Ohio’s redrawn congressional districts sparked such discontent among Democrats that it’s become an election issue on the November 6th ballot. Representatives for and against a proposal to dramatically change Ohio’s redistricting process debated the Issue at the City Club of Cleveland. Ideastream’s Bill Rice reports. (Scroll down to hear entire debate.)
Issue 2 on the statewide ballot reads: Shall there be a state-funded commission to draw legislative and congressional districts? The choice is a little more complicated than that – actually, a LOT more complicated, according to Terry Casey. He’s a Republican consultant representing Protect Your Ohio Vote. The group’s leading the charge to defeat the proposal to take redistricting away from politicians and put it in the hands of a 12 person citizen commission. One of Caseys primary objections – one that many have voiced – is that it would embed the new system in the state constitution.
CASEY: I lot of people don’t realize that if this would pass, it’s there – not just forever, but actually beyond ever. And if you ever want to fix it, correct it, it would take many millions of dollars, very complicated to fix and correct.
Casey insists that redistricting is not a partisan issue, and points to newspapers like the Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal – hardly Republican newspapers, which have urged a “no” vote on issue 2. At the debate, he said the method of choosing commission members is too complex and the results too unpredictable. Plus, he said, some minority leaders are also opposed… and for good reason.
CASEY: There’s nothing that guarantees that minority districts would be respected and guaranteed against any illegal diluting of their voting strength.
On the other side, Dan Tokaji, a law professor at the Ohio State University, agrees with Casey that partisanship in redistricting doesn’t play favorites; it can help Democrats too, and has in the past.
TOKAJI: When every politician, virtually every politician, Republican or Democrat, has a safe seat, there’s no incentive to listen to the voices of the people. They’re listening to their political cronies, to paid lobbyists, to big money donors – to the very special interests that control our process right now.
But right now it favors Republicans, and Tokaji sees an agenda in Casey’s advocacy against the measure.
TOKAJI: I think most of you know, Terry’s a long time republican political operative. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we know the interests who he’s speaking for here. He’s speaking for the folks who currently control power in Columbus and who are going to control a majority of our congressional seats in Congress.
The proposed system was designed by a coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters, Ohio Citizen Action, Common Cause – what Tokaji calls “good government” groups. The commission would be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and four Independents. Debate Moderator Rick Jackson fills out the explanation, and poses a question to Tokaji:
JACKSON: Politician, partisan They choose 42 perople, these judges do, they whittle that group down, they whittle THAT group down. Finally they choose nine, and the nine choose the final three, so I could ask you… why so complicated?
TOKAJI: it’s not that complicated. You just explained it in ten seconds!
Toward the end of the debate, Casey raised another concern; The U.S. Constitution, he says, delegates the drawing of Congressional districts to state legislatures, which would seem to supercede any move to take that power AWAY from the legislature. Approving the proposal could set up a lengthy legal battle, and ultimately send reformers back to the drawing board.