to forget that Governor Kasich was also hired by the voters to reduce the state’s budget deficits which had gathered steam under the last two governors, one Republican and one Democrat. He has done that.
- Crumbling infrastructure is a third “mom and apple pie” issue which is neither unique to Ohio nor dependent on more “competitive congressional and legislative districts” as Mr. Jacobs contends. We have only recently understood the magnitude of this severe danger nationwide. Playing catch-up will be fiscally difficult in view of other worthy social programs (see #2) also competing for scarce funds.
- As far as “women’s health” is concerned, let us recognize it for the euphemism that it primarily is (i.e. abortions and abortion-causing drugs). Planned Parenthood is for Issue 2, Right to Life (which promotes health and life for ALL individuals) is opposed.
Speaking of agendas, Robert Brems, Sr. of the Coshocton Tribune editorial board and a supporter of Issue 2, conceded on 10/7/2012 what we all probably suspected, “Make no mistake: The Democrats would have done the same thing if they had won state control in the 2010 elections. In fact, they sabotaged an attempt to bring more reason to the redistricting process before the 2010 elections, hoping they would win and redistrict to their advantage.” Being the current minority party is encouraging them to try more creative thinking for getting their way.
Other Opportunities for Reform: The Columbus Dispatch reported on 5/21/2012 that the Redistricting Task Force, created by the Ohio legislature has a 12/15/2012 deadline to file its report on recommended changes. If the voters feel this will likely produce more self-serving ideas from the legislators, Issue 1 is another alternative. As prescribed by Ohio’s state constitution, the voters are being asked if they want a constitutional convention to perform a top-to-bottom review of the entire document. Pros and cons for this will follow soon in a posting on this blog.
My suggestion: I propose a plan of my own. Individuals interested in serving on this commission would submit a given number of petitions, signed by registered voters, to place their names on a statewide ballot. The main requirement would be that all potential candidates would not have registered for any political party primary in at least the last eight years. Contributions to each candidate for the petition process and campaign must come evenly from individual registered voters of each party. If one receives more donations from those in a particular party, this would be permissible only if the amount received from independents is greater. The twelve receiving the most votes in a statewide election would be on the commission. The group would be required to submit a redistricting proposal to the state’s Supreme Court for approval of constitutionality. Time restraints for initial and subsequent proposals, if necessary, would be the same as those for when the General Assembly performed the same redistricting duties. The budget for the commission would be established in advance by the General Assembly based on its typical time and expense for the same process. The commission would request the Assembly for additional funds if needed.
Conclusion: a “NO” vote for Ohio Issue 2 on the 2012 general election ballot. It doesn’t take redistricting out of the politicians’ hand as it claims. By involving judges in the commission selection process, it casts aside the critical separation of powers within the government. The list of issues voiced by some proponents of Issue 2 remains unresolved, not because of complacent incumbents in a rigged system, but primarily because of statewide financial limitations. The urgency for this ballot item is overstated as there is a legislative task force in session (with recommendations due soon) and the periodic opportunity for calling a constitutional convention is on the same November 6 ballot.