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.”

After McCain – What’s next on health care in the U.S. Congress

Published: Saturday, September 23, 2017 @ 12:26 AM

With Friday’s decision by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to oppose a last-ditch GOP proposal to overhaul the Obama health law, Republicans have almost run out of time to make substantive changes to Obamacare by a September 30 deadline for action under a special expedited procedure that did not allow for a Senate filibuster, again dealing the President and GOP leaders a bitter defeat on an issue they’ve campaigned on for the last seven years.

Here’s what can still happen over the next week – and in coming months on Capitol Hill.

1. There could still be a vote on Graham-Cassidy. While Sen. McCain has made clear that he won’t vote for the plan from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), it’s possible that the Senate could still go on the record on the matter. Aides to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that he planned to force a vote, and that could still happen, to clearly show who was for the plan, and who was not. But for now, it seems like the GOP will fail to get anything done on this signature campaign issue, with McCain, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) definitely against the plan – and two others, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) leaning against.

2. It could re-start bipartisan health talks. Up until last week, when GOP interest suddenly surged in the Graham-Cassidy plan, there had been increasing efforts to find some kind of agreement between Senators in both parties on ways to make some short term improvements in the Obama health care system for those in the individual and non-group insurance market. Those efforts were put on the shelf in recent days, but now this development leaves an opening for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

3. GOP health care efforts are certainly not dead. Just because the Graham-Cassidy plan has seemingly fallen short, that doesn’t mean Republicans will give up on their plans to change the Obama health law. For the next fiscal year, the GOP wants to use the budget reconciliation process to pass something on tax cuts and tax reform. Well – there is no reason that they can’t also try to add a health care bill onto that measure as well. One Senate official told me exactly that a few weeks ago. So, this battle is not over.

4. Republicans just weren’t ready for this process. Maybe the biggest lesson from the after-action report on GOP health care bills over the last nine months is a simple one – Republicans were not ready with their own plan to replace the Obama health law, even though they had been talking about this for seven straight years. Ever since the law was signed by President Obama, Republicans had promised to repeal it, and do something different. As a slogan it sounded great – but as we saw in recent weeks, getting the exact details was something different.

5. Democrats have also had 7 years to make improvements. Just as the GOP failed in rallying around a single plan, Democrats also didn’t exactly ring the bell in recent years on how best to improve the Obamacare system. Yes, they admit, things aren’t working perfectly, but they certainly haven’t been talking about what exactly should change, or might be changed. Could we see something different now that Graham-Cassidy seems to be dead? Or will Democrats still just sort of circle the wagons to protect President Obama’s top legislative accomplishment? This is the time for bipartisan action – but that’s easier said than done.

President Trump heads to Alabama to boost Sen. Luther Strange

Published: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 1:27 AM

Ahead of a Tuesday Republican runoff, President Donald Trump is fully inserting himself in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, holding a rally Friday night for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who faces a spirited challenge from former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, in a race that has strained GOP alliances in the Yellowhammer State.

The President will stop tonight in Huntsville, Alabama – not far from there, Mr. Trump had a gigantic rally back in late February of 2016, as he drew some 30,000 people to a football stadium in Madison.

“I am supporting “Big” Luther Strange because he was so loyal and helpful to me!” Trump wrote in one of a number of tweets about the Alabama race.

Behind in the polls, Strange used a Thursday night debate with Moore to repeatedly remind Alabama voters who the President was supporting.

“The first question is, who does the President support? The President supports me,” Strange said.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lkPNR1UGMM&w=640&h=390]

As for Moore, he has drawn support from a number of conservative Republicans, but now finds himself pitted against someone who has the backing of the President, something that Strange mentioned several times at a debate on Thursday night.

“This race is not me against the President,” Moore said.

Moore would seem to be a perfect ally for the President – someone who rails against the GOP Establishment, focusing much of his ire on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – but Mr. Trump has stuck with “Big Luther,” who has trailed in the polls leading up to the runoff.

“If they believe in Trump’s agenda – Moore is the clear choice,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), “but if they follow the cult of personality – then Strange.”

Strange was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. Attorney General – Sessions was the first Senator to support Mr. Trump, but that has not earned him any loyalty from the President, who has castigated Sessions repeatedly.

While the President has backed Strange, Moore has received the backing of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who ran third in the original primary.

But the big voice on Friday will be that of President Trump, who has certainly been putting his political capital on the line for Strange.

New GOP health care plan faces questions over how it deals with pre-existing conditions

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 3:17 AM

As Republicans try to push ahead with a new plan to overhaul the Obama health law, one flash point has erupted on how the GOP effort would impact people with pre-existing health conditions, as backers and opponents have come to much different conclusions on that important policy matter.

The issue of how people with pre-existing conditions are treated has been a controversial one throughout this year’s legislative push by the GOP to coalesce behind a plan that would repeal and replace the Obama health law, as supporters of the law argue it’s one of the most popular aspects of the existing law, as it prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people because of their past medical history.

In a tweet sent out on Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump declared his strong support for the Graham-Cassidy plan, specifically trumpeting what he says is ‘coverage of pre-existing conditions.’

As for what’s in the actual proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – the language does not expressly say that people with pre-existing conditions can keep their coverage without facing premium increases, as under the Obama health law.

And the bill text doesn’t expressly say that states can get rid of requirements to cover pre-existing conditions, either – but it leaves open that possibility.

Here is the only mention in the legislative text about pre-existing conditions:

The Graham-Cassidy plan would allow states to change the “Essential Health Benefits” that are required under the Obama health law – basically, these are items that must be included in health coverage by insurance companies, preventing higher premiums based on age, lifetime caps on medical coverage, and the refusal to cover certain items because of a pre-existing medical condition, and more.

Under the plan, states would be allowed to seek a waiver from the Secretary of Health and Human Services to change the EHB’s for that state; some states might want to keep the current Essential Health Benefits, while others could seek something different in terms of minimum coverage requirements.

Some outside groups, and insurance companies have said their read of the language is that coverage for pre-existing conditions would be in danger in the Graham-Cassidy plan.

The current GOP plan is to have a vote on the Graham-Cassidy language sometime next week. The Senate must act before September 30 in order to use a parliamentary procedure that prevents a Senate filibuster.

Senators will be back on Monday for votes – at this point, the GOP does not have 50 votes for this new plan.

Sen. Rob Portman wants opioid money added to health care bill

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 5:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 5:00 PM

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Washington Bureau
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio(Washington Bureau)

Sen. Rob Portman has privately urged Senate Republican leaders to include billions of federal dollars to treat opioid addiction as part of a controversial health bill that could reach the Senate floor next week.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would dramatically revise the 2010 health law known as Obamacare by shifting hundreds of billions of dollars to the states to design their own health plans.

But the bill does not specifically include any money to treat the epidemic of opioid addiction, an issue Portman, R-Ohio, emphasized during his re-election campaign last year. More than 150,000 people in Ohio are undergoing through Medicaid treatment for opioids and other drugs.

RELATED: Portman bill on sex trafficking: What are the details?

“While he is still reviewing this latest proposal, Rob has and will continue to advocate for additional opioid funding just as he has done throughout the health care debate,” said Emily Benavides, a Portman spokeswoman.

Portman’s request for opioid money came as a new study shows Ohio could lose as much as $9 billion in federal dollars by 2026 if congressional Republicans approve the Graham bill.

Released by the Washington consulting firm of Avalere Health, the study suggests lawmakers in Columbus would have to find billions of new state dollars to maintain current levels of health care for people receiving Medicaid, the joint federal and state program which provides health coverage for low-income people.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich relied on federal Medicaid dollars made available through Obamacare to extend coverage to more than 700,000 low-income people. Obamacare allowed families of four earning as much as $34,000 a year to qualify for Medicaid.

The report, sponsored by the Democratic leaning Center for American Progress, may undercut efforts by Senate Republicans to push the bill through next week with a parliamentary maneuver that would require just 51 votes.

Jon Keeling, a Kasich spokesman, said, “Make no mistake, losing billions of dollars would be devastating to Ohio as we work to provide care to our state’s most vulnerable and drug addicted.”

“The only ones who can support this legislation are those who haven’t had time to properly assess the damage it would do,” Keeling said.

Although Portman has yet to say whether he would support the Graham bill, he told reporters Wednesday that he is “supportive of the idea of getting flexibility back to the states.”

At Portman’s urging, Senate Republicans last July included $45 billion in opioid treatment money in a bill aimed at scrapping Obamacare. But the bill collapsed in the Senate.

Because Graham’s bill would provide states with greater authority to design their own health plans, states could use those dollars for opioid treatment. But states such as Ohio would likely face a financial squeeze by having to use fewer federal dollars to finance coverage for Medicaid and help middle-income people pay for federally subsidized insurance policies established by Obamacare.

“This bill is worse than the last one,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “First, there is no money dedicated for opioid treatment. Second, it’s worse for those states (such as Ohio) where Governor Kasich did the right thing and expanded Medicaid.”

“If it passes, frankly the Republican majority should be ashamed of themselves,” Brown told reporters on a conference call.

The Graham bill, in essence, would tell the states they could stay in Obamacare or take billions of federal dollars to design their own programs. The federal government would supply states with per-capita grants.

The bill would repeal the law’s requirements that individuals buy federally subsidized insurance policies.