There’s good and bad news in the Ohio General Assembly’s approval last week of a new congressional district map. The good news is that there will only be one primary — in March — saving the state the $15 million that would have been spent on two primaries had they become necessary. The bad has to do with Republicans in the House and Senate believing that their sweeping victory in the 2010 general election gave them political carte blanche.
The map showing the boundaries of the 16 congressional districts in Ohio is only the latest example of the majority pursuing a partisan agenda and, in the process, riding roughshod over the minority Democrats. Even though the redistricting legislation received some Democratic votes, the bottom line is that the opposition was between a rock and a hard place.
Democrats could not convince Republicans that political fairness should be the underlying principle of congressional redistricting, and neither could they risk political upheaval next year by pursuing a referendum in November on the GOP-drawn map. Their continued opposition would have necessitated two primary elections with a price tag of $15 million.
It is of little solace to Ohioans who believe in a two-party system of government that the new law delineating the congressional district boundaries — the legislation was signed Thursday by Republican Gov. John Kasich — also contains a provision to create a bipartisan redistricting task force to come up with an equitable way of creating the districts.
It is revealing that 25 nonpartisan grass-roots organizations all judged the GOP scheme to be so lopsided as to give Republicans the advantage in 12 of the new districts and Democrats the upper hand in four. This in a state that is at best politically purple — neither bright red nor blue.
It is also noteworthy that a map was produced in a national contest sponsored by Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting that met all the federal and state legal requirements and gave Republicans and Democrats an equal chance of winning in a majority of the 16 districts. The map was endorsed by the 25 organizations, but the Republicans in the General Assembly didn’t give it much thought.
The Associated Press reported last week that not only had GOP operatives drawing the map done so in secret — they holed up in a hotel room in Columbus paid for with tax dollars — but the office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Cincinnati, was an active participant. The bottom line: Republicans were determined to shut out Democrats and others who were insisting on fairness so they could produce a map that would give them a majority of the congressional seats in Ohio for the next 10 years.
It is the height of hypocrisy for GOP leaders to contend that this was the best that could be expected under the circumstances, given that they created the circumstances that produced such a lopsided map.
The public’s trust in government is already at an all-time low and when the congressional election results are announced in November 2012, Ohioans will have an even dimmer view of those elected to represent us.