By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Democratic Party is making good on its threat to launch a referendum on GOP-drawn congressional lines unless the majority party submits new maps with more competitive districts.
State party Chairman Chris Redfern said Tuesday that opponents of the redistricting plan have begun collecting signatures on petitions to force a November 2012 ballot issue on the plan.
“Every petition circulator will be given a copy of the map proposed by the Republicans in order to show that map to potential signers,” Redfern said. “We have no doubt that once Ohioans see for themselves just how ridiculous their congressional map is, they will not hesitate to help us to stop the map from being adopted.”
He added later, “The map is unacceptable to me and it is unacceptable to virtually every Ohioan who has taken a look at it except those in the General Assembly who forced it on the people of the state.”
Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder called Redfern’s statements about the situation “misleading” and defended the constitutionality of the redistricting plan. He also said his caucus continues to work with Democrats on a potential compromise.
“Once again, I am compelled to remind the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party that Democratic members of the House and Senate voted in favor of the congressional map in House Bill 319,” Batchelder said in a statement. “Unquestionably, this fair and legal map meets and exceeds state and federal requirements for congressional redistricting.”
He added, “Despite innuendo otherwise, House Republicans are continuing to work with the elected Republican and Democrat members of both houses of the General Assembly, and I am delighted to continue working with them. It is my hope that deliberations will continue in the coming days.”
Congressional district lines are redrawn every decade to account for population changes noted in the decennial U.S. Census.
The Ohio House and Senate approved new congressional district maps in September in votes that were mostly along party lines.
The new plan includes 16 districts, down from 18 due to slow population growth in the state. A dozen appear to favor Republicans, while four others, including a new one covering much of the city of Columbus, would favor Democrats.
Republican supporters say the new maps will pass constitutional muster and were drawn within the confines of the law and court precedent.
Democratic opponents, however, contend the maps represent partisan gerrymandering at its worst and were drawn to ensure Republican victories over the next 10 years.
The Ohio Democratic Party and a group called Ohioans for Fair Districts are leading an effort to gather signatures to place the issue before voters next year. They would need more than 231,000 valid names to qualify, and they have until late December to submit petitions to the secretary of state’s office.
Redfern said petitions would be circulated in coming days at early voting sites around the state and on Election Day next week.
“Although we are moving forward, it is not too late for Republicans to finally sit down with Democratic leaders in the Legislature and support a fair map that is competitive, that keeps together like communities and protects minority representation,” he said.