Congressional redistricting is a matter of political trust

Ohio Republicans lack credibility when it comes to establishing boundaries for congressional districts. Don’t take our word for it; consider the following statement from Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican:

“I support redistricting reform dramatically. This will be something I’m going to do, whether I’m elected president or whether I’m here. … I think we need to eliminate gerrymandering. We’ve got to figure out a way to do it. We’ve got to be aggressive on it. We’ve got to have some more competitive districts. That to me is what’s good for the state of Ohio and what’s good for the country.”

Kasich made that statement in November 2015 as he revved up his campaign for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

We applauded Kasich for his honesty in acknowledging that in 2011, with his party in control of the governor’s office and the General Assembly, legislative leaders decided to load Ohio’s congressional delegation with Republicans.

They did this by creating districts that gave GOP candidates a distinct advantage.

The result: Ohio’s congressional delegation consists of 12 Republicans and four Democrats.

By contrast, the state has one Republican and one Democratic U.S. senator.

This political heavy handedness triggered a virulent response from the public.

In 2015, more than 71 percent of Ohioans who cast ballots in the November general election said it was time to change the map-drawing process for state Senate and House districts.

Fairness and transparency were the selling points from the proponents of change – Democrats and Republicans – and that is what Gov. Kasich had in mind when he proposed drastic reforms in the way congressional boundaries are drawn.

Kasich now has the chance to demonstrate his commitment to fairness and transparency.

There are two proposals currently being debated in Columbus.

SENATE republicans

One from Ohio Senate Republicans increases the role the minority party plays in determining how Congressional district lines are drawn every 10 years, according to the Dayton Daily News.

The other from Fair Districts=Fair Elections, a coalition of good government groups led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio, is collecting voter signatures to put its own reform proposal on the November ballot, the Daily News reported.

While members of the group and Democratic legislators have attempted to work with the Republicans on an acceptable redistricting plan, the deal breaker is one that the governor talked about in 2015.

The unjustified GOP dominance in the Ohio congressional delegation is the result of gerrymandering – the drawing of district boundaries so blatantly partisan that it gave Republican candidates a huge advantage.

“After lengthy discussions and significant public input, it is clear Republicans will not take the necessary steps to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all,” Democrats who have been working with Republicans in the General Assembly said in a statement.

The debate comes down to this: Should the General Assembly retain control of congressional redistricting, or should a special bipartisan commission take over this singularly important aspect of American democracy?

We strongly support the commission approach, just as we did in 2015 with regard to the drawing of state Senate and House district boundaries.

The commission would consist of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and one person each appointed by the Ohio House and Senate majority and minority parties.

A map of congressional districts would have to be approved by a majority of the commission members, including two from the minority party.

According to the Dayton Daily News, the proposal would outlaw gerrymandering, minimize the splitting of counties and communities, require the districts to be compact and nearly equal in population, mandate transparency in the process and require representational fairness using a 10-year tally of Ohio voters’ partisan preferences.

If Fair Districts=Fair Elections succeeds in getting the issue on the November general election ballot, we would hope Gov. Kasich, who will be leaving office at the end of the year, and other fair-minded officeholders would campaign for its passage.

Republicans in the General Assembly had a chance to strike a blow for fair congressional elections, and they failed miserably.

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