By Marc Kovac
State lawmakers have approved revamped congressional district lines and reset — again — Ohio’s primary election schedule, with a single Super Tuesday date March 6, rather than separate elections in March and June.
The move came late Wednesday on what will likely be the last voting session of the year for the House and Senate. The sponsor called it an early Christmas present to the state of Ohio.
The legislation was OK’d with more than enough Democratic support for an emergency clause to ensure the changes take effect immediately.
And, the repeal of earlier- adopted congressional districts, approved as part of House Bill 319 in September, also effectively quashed a Democratic effort to place the earlier GOP-drawn lines before voters in November 2012.
“This may not be the map that I like, but it’s a lot better than [House Bill] 319 ...,” said Rep. Matt Huffman, a Republican from Lima and primary sponsor of the new legislation, House Bill 369. “I’m pretty sure that if we all sat down and drew the map the way we thought best, we would have 99 maps. ... We’d be here until New Year’s Eve trying to figure it out.”
The bill cleared the Ohio House by a vote of 77-17 and the Senate, 27-6, and heads to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.
A number of Democrats continued to oppose the Republican-drawn lines and voted against the final changes, however. Opponents said Wednesday the new maps still favor Republicans in 12 of Ohio’s 16 new districts.
“What I’m hearing more and more is that no one made any mistakes, no one did anything to damage our democracy or the process of which those of us here in this chamber are so responsible for,” said Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th. He added, “I have never seen the process corrupted the way that it’s been this time. ... The real gift that we gave everybody is a slap in the face of democracy.”
Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, added, “I just saw this map less than an hour ago. ... Speaker John Boehner had more to do with this map than anyone sitting in this room.”
The final legislation was similar to the bill introduced by Republicans last month, with the biggest changes affecting a handful of counties.
Toledo, for example, would be split between two districts instead of three. Dayton would be unified in one district instead of two.
A sprawling district encompassing numerous counties in south-central Ohio was made more compact. Seven counties that were previously split are now unified, Huffman said.
Other parts of the Republican-drawn redistricting plan approved by lawmakers in September and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich received only minor alterations.
The final bill also creates a bipartisan redistricting task force and extends until Dec. 30 the deadline for congressional and presidential candidates to file for the primary.
Rep. Matt Szollosi, a Democrat from Toledo, said the new lines increase the strength of black voters in some districts and make slight improvements overall.
“This fight has been about giving Ohioans a strong voice in the redistricting process and to force a meaningful debate,” he said. “I am pleased that part of this agreement will include the first steps towards a meaningful bipartisan reform for redistricting in the state of Ohio. This compromise is far from ideal, but it is an improvement.”