Ohio Republicans resolve leadership spat over redistricting commission. Panel will meet Wednesday
A week after infighting cut short the year's first meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, the seven-member board is scheduled to meet again. This time, the question of leadership appears to have been resolved.
It’s unclear who the co-chairs are. The panel’s two Democrats said they were waiting for Republicans to announce their co-chair. There was a dispute between Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) over who would be the GOP co-chair. Huffman wanted Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), saying the House picked the Republican co-chair in the last redistricting round. McColley is expected to be the next Senate president, as Huffman is term-limited. He’s running for the House, and is expected to challenge Stephens as speaker if they both win their races next year.
Republicans in the Ohio Senate wanted a co-chair spot over a representative from the Ohio House. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) is running for the House next year, and he’s expected to challenge Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) for that leadership role if he is elected.
Now, with the decision over leadership resolved, the commission will meet Wednesday, Sept. 20, one week after it was originally scheduled to meet.
Democrats and groups that support a change to the redistricting process pounced on the spat as an example of why change is needed.
“The dysfunction in our Republican counterparts on the redistricting commission has … it’s really no surprise to anyone ... but it’s become a national embarrassment for Ohio,” Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio said.
Democrats said they have come up with maps of their own and plan to put those forth at Wednesday’s meeting. Antonio said their maps are a fair representation of Ohioans.
“Our map more closely matches Ohio’s statewide voter preferences than the current map that we are functioning under,” she said. Our map represents and respects municipal and county boundaries while keeping communities of interest whole. It minimizes splits and avoids partisan packing of voters that dilute the ability to elect a candidate of their choice and creates meaningful competitive opportunities for candidates.”
The Democrats said their new maps still give Republicans more district in which they are favored to win. The House map, they said, creates 56 seats that are more favorable to Republicans and 43 that are more favorable to Democrats, while the Senate map gives Republicans the advantage in 19 districts and Democrats the edge in 14 seats.
“It’s the map we should already be operating under. Our current map is nothing more than an illustration of a colossal power grab that reflects the self-interest of Republican politicians at the expense of Ohio voters,” Antonio said.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) is suspicious that the new maps drawn by Democrats won’t be given serious consideration.
“We fully anticipate that the only maps produced by Republicans will again be gerrymandered GOP districts drawn for a GOP supermajority by a GOP supermajority,” Russo said.
In a written statement, John Fortney, communications director for Republicans in the Ohio Senate, seemed to indicate the maps the Democrats plan to propose will face an uphill challenge.
“There were significant constitutional violations with the maps proposed by the Democrats the last time, and we haven’t had an opportunity to review the new submission,” Fortney said.
Democrats are misinterpreting a section of the process that “is aspirational and only in play” if other parts of the process are not followed, Fortney said, but, he added, good faith negotiations continue.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is also on the commission, has said the legislative maps should be approved by the end of day Friday, Sept. 22, so that everything will be in place for the March primary.