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Issue 2 could change the balance of power in Ohio

Published: Saturday, October 06, 2012 @ 12:00 AM
Updated: Saturday, October 06, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Helping you understand State Issue 2

Citizens have called and emailed our newsroom and said they are confused about State Issue 2. This issue is important to Ohio and is getting lost in the debate as the focus remains or more high-profile races.

Today, the Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV Channel 7 and Newstalk Radio WHIO are joining together to help you understand this issue.

Today at 8 a.m. on Newstalk Radio WHIO 95.7 FM and AM 1290: Listen in for a special half-hour broadcast explaining Issue 2.

Today at 10:30 a.m. on WHIO Reports on Channel 7: WHIO’s Jim Otte and our Columbus Bureau reporter Jackie Borchardt ask tough questions to supporters on both sides of Issue 2.

Wednesday at noon: Join us at DaytonDailyNews.com for a live web chat on Issue 2 with Jackie Borchardt. She will answer your questions on the issue.

What is Issue 2?

Issue 2 creates a citizens commission to draw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census. If enacted, the new panel would redraw last year’s approved districts in time for the November 2014 election.

Who is behind it?

The Ohio League of Women Voters, Common Cause Ohio and other good-government groups drafted the language but much of the funding has come from labor and teachers’ unions. The NAACP Ohio, the Ohio Libertarian Party and We Are Ohio, the group against Senate Bill 5, have endorsed the plan.

Who are the commissioners?

The 12-member Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission includes four members from each party and four not registered with any party. Any Ohioan who has voted in two of the previous three even-year general elections could apply to serve on the commission, provided they or an immediate family member have not been elected to federal or state office, worked for lawmakers or state officials or been a paid lobbyist. Applicants could not have made monetary contributions greater than $5,000 per two years to political campaigns or parties in the past five years. Commission members serve 10-year terms, but the actual work is done in 14 months between August of the census year and October of the following year. If boundaries aren’t approved by Oct. 1 of the second year, the Ohio Supreme Court will adopt the plan that most closely meets the constitutional criteria.

How are they chosen?

Eight randomly selected appellate court judges (no more than four of each party) screen the applicants and select the 42 based on relevant abilities including a capacity for impartiality. The speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and minority leader can eliminate up to three members of the opposite party. From this pool, three Republicans, three Democrats and three non-affiliated with any party are randomly chosen. Those nine members then choose the remaining three.

What will it cost?

The state Office of Budget Management estimates the Issue 2 changes will cost between $10.9 and $15.2 million over eight years. The estimate was based on a redistricting plan proposed in 2005, a similar citizen redistricting commission in California and the cost of the current process. The estimate assumes commission members will be paid $100,000 for the first two years.

Voters First Ohio officials expect the cost to be much less and said the final cost would be determined by state lawmakers.

What will they do?

The commission will likely hire experts and consultants to assist in drawing lines based on four criteria: preserving county boundaries, competitiveness, representational fairness and compactness. All meetings and correspondence will be made public and the commission will give full and fair consideration to plans submitted by the public. Seven members of the commission must vote to adopt a plan.

— Jackie Borchardt and Text of Proposed Amendment

In the fog of a presidential election and hot U.S. Senate race, a ballot issue that could alter the balance of power in the statehouse and the Ohio congressional delegation is taking a back seat.

Many voters, if they’ve heard about state Issue 2 at all, say they are confused by the ballot language and direct mailings that are appearing on doorsteps.

In the Dayton Daily News/Ohio Newspaper Organization Poll released Sept. 24, too few people knew about Issue 2 to provide meaningful results: 35 percent said they had heard “nothing at all” about it.

If approved, Issue 2 would put the responsibility of drawing legislative and congressional districts in the hands of a new citizen panel. Redistricting isn’t a thrilling term, but small changes can move voters around and make districts lean more Republican or Democratic, become more competitive or safe for lawmakers in office.

Voters First Ohio, the group behind Issue 2, says the lines have been drawn for years to favor incumbents and have effectively made hyper-partisan primary elections more important than general elections. Their solution: Remove politicians from the process.

Districts are redrawn every ten years to reflect population changes noted in the once-a-decade Census. State Senate and House districts are mapped and approved by the Ohio Apportionment Board composed of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and one state legislator from each party — all but one were Republicans in 2011. State lawmakers decide the boundaries of Ohio’s 16 U.S. House districts.

Last year, Republicans held the redistricting pen, but politicians on both sides of the aisle have used their majority status to muscle the other into keeping incumbents safe in their districts and stacking more middle-of-the-road districts to lean one way. Politicians against the proposal admit the current system is broken, but say Issue 2 isn’t the answer.

The plan

Issue 2 would create the Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission, a new panel of 12 members chosen by lot from a candidate pool winnowed by appellate court judges and party officials.

Any Ohioan who has voted in two of the previous three even-year general elections could apply to serve on the commission, provided they or an immediate family member have not been elected to federal or state office, worked for lawmakers or state officials or been a paid lobbyist. Applicants could not have made monetary contributions greater than $5,000 per two years to political campaigns or parties in the past five years.

Local officials such as city councilmen and mayors would be eligible. Jim Slagle, an attorney for the Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, said those officials would likely be cut during the selection process that grants party leaders the opportunity to eliminate candidates.

The commission would meet in public to draft and review publicly submitted plans according to the four criteria from last year’s citizen challenge by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting:

* Preserve existing communities such as counties and townships,

* Balance districts based on voting history so they do not lean toward one party by more than 5 percent,

* Balance the number of districts that lean each way,

* Keep districts compact.

“These are the criteria that best capture fundamental values in our democracy,” said Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law who helped draft the ballot initiative. “They’re values that will serve the interests of voters rather than the interests of partisan politicians.”

Proponents of Issue 2 say each district should reflect Ohio’s swing-state status.

In the 2010 election, 70 of Ohio’s 99 state representatives won their races by 20 points or more. Only three of the 33 senators elected in 2008 and 2010 won by less than 10 percent of the vote.

Statewide, Ohioans tend to line up on each side in similar numbers. The top statewide races in 2010 were won by 5 or fewer percent. The last five presidential elections were decided by fewer than 10 points in Ohio — George W. Bush won the state in 2004 by just 120,000 votes. More than 5.6 million Ohioans voted in that election.

History

Former Rep. Joan Lawrence, a Republican with the League of Women Voters who supports Issue 2, sponsored several failed redistricting reform bills in the 1980s.

“The process is manipulatable and it was manipulated and it would be no matter which party was in charge,” Lawrence said.

In 2005, voters slammed a Democrat-driven plan known as Issue 4 by a vote of 70 to 30 percent. A Republican-supported plan in 2006 failed to pass the General Assembly without support from Democrats. Democrats turned down another plan in 2010, certain they would sweep statewide offices and control the Apportionment Board. But Republicans won all statewide elected offices and picked up several seats in the House and Senate.

While politicians worked on their maps, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting held a public competition to draw fair, competitive districts using the same Census and election data. The competition collected 53 congressional maps and a Republican Illinois state representative won the contest.

Contest sponsors including the Ohio League of Women Voters and Common Cause Ohio drafted constitutional amendment language that has become Issue 2. Meanwhile, a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers claimed they were working on a solution that has yet to materialize.

Politics

Issue 2 is intended to take the politics out of the system, but politicians and political forces are lining up on each side.

Good-government groups drafted Issue 2, but unions, Democrats and left-leaning organizations have since backed the proposal. Getting the issue on the ballot cost upward of $1.3 million, according to state campaign finance reports filed in July, and unions bankrolled the majority of the cost.

The Ohio Republican Party came out strong against the proposal at first, and a new group called Protect Your Vote Ohio formed to serve as the official opposition and sought help early on from Columbus lobbyists. Protect Your Vote’s expenditures won’t be known until after the election.

Nine states use appointed citizen commissions to draw legislative lines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California’s 14-member commission, created in 2008, most closely resembles Ohio’s Issue 2 proposal.

The jury is still out there whether the commission worked. Experts say the process wasn’t as skewed toward the majority party — Democrats there — as it would have been had they controlled the process. But reports surfaced last year that showed Democrats hired people to falsely testify before the commissioners to build districts more favorable for incumbents. Tokaji said Ohio’s plan will succeed where California’s faltered because it requires the commission to balance the districts according to past voting records.

The Ohio State Bar Association opposed Issue 2, saying the process inappropriately gives appointment authority to judges and politicizes the judicial branch. Protect Your Vote’s Carlo LoParo said judges, who run in party primaries, could be pressured by party bosses to select their choice applicants for the initial group of 42.

“This is a worse solution than our present system,” LoParo said. “In the present system, there is transparency in the sense you know who’s making the decisions.”

Slagle said politicians will never support a plan that removes them from the process.

“They will mislead the public because that’s the only way they’ll defeat Issue 2,” Slagle said. “If voters understand what Issue 2 is, it will pass overwhelmingly.”

Still no deal in the Senate on GOP health care plan

Published: Friday, July 21, 2017 @ 7:39 AM

Republican Senators headed home for the weekend still at odds over the details of a GOP bill to overhaul the Obama health law, as Senate leaders vowed to press ahead early next week with a first procedural vote on the matter, though it still isn’t clear what exactly the GOP might vote on in an effort to break the deadlock on this top agenda item of President Donald Trump.

“The Democrats did their bill on their own, and obviously it’s got flaws that I think everyone would recognize; Republicans are beginning to feel like we’re getting into that same mode, if you want to be honest,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who said he worried that the GOP plan was being slapped together without an overall grand plan.

With a procedural vote expected next week on a motion to start debate on the bill, it wasn’t even clear for Senators what GOP leaders would offer on the floor as an alternative to the House-passed health care bill.

“I’m not yet decided,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told a group of reporters pursuing him in the hallways of the Capitol. “It depends what’s in the bill.”

And on that point, GOP leaders didn’t have an answer on the details.

GOP Senators were being pursued every-which-way-possible at the Capitol complex, as reporters sought the latest update on the health care bill.

Down in the basement of the Capitol, as Senators arrived for votes, Democrats would walk by – and sometimes not one reporter would move; a few seconds later, a Republican Senator would walk off the subway, and was immediately mobbed by reporters.

“I think they want to talk to you,” a smiling Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said as reporters descended upon him and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-ND), who sold insurance for many years in his home state.

“With the Obamacare model that’s in place today, you’re going to have increases in deductibles and co-pays,” Rounds argued to reporters, though GOP Senators haven’t rallied around what their full answer should be to reverse that.

“You just have people committed to trying to fix this problem,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has repeatedly made clear his frustration with how GOP leaders have tried to put together this bill.

And that has led some Republicans to openly worry about how the GOP is forging a final plan.

“It’s feeling a little bazaar like – like a bidding war right now,” Corker said.

Demonstrating some of the frustration of the moment, Corker even suggested that his party go back to the idea of repealing large chunks of the Obama health law – without anything to replace it.

“I am beginning to feel that the best way to do it would be just to repeal – set a two or three year transition period, and force both parties to get together,” Corker said.

But there did not seem to be enough GOP votes for that idea.

“Senate Republicans complain of chaos in healthcare effort,” was one headline in my morning email inbox – as it’s not clear which way the GOP is going on health care reform at this point.

In the House, GOP lawmakers could only sit back and wait.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see the Senate try to regroup, look at the issue, and try to work it out,” said Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK).

“I continue to trust that the Senate will do their job,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA).

Not only is there some frustation with the Senate among GOP lawmakers, but a little with the White House as well.

“I really lay a lot of the blame on the Trump Administration itself,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).

“The President hasn’t really shown leadership and guidance on what the plan should be, and it’s left several different groups to work together to try to fashion one,” Turner said.

White House expresses confidence in Attorney General Sessions

Published: Thursday, July 20, 2017 @ 3:37 PM

A day after a newspaper interview in which President Donald Trump raised questions about his choice for the job of Attorney General, the White House expressed public support for Jeff Sessions, saying Mr. Trump “has confidence in his ability” to lead the Department of Justice.

“He was disappointed,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the President’s view of Sessions and his recusal earlier this year from any involvement in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and possible links to the Trump campaign.

“But clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the Attorney General,” Sanders told reporters at an off-camera White House briefing.

It was a much different answer than one publicly given to reporters in early June, when news surfaced of Mr. Trump’s frustration with Sessions and the Russia probe recusal, as the White House at that point refused to give any answer on whether the President wanted Sessions to quit.

Back then, supporters of Mr. Trump claimed the New York Times story was ‘fake news,’ but the President’s own words – in a New York Times interview on Wednesday – confirmed that Trump-Sessions frustration scenario.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else,” the President told a group of New York Times reporters.

Earlier in the day at an unrelated news conference, the Attorney General was asked by reporters about Mr. Trump’s remarks, and gave no hint about possibly resigning.

Back in June, it was reported that Sessions – stung by the President’s frustration over the Russia-recusal matter – had offered to resign his post.

Sessions was the very first GOP Senator to endorse Mr. Trump, in late February of 2016.

In Congress, Democrats seized on Mr. Trump’s remarks, saying it was obvious that the President wanted someone in the job of Attorney General who would squelch the Russia investigation.

“The smoke billows higher and higher,” said Rep. Don McEachin (D-VA), “the fire is likely not too far behind.”

After six months in office, Trump looks for legislative victories

Published: Thursday, July 20, 2017 @ 4:05 AM

President Donald Trump marks six full months in office on Thursday, still pressing lawmakers in the House and Senate to act on a bill to overhaul the Obama health law, as the Republican Congress continues to struggle on a variety of fronts to produce a major legislative victory for Mr. Trump, with no action yet on tax cuts, a balanced budget or government reforms.

But the President’s backers argue that while his agenda is not moving at top speed in the Congress, he has had successes in some areas.

Let’s take a look at where Mr. Trump stands:

1. Biggest Trump success remains Justice Gorsuch. Ask just about anyone on Capitol Hill about the President’s record so far, and they will probably talk about getting Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. For conservatives, this is a very big deal, and the few rulings that Gorsuch was involved in at the end of the 2016-2017 term seemed to indicate that he will be a justice in the mold of his predecessor, Antonin Scalia. The best part about this achievement is that Gorsuch is only 49 years old – he will turn 50 next month – meaning he could be on the U.S. Supreme Court, and leave his imprint on the law, for several decades.

2. Crackdown on illegal immigration yields big changes. In terms of policy so far, the President’s tough line on enforcing existing immigration laws, and deporting illegal immigrants has already been a success for the President. As of the end of June, the feds had arrested almost 66,000 people for being in the U.S. illegally – 48,000 of those people had been convicted of a crime. “73 percent — of everyone we have arrested were criminals, something that’s been lost in the messaging on immigration enforcement,” said Tom Homan, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The numbers from along the border are also a big change, and something that most Republicans see as a big plus for the President.

3. Rolling back Executive Branch regulations. In terms of administrative change, just by being in charge, President Trump has forced change in various federal agencies, rolling back or slowing or changing a host of rules that had been planned during the Obama Administration. Congress also got in on the action, by approving 14 different resolutions that overturned specific regulations approved late in the Obama Administration, which is really the most significant action by lawmakers so far in terms of legislation. Getting rid of regulations is a big winner with Trump supporters, many of whom believe the Obama Administration was strangling business with all sorts of red tape and government requirements.

4. Trump shakes things up at the White House. The televised White House briefing has become an endangered species over recent months, as the President’s communications team has seemingly decided to keep the daily briefing off TV. (I’m not complaining about that – they’re in charge, and they set the rules.) Originally, the Trump Team was going to shake things up in the briefing by bringing in more conservative voices to the briefing room, and by using “Skype seats” to bring in questions from outside of Washington, in hopes of generating friendlier queries about the Trump agenda. But those efforts didn’t make much of an impact at all. Refusing to call on CNN or the New York Times didn’t have much of an impact, either. And not televising the briefing is a dual-edged sword – yes, you don’t have reporters possibly playing ‘gotcha’ with their questions – but you don’t give your own administration an elevated voice on TV, either.

5. Trump Agenda still on slow-motion in Congress. One thing that President Trump has not been able to do is translate his election win into action by lawmakers in the Congress on major agenda items. Yes, the GOP passed a series of special resolutions to repeal certain regulations of the Obama Administration. But health care remains in limbo at this point, and there has been no action as yet on tax reform, the Trump $1 trillion infrastructure plan, lawmakers are ignoring much of the President’s budget, and no votes have been taken yet on money for the wall along the border with Mexico. Again, we are only six months in to the Trump Administration, so there is still a lot of time to get things done. But there is also the chance that Mr. Trump may have a skimpy record of legislative achievements as the calendar turns in the rest of 2017. This is one area where the Trump team – and GOP leaders in Congress – need to buckle down, and figure out how to turn things in the right direction.

6. Russia probe not going away anytime soon. With his latest interview for the New York Times showing again how the Russia probe deeply aggravates him, President Trump will not be able to escape the matter in coming months. Next week, his son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to appear before two Senate committees, his son Donald Jr. will be at one hearing, along with Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Also hanging over everything is the probe being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is assembling a top notch team of prosecutors and investigators. The President’s own frustration has boiled over repeatedly on this matter, especially on Twitter, and in many ways, that has only expanded the investigation because of things Mr. Trump has said. Whether you think it’s right or not, Russia will continue to be a big deal.

7. Trump’s impulsive nature drives his Presidency. Just as his interview last night with the New York Times made headlines that advisers probably had not planned for, Mr. Trump’s ways often seem to overshadow the political debates on major issues – like in recent days on health care, as the President has been all over the road on the issue. One day he was for repeal and replace, then he was advocating straight repeal, then saying he would do nothing and let the current system collapse, and then again endorsing efforts at repeal and replace. The back and forth has often left GOP lawmakers a bit exasperated, worried that the President isn’t using the bully pulpit as effectively as possible. Mr. Trump had a very strong statement on Wednesday on health care – but those have been rare in recent months.

Trump presses for action as GOP talks resume on health care bill

Published: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 @ 4:01 PM

Changing his mind yet again on health care, President Donald Trump on Wednesday directly urged Republicans in the Senate to keep searching for a deal on a bill to overhaul the Obama health law, spurring a new flurry of negotiations among GOP Senators, as top Republicans vowed to hold a vote next week to start debate on the health care plan.

“There is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We came from that meeting with a renewed commitment to keep working, to keep negotiating, and to get to yes,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“In my view, failure is not an option,” Cruz told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol.

At the White House, the President had made a similar appeal.

“We should hammer this out and get it done,” the President told Senators over lunch, as he said lawmakers should not leave town for their August vacation until that job is finished, and a bill is signed into law.

“The people of this country need more than a repeal – they need a repeal and a replace,” Mr. Trump said.

The President’s remarks were a notable turnaround from a day before, when he said Republicans should just let the Obama health law fail on its own; earlier in the week, he had suggested simply repealing the law, and waiting on a replacement.

“I would say there is no question the meeting gave a boost to the effort,” on health care, said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). “I just hope we get over the line.”

“He feels like we’re very close to getting there,” Corker said of the President, as the Tennessee Republican downplayed the President’s latest shift on what he wants out of the Congress on health care.

A group of Senators were set to meet tonight at the Capitol to go over problems they had with some of the details, and to find a way forward.

“I think we are substantially there,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), though he acknowledged there are obviously differences. “They are key.”

“The President very much emphasized that there has to be a replace with the repeal,” Cassidy added.

After the meeting, the Senate Majority Leader told reporters that he still plans to go ahead with a procedural vote next week on the Senate floor, to officially begin debate on the health care issue.

“We had a really good meeting with the President,” McConnell said as he returned to the Capitol.

Whether that can bridge the gaps and thread the needle for Senate Republicans remains the big question.