By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Democratic Party has issued an ultimatum to the Republican-controlled state Legislature: Redraw the state’s congressional districts with input from the minority party or face a battle at the ballot box.
Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern also called on the Ohio House and Senate to postpone next year’s primary election, scheduled for March, to allow time to negotiate and implement the new maps.
“A May or June primary certainly would allow us to compromise and sit down and draw maps that reflect the will of the people of this state and not the will of a few politicians down the street,” Redfern said during a press conference Monday in Columbus. “Make no doubt, make no mistake, as Speaker [Bill] Batchelder has learned over the course of the last three days, we’re serious about this effort.”
The move leaves Ohio’s congressional delegation in a state of flux going into a pivotal 2012 presidential election year, with the deadline for candidate filings set for early December.
“There will be no congressional districts as drawn,” Redfern said. “Those districts have disappeared with this action and the ruling of the Ohio Supreme Court. The Legislature, rather than playing political games now, should come and sit down and draw districts that fully reflect the will of the people of this state.”
In a released statement, Batchelder, the Republican leader of the Ohio House, said the map approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. John Kasich “meets and exceeds state and federal requirements for congressional redistricting, without question.”
He also criticized Democrats for the referendum effort.
“We are astounded that Chairman Redfern is not interested in maintaining a fair and legal map, particularly since Democrats in the House and Senate clearly did not participate in the process until it was too late,” Batchelder said. “His party made identical accusations during the previous redistricting 10 years ago about a map that actually gave the Democrats majority control over Ohio’s congressional delegation following the 2008 election.
“Clearly, as has consistently been the case, Chairman Redfern’s comments and accusations are unfounded and totally without merit. The real story is that the Ohio Democratic Party’s plan is and continues to be to have federal judges — with a 3-to-1 chance of not being from Ohio — draw Ohio’s congressional lines, rather than the representatives who were elected by the people to do so.”
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 the congressional district maps last month in votes that were mostly along party lines, with a few Democratic members of the legislative black caucus joining Republicans in supporting the bill and a few GOP members joining Democrats in opposition.
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 threatened legal action or a voter referendum to stop the maps from taking effect. Republicans attempted to avoid the latter by adding an appropriation to the redistricting legislation — $2.75 million to help county elections boards educate voters about the new districts.
Under the Ohio Constitution, legislation including such spending authority takes effect immediately and may not be subject to a citizen referendum.
But Democrats filed suit with the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that the congressional maps should be subject to a referendum. They also submitted about 2,000 initial signatures to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to start the referendum process.
Husted rejected the petitions, citing the appropriation and stating that the new districts took effect when Kasich signed the bill.
But the Supreme Court ruled late Friday the district lines were subject to referendum, and Democrats resubmitted the signatures to the secretary of state’s office.