Republicans in the state legisla- ture knew that the congressional districts they had created were so politically obscene as to invite a legal challenge, so they came up with a preemptive strike. Fortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court saw through the legislative trickery and on Friday ruled that the new congressional district map can be put up for vote of the people.
That is a major victory for all fair-minded Ohioans who draw a distinction between partisan politics and dictatorial politics. To be sure, the total control of state government, from the governorship on down, gives the party the ability to push through its agenda, but what the Republicans did when creating the new congressional districts drew the ire of 25 grass-roots organizations committed to fair, open elections. They contend that the map does not pass the smell test because 11 of the 16 districts would be solidly Republican. Four would be in the Democratic column, and only one would competitive.
In its 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court did not rule on the fairness, but focused on the narrower question of whether the people of Ohio have a right to vote on the new map. They also ruled on the GOP’s attempt to block any referendum vote by including $2.75 million in the new that county boards of elections would be required to spend to implement the new districts.
The Republicans argued that the 90-day period for the law to take effect does not apply because the spending by the elections boards would supersede the waiting period.
Not so, said the high court, thus opening the door for the referendum.
The ruling throws the entire 2012 congressional election in Ohio into turmoil, but the Republicans from Gov. John Kasich on down can do what’s best for the state by shelving the Republican map and assigning a bipartisan committee to draw the district lines.
Just such legislation was introduced last year by former House Speaker and now secretary of state Jon Husted. Recently, Husted bemoaned the fact that his legislation did not become law, because it would have prevented the kind of political bloodletting that has taken place.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP leadership in the legislature must know that they’ve played their hand and lost, and that it’s now time to do what’s in the best interest of the state of Ohio.
They should adopt Husted’s legislation creating the nonpartisan committee and put the measure on a fast track.
For its part, the committee has several congressional district maps that came out of a nationwide competition in July sponsored by the Ohio Redistricting Competition. It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Ohio Education Fund, the Midwest Democracy Network and Ohio Citizen Action.
The winning map was submitted by Illinois state Rep. Mike Fornter, who represents the 95th District. Fornter is a former mayor of West Chicago and an associate professor of physics at Northern Illinois University in West Chicago.
The competition required participants to design districts that comply with all federal and state legal requirements. The maps were scored on objective nonpartisan criteria which used mathematical formulas to measure the degree to which districts respected county boundaries, were compact, balanced and did not favor either political party.
Republicans in Columbus can do what’s right, or can continue their political games, which will benefit the state of Ohio. By forcing a petition drive for a referendum vote on the map they have adopted, the GOP will throw next year’s congressional races into turmoil.