Congressional districts in Ohio give Republicans clear advantage

On the side

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, have a strong working relationship.

But it came as no surprise that Portman announced this week that he is endorsing state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is challenging Brown for the latter’s Senate seat in 2018. Brown beat Mandel in a bitter and expensive 2012 election.

When asked about it, Brown shook it off, saying: “Politics is politics. I understand that. Neither he nor I will let that get in the way of serving the state.”

Brown did the same thing to Portman last year when he endorsed ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, a longtime friend and the Democratic nominee, in his failed bid to defeat the incumbent Republican senator.

For the better part of the past two decades, Ohio has been a Republican state.

Currently, all statewide executive officeholders are Republicans, all but one member of the Supreme Court are Republicans, and the General Assembly is firmly in the hands of the GOP. Besides Justice William O’Neill, who ran five years ago in the general election without political affiliation as judges do in Ohio, the only statewide elected Democrat is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

While Republican Donald Trump had little trouble defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, most years the presidential race in Ohio is very close – no one has lost the state and won the national election since Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960 – and Democrat Barack Obama captured Ohio in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

Also, in terms of registered voters, it’s relatively equal between Democrats and Republicans in Ohio.

Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, congressional district boundaries are redrawn by the political party in power.

That’s the Republicans, and they drew districts that give them a great advantage.

Republican state legislative leaders bundled many Democrats into four congressional districts and separated the rest of the opposition party into 12 Republican districts.

It’s been so lopsided that none of the state’s 16 congressional districts have been competitive since 2012, the first year that Republicans drew the boundaries to give them the 12-4 advantage.

In the 2016 election, the margin of victory among the 16 House races averaged 36 percentage points.

Now there are conservative parts of the state that will not elect a Democrat and that’s reasonable as it reflects the voters of that district. And a Republican is not going to be competitive in a district that includes most of Cleveland.

But to get that 12-4 advantage, Republicans took some unusual steps.

Republicans carved up Cuyahoga and Summit so there are four congressional districts in each county. Our neighbors to the west in small Portage County has three districts.

We have the 6th District that takes in 18 counties from southern Mahoning County and goes more than 300 miles to the middle of Scioto County. Columbiana, with about 100,000 residents, is the most populous county in the 6th District.

To create a Democratic district, Republicans drew one that snakes along Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland.

Some Republican officials have spoken about changing the redistricting process.

Gov. John Kasich said in January he would include congressional redistricting in his state budget. He said he expected his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to take the proposal out of the budget bill. Despite his comments, Kasich didn’t even introduce redistricting in his budget plan.

U.S. House Republicans have done a great job shutting down any proposals to take action to redistrict congressional boundaries.

There’s a Republican bill in the Ohio House on congressional redistricting that is an improvement over the existing policy, but still gives the GOP most of the power because they overwhelmingly control the General Assembly.

So Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio, made up of various good government groups, is taking matters into its own hands.

Attorney General Mike De-Wine certified Fair Congressional Districts’ petition earlier this week for a constitutional amendment. The Ohio Ballot Board will meet Tuesday to decide if the amendment would be one or multiple issues.

The groups will need to collect a little more than 305,000 valid signatures with the expectation it will end up on the November 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, it would take effect with the 2022 election.

The proposal calls for a new congressional map to receive bipartisan support from a seven-member commission with the backing from at least two minority party members to be good for 10 years. A map passed by a simple majority would last four years.

The commission wouldn’t be allowed to divide a county more than once. While the map wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – simply be eight Republican districts and eight Democratic districts, it would be required to reflect the state.

A similar proposal to redistrict state legislative lines in 2015 was easily approved, getting 71 percent of the vote.

That ballot measure had the support of the state Republican and Democratic parties.

The Ohio Democratic Party obviously is already backing the congressional redistricting proposal. What more do Democrats have to lose?

We’ll have to see what the Republican Party’s position will be on this proposal.

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