Ohio voters may change way Congress lines are drawn

Published: Tuesday, December 26, 2017 @ 8:51 AM
Updated: Tuesday, December 26, 2017 @ 11:04 AM

            Voters cast their ballots at the Edgewood Middle School polling place, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Voters cast their ballots at the Edgewood Middle School polling place, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Political operatives for generations have redrawn legislative and congressional districts to benefit the party in power.

But that could change in a big way in 2018, and Ohio will be in the forefront as reformers attempt to reduce the influence of partisanship in the drawing of political districts.

A lot is at stake, including — some say — the polarization that defines American politics.

Supporters say districts with a diverse political mix are more fair, reduce partisanship and give voters greater choice.

“It really is a combination of factors: the building sense out there that there is an urgent problem to solve and a good track record of Ohio’s last effort at reform,” said Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

A lot is happening on the redistricting front, including a potentially consequential ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

RELATED: Ohio may change the way congressional lines are drawn Justices are expected to rule in June on a Wisconsin case that may for the first time result in the court prohibiting partisan-based gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing districts to favor a certain political party or candidate.

“That decision could change the landscape in Ohio and every other state in the country,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.

Redistricting reform efforts are widespread. Reform legislation was introduced in 28 states this year and citizen-led initiatives were proposed in at least eight states, according to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Ohio voters in 2015 showed a big interest in reforming the current system when 71 percent approved changes in the way state legislative districts are drawn.

That constitutional amendment set up an expanded redistricting commission that gave the minority party more power, and included rules discouraging partisanship and requiring compact, competitive districts and a transparent redistricting process.

RELATED: Supreme Court takes on case that could change congressional elections Devine called that vote “a really strong wind for reform” that is fueling efforts now to reform how congressional districts are drawn in Ohio.

The flurry of activity comes as the constitutionally mandated 2020 Census looms. If new systems aren’t put in place by then, the Congressional redistricting reforms will have to wait another decade until after the 2030 Census.

Divided court

The Supreme Court long ago ruled that it is unconstitutional to racially gerrymander districts, a prohibition reinforced in a ruling this year on North Carolina’s redistricting map. But, Smith said, justices have never settled on a way to determine when partisan gerrymandering goes too far.

The justices appeared divided during arguments in the Wisconsin case, known as Gill v. Whitford, with Justice Anthony Kennedy likely to take on the familiar role of tie breaker, said Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

Foley said Kennedy “is on the public record saying he’s very troubled by partisan gerrymandering and he sees it as an affront to democracy.”

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin were accused of seriously skewing the state’s legislative districts in favor of Republicans when the maps were redrawn in 2011. Wisconsin Republican lawmakers said the map was not intentionally partisan, but instead reflected the fact that many Democrats lived in urban areas and Republicans were more evenly spread out across the state, according to a case description by the Brennan Center, a non-partisan public policy institute at the New York University School of Law.

A panel of three federal judges disagreed, finding the Republican maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, violating the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in October and is expected early next year to hear arguments in a separate case from Maryland — Benisek v. Lamone. In that case, Republicans allege that congressional district maps drawn by Democrats were designed to punish voters who supported Republican candidates.

Foley said the court is at “a major fork in the road.”

RELATED: Concerns raised over 2020 census accuracy, funding “One direction is the court basically abandoning any role to try to police excessive partisanship in these maps. The other fork in the road would take the federal judiciary down the path of being something of a police officer on this issue,” he said.

Even if the high court rules against partisan gerrymandering, Foley does not anticipate the justices would put courts in charge of redistricting.

“They’re going to give states latitude, but they’ll say there’s a boundary of how much partisanship you can inject, and when you go too far we’re going to put a brake and a limit on it,’” Foley said. “If a state legislature acts with too much partisan greed, so to speak, in drawing lines then the federal courts will intervene and say, ‘No, no, no, that’s too greedy.’”

Computers change game

Partisan gerrymandering and calls for reform are not new, but powerful computers and the availability of massive datasets have dramatically changed how precisely a district can be drawn to protect a certain party or an incumbent.

Partisan map drawers can now carefully place voters of one party or another into a district, and know exactly what their voting patterns are.

Those decisions stay in place too, because legislative and congressional district lines are redrawn only every 10 years.

The new boundaries are supposed to reflect population shifts after the decennial census. Although differing rules govern how Ohio draws state and congressional district boundaries, essentially the party that controls state government has controlled the redrawing of the districts.

Ohio’s drop in population cost it two congressional seats in the 2011 redistricting, and the state may lose another seat after 2020, according to estimates. Ohio now has 16 House members — 12 Republicans and four Democrats.

RELATED: Issue 1 would change how legislative lines are drawn Federal law requires that districts be as equal in population as possible, that its parts be contiguous and that the district lines not dilute minority voting strength. But there is no law against packing a district with members of a single political party or dividing up a certain party’s members to dilute their power.

And that’s what has happened — in Ohio and many other states. Prior to Issue 1, the 2015 constitutional amendment that was approved overwhelming by voters, Ohio had no rules requiring transparency or language about banning partisanship. The initiative called for a bipartisan commission to be involved the redrawing of district boundaries, but it only pertains to legislative seats and not members of Congress.

A coalition of groups is currently gathering signatures to put a congressional redistricting proposal on the November 2018 ballot.

Republican wave

The Republican wave that occurred in 2010 — the first mid-term after Barack Obama won the presidency — helped the GOP control political-map drawing in state after state, including Ohio.

A 2017 study Brennan Center of election results since then found that the decade’s congressional maps “are consistently biased in favor of Republicans,” according to the center’s Extreme Maps report. The group studied the 26 states that have six or more congressional districts — accounting for 85 percent of Congressional districts. It found that because of partisan bias in redistricting, Republicans currently have a net benefit of 16 to 17 seats in the current Congress.

Those 16 to 17 seats can be the difference between bills passing or failing. If Democrats had 16 more House seats, for example, the tax reform package that President Donald Trump signed on Friday would not have passed.

“Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania consistently have the most extreme levels of partisan bias,” the report says. “Florida, Ohio, Texas and Virginia have less severe partisan bias but jointly account for most of the remaining net extra Republican seats in the examined states.”

There was no high level of bias in states with maps drawn by commissions, courts or states without one party control, the Brennan Center found.

“There is strong evidence that the bias in this decade’s congressional maps is not accidental,” the report said. “With the exception of Texas, all of the most biased maps are in battleground states.”

Ohio’s congressional districts sprawl across multiple counties — dividing cities and counties alike. Summit County, home to Akron, is divided into four congressional districts, but not a single one of the representatives lives in that county.

Ohio’s districts are are also known for their sometimes odd shapes. Congressional district nine, held by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur. D-Toledo, is narrow and long, earning the nickname “snake by the lake.” District 4, which sprawls over 14 counties and is held by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, is called the “duck district” and its tiny tail curls into Mercer County, a rural county represented by two other congressmen besides Jordan.

The districts were drawn by Republican state legislators entirely in secret with little opportunity for public input. Still, Republicans defend the maps, saying voters can decide every two years who to elect. They also say the state is becoming more red, noting that President Donald Trump won the state by more than eight percentage points and Republicans like Rob Portman, John Kasich and others have won their recent statewide elections in landslides.

Ballot issue

The congressional amendment that a citizen’s group hopes to put on the ballot next fall would mostly mirror the 2015 voter-approved reform of state legislative redistricting. Fair Districts =Fair Elections, a coalition of good-government groups that includes Common Cause of Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio, has gathered 178,000 of the 305,591 needed to put on the November ballot, said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio.

“You need those good rules embedded in the Ohio Constitution,” said Turcer.

Two prominent Republicans — Kasich and Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is running for lieutenant governor — have long advocated for reforming the redistricting process.

“Ideas and merits should be what wins elections, not gerrymandering,” Kaisch said in his 2016 State of the State address. “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of that. Gerrymandering needs to be on the dust bin of history.”

RELATED: Kasich backs redistricting reform State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, a member of a four-man bipartisan working group set up by Republican legislative leaders said he anticipates the group’s version of redistricting reform will be ready to present to the legislature in early January. The goal is to place the proposed new system on the May 8 primary ballot, he said.

While the proposal will include “shades of Issue 1,” according to Huffman, he and Senate President Larry Obhof agree that “the General Assembly has to have some substantial control,” Huffman said.

Neither Huffman nor fellow working group member Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, would detail what the group’s proposal may look like. But Sykes said he supports the Fair Districts = Fair Elections proposal, which calls for a bipartisan approach to district map-drawing.

RELATED: Issue 1 would change how legislative lines are drawn Cedarville’s Smith said it’s doubtful the legislature’s Republican majority will approve something that “significantly takes partisanship out of the process.”

“The Republicans are in such control I have a hard time seeing them give up that kind of power,” he said.

Smith also questions whether changing the redistricting process will curtail polarization and the partisanship that is so endemic in American politics.

“I think if we were able to just magically wave a wand and get rid of partisan gerrymandering you would see some changes,” Smith said. “But you’re not going to wish away the culture war. You are not going to remove tribalization.”

Other stories by Lynn Hulsey

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Proposed citizen initiative for state constitutional amendment reforming congressional redistricting

  • Would remove the state legislature’s power to directly draw districts.
  • New Ohio Redistricting Commission would consist of governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and one person each appointed by the Ohio House and Senate majority and minority leaders. No member of Congress could serve on it.
  • Map approval requires majority vote, including at least two members of minority party.
  • Outlaws drawing a map to favor or disfavor one party or candidate.
  • Districts must be nearly equal in population.
  • Map should minimize splitting of counties, municipalities and townships.
  • Districts must be compact and geographically contiguous.
  • Requires representational fairness, using a ten-year tally of Ohio voters partisan preferences.
  • Follows state and federal laws protecting minority representation.
  • The commission must release its proposed plan to the public, hold at least three public hearing and seek public input.

Source: Fair Districts = Fair Elections

Kucinich enters governor’s race with call to “reclaim” the state and bring back Democrats who voted for Trump

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:36 AM
Updated: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 5:36 PM

Kucinich says state must stop giving tax breaks to wealthy

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich told local Democrats that it is time to reclaim Ohio and start spending state resources on things that help everyone rather than tax cuts for the wealthy.

“I’m in the position to get in the game and say, ‘Look, this changes. We have to be fair to all Ohioans,’” said Kucinich, speaking to the South Dayton Democratic Club on Wednesday after announcing he is running for governor in the Democratic primary.

“We can’t meet our health care needs, our education needs, we cannot rebuild this state if all we’re doing is taking resources of the state and giving it to a select few that already is very wealthy.”

Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland, announced he would join the already-crowded Democratic field during a Wednesday rally at Middleburg Heights in Cuyahoga County.

He pledged to focus on fighting poverty and violence and to promote economic opportunity the arts and education, according to the Associated Press.

Later he traveled to Columbus and then spoke to the South Dayton Democratic Club at the West Carrollton branch of the Dayton Metro Library. 

Kucinich outlined his plans to raise the minimum wage, improve infrastructure and establish a non-profit broadband internet public utility.

“I could win this election. I may be the only Democrat who can win because I have the ability to reach out, because I don’t polarize. Because I know the aspirations of people without regard to party,” Kucinich said during an interview after he spoke to Democrats at the West Carrollton branch of the Dayton Metro Library.

Kucinich, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004 and 2008, believes he can bring Democrats who voted for President Donald Trump back to the fold.

Kucinich says he can win race for governor

RELATED: Ex-Congressman Dennis Kucinich to launch bid for governor

“When I look at my own congressional district the Democrats who went for Trump were concerned about trade, were concerned about war, were concerned about corruption in the government and the Democratic Party lost them. I can reach back to them and bring them back,” Kucinich said.

Democratic candidate Connie Pillich welcomes Kucinich to the race, said Eric Goldman, campaign manager for Pillich, a former state representative from Cincinnati.

“With that said, there is nothing in Kucinich's record that would demonstrate an appeal to Trump voters, swing voters, or disaffected Republicans,” Goldman said. “The Connie Pillich-Scott Schertzer team is the only Democratic ticket in this primary that has a history of appealing to voters from across the aisle and a track record of winning tough campaigns.”

Kucinich, 71, lost his congressional seat in 2012 to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, after the Republican redistricting of 2011 put the two Democrats in the same district. He enters the governor’s race relatively late but has been traveling the state over the last year denouncing public funding for charter schools and in support of state Issue 2, the prescription drug ballot issue that failed in November.

RELATED: Kucinich goes after charter schools in Dayton area visit

With the Feb. 7 filing deadline for the May 8 primary approaching, the Democratic and Republican fields are solidifying.

Last week Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley withdrew from the Democratic primary and threw her support behind Richard Cordray, former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a former Ohio treasurer and attorney general. Cordray’s running mate is former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.

Richard Cordray and Betty Sutton

RELATED: Dayton Mayor Whaley drops out of governor’s race

Also in the race are Pillich of  Cincinnati, and her running mate and Marion mayor, Schertzer; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, who is running with Ohio Board of Education member Stephanie Dodd; and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, whose running mate is Chantelle E. Lewis, a Lorain elementary school principal.

RELATED: O’Neill’s boast of sexual liaisons brings calls for his resignation

Mike DeWine and Jon Husted

The ballot is less crowded on the Republican side where Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his running mate, Secretary of State Jon Husted, are opposed by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and running mate Nathan Estruth, a Cincinnati businessman.

“We welcome Mr. Kucinich to the race. Our campaign looks forward to taking on whichever Democrat emerges from their crowded primary,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, campaign spokesperson for DeWine/Husted. “Mike DeWine and Jon Husted have the vision and plan to lead Ohio boldly into the future bringing more high-paying jobs, solving the opioid crisis and securing economic prosperity for all of Ohio.”

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One Year Later: What do Ohio Dems who voted for Trump say now?

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 5:09 PM

Trump supporters in Ohio, who are democrats, discuss the president's first year in office.

Saturday marks one year since the inauguration of President Donald Trump -- how is he doing?

CNN Correspondent Martin Savage in Youngstown, Ohio, spoke to some Ohio Democrats who voted for Trump.

The industrial city was hard-hit by job loss, business closings and population decline. The answer for many here was Donald Trump. In 2016, about 7,000 registered Democrats switched party affiliations, according to the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

>> LGBT Bill picks up support in Ohio

CNN was in Youngstown, speaking to a pastor, a stay at home mom, a student, and a union member machine shop worker -- all Democrats or raised in Democratic families who crossed over to vote Trump.

>> Liberals press Dems to act on immigration, shutdown or no

One year later, do they regret voting for Trump?

One year later, what’s their take on Trump’s Tweets?

One year later, do they say the president is a liar or a racist?

One year later, how is Trump doing on immigration?

One year later, has Trump met expectations on the economy?

Watch video above for the full interview.

LGBT bill picks up support in Ohio

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:05 PM

            State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, says advocates for gay rights have pushed bills for nearly a decade to protect LGBT Ohioans against discrimination in housing and jobs. She thinks a bill this session may stand a chance. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/PHOTO
            Laura A. Bischoff
State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, says advocates for gay rights have pushed bills for nearly a decade to protect LGBT Ohioans against discrimination in housing and jobs. She thinks a bill this session may stand a chance. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/PHOTO(Laura A. Bischoff)

For nearly 10 years, advocates for gay rights have pushed for legal changes that would protect LGBT Ohioans from discrimination in housing, jobs and places of public accommodation, but in each legislative session the efforts have stalled.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said this time around, though, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce is backing the bill, giving her hope that it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Ohio should join the 21st century. It’s time, more than time — and protect all of her people, including those from the LBGT community. Passing House Bill 160 would be a great step forward. It would be good for business, Ohio’s economy and also, it’s the right thing to do,” said Antonio.

Related: Kasich to GOP: Get out of the 1980’s

She noted that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and businesses have pledged to testify in favor of the bill later this month.

The push for House Bill 160 comes at the same time the Human Rights Campaign released a state-by-state report on laws and policies that affect individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC, said the report grades states on what basic protections it provides residents and visitors when it comes to employment, housing, hate crimes, services to youths in foster care, bans on conversion therapy and other issues.

Ohio is among 28 states lacking non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, employment and places of public accommodation, the report says. House Bill 160 would change the Ohio Civil Rights Law to add these protections and preserve all religious exemptions in current law, Antonio said.

Related: Does Ohio need a law protecting religious freedom?

The bill is backed by Ohio Business Competes, a coalition of some 300 businesses that support the changes.

While some employers and local communities have non-discrimination policies, Antonio said it’s time for a statewide law.

“Your ZIP Code should not determine whether you have equal rights and protections,” she said. “We should live in a state where someone can work in one community but decide to buy a home in another community and not look into their policies to find out whether or not their family will be welcome there. Come on, we can do better.”

Jordan: Clinton, not Trump, sought Russia help to influence election

Published: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 11:50 AM
Updated: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 11:50 AM

Jim Jordan on WHIO

Rep. Jim Jordan has emerged as a top defender of President Donald Trump as the Justice Department’s Russia investigation continues, leading some to wonder if the GOP insurgent known for causing heartburn to the party establishment has become a surrogate for the president.

For Jordan, it’s very straightforward: He says it was the Hillary Clinton campaign — not the Trump campaign — that worked with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, namely by paying for the compilation of a dossier meant to embarrass Trump. Former FBI director James Comey testified in June that some of the information in that dossier was “salacious and unverified,” but Jordan argues that the FBI nonetheless used it to obtain warrants to spy on Trump campaign officials.

RELATED: Jordan, Davidson at odds with GOP over spy bill

He began questioning the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last month, spurring headlines when he told Fox News that “everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the next president of the United States.”

He amplified those comments in January, publishing a piece with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in the Washington Examiner that urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step down because of Justice Department leaks regarding the case.

Jordan has been so upfront with his criticism of the Russia investigation that CNN host John Berman, in a recent interview with Jordan, asked him if he was coordinating talking points with the White House.

“Of course not,” Jordan said.

‘Key moment in history’

Whether Jordan is motivated by the dedication of a dogged true believer or whether he’s doing it to get in good graces with the Trump administration has stirred plenty of debate.

A Capitol Hill Republican who declined to be named so he could speak candidly said Jordan’s criticism of the investigation is part of a larger effort aimed at positioning the Freedom Caucus, led by Jordan, for a leadership role in the next Congress.

“This whole mop-up duty for the president is jockeying for the next Congress and leadership,” he said.

REALTED: Ex Speaker Boehner goes off on Jordan

But others say Jordan’s full-throated criticism of the investigation comes from sincerity.

“If I know anything about Jim Jordan, it’s that he sticks to his guns, sticks to his principles,” said former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, who has been a critic of Trump. “I think he says that stuff because he believes it.”

Democrats accuse Jordan of serving as a surrogate for Trump.

“This will be his legacy,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “This is a key moment in history. We know another government interfered with our election and he was one of the congressmen working to stop the American people from knowing what happened…we all should want answers to what happened.”

Jordan: ‘You cannot do that in America’

In an interview, Jordan defending his recent statements, saying the Russia investigation was started under flawed circumstances. He has worked to point out problems with the investigation, including the fact that the FBI began its investigation based on a dossier compiled out of research paid for by the Clinton campaign.

“If the FBI took an opposition research document that was unsubstantiated, that was paid for by the Clinton campaign and dressed it up like legitimate intelligence — you cannot do that in America,” he said.

Jordan said he is also concerned about text messages exchanged by two top FBI officers who were having an extramarital affair. One of the officers, Peter Strzock, ran both the investigation of whether Clinton downloaded classified information on her personal email server as well as the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the campaign.

Strzock last year was removed from the Russia probe over the text messages, one of which called the possibility of a Trump victory “terrifying” and another referring to an “insurance policy” in case he was elected.

Jordan said he thinks the “insurance policy” Strzock referred to was the dossier.

Sounding much like Trump himself, who accused Strzock of treason last week, Jordan said: “To date, we have not one bit of evidence that shows there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election. But we have hard facts that say the Clinton campaign paid Russia to do what? Influence the election — to gather material to influence the election” in Clinton’s favor.

Frequent critic

This is far from the first time Jordan has become entrenched in a controversial congressional investigation, or fired spears at the opposition party. He was a key critic of accusations that the IRS unfairly denied tax-exempt status to tea party organizations, and he was among the most vocal on the 2015 House investigation of 2012 attacks on an embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Rep. Warren Davidson, a Troy Republican who is a close ally of Jordan’s, dismisses the notion that Jordan’s investigations are partisan, saying he has been equally hard on GOP Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he was on Obama attorney generals Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.

“It seems like that this is an investigation about Trump, and in reality, the purpose of this investigation is to understand how Russia tried to influence our elections,” Davidson said.

Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan helped found, said Jordan “believes the government should be there to serve the people but not pick winners and losers…he’s been consistent with trying to make sure he holds the government accountable.”

But Pepper described a different Jordan, one who “is literally buying into the most extreme of the conspiracy theories.”

“It’s one thing just to have that opinion,” he said. “But that’s not just his opinion. He’s actively involved in very concrete ways to being a roadblock to an investigation of something serious.”