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Ohio Redistricting Commission may add another hearing for comment on legislative maps

Carolyn Loxley, a Pickaway County farmer, was one of a handful of people who showed up to testify on legislative maps before the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Sept. 22, 2023
The Ohiochannel
Carolyn Loxley, a Pickaway County farmer, was one of a handful of people who showed up to testify on legislative maps before the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Sept. 22, 2023

Only a handful of Ohioans showed up at the first public hearing on legislative working maps being considered by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. But the panel is considering adding another hearing date before approving new state House and Senate maps.

Friday’s meeting at Deer Creek State Park was the first of three public hearings ending on Tuesday. The panel is considering adding a fourth public meeting because some Ohioans won’t be able to make it to the planned hearing at Punderson State Park in Geauga County in Northeast Ohio on Monday.

“It’s Yom Kippur on Monday and so we also want to make accommodation for any of our friends in the Jewish community to be able to participate,” commission co-chair Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said.

So, the committee is looking to set up another hearing, perhaps in the evening. The meeting Monday and the one Tuesday at the Statehouse in Columbus will start at 10 a.m. But members of the panel said they were open to considering a meeting in the evening early next week to accommodate testimony from Ohioans who have to work during the day.

Only a handful of people testified at this first meeting

The meeting at Deer Creek drew some familiar faces to Statehouse politics. Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, has been outspoken about legislative and congressional district maps drawn by the commission in the past. She told the panel that citizens are tired of the panel producing gerrymandered maps that benefit Republicans.

“Because of foot dragging, backroom map-making and repeated redraws, many Ohioans are so frustrated that they have frankly given up on you,” Turcer said.

Some who have analyzed the working maps said they could give Republicans an edge to get an even bigger supermajority in the state legislature than they currently hold. Republicans currently hold 67 of 99 Ohio House seats and 26 of 33 seats in the Ohio Senate.

Carolyn Loxley, a farmer who lives in Pickaway County, made note of the small crowd at the meeting and told the panel many people are discouraged by the past actions of this panel.

“The way these hearings are scheduled is pretty shameful,” Loxley said.

She said many farmers feel like they don’t have representation in Columbus.

“The new silent majority is rural Ohioans and as a farm owner in multiple counties in South-Central Ohio, I want to assure you that you cannot count on us remaining silent. We clearly see what is being done, the rights that are being stolen, and we will not remain silent. Gerrymandering Ohio is a losing game,” Oxley warned.

Former Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper, who has testified to the commission in the past, said the districts are rigged so the outcomes of elections are predetermined.

“We are pulling apart, one piece at a time, the essence of democracy in our state and we are absolutely thumbing our nose at the rule of law,” Pepper said.

Pepper noted the previous legislative maps were ruled unconstitutional five times, including the maps that were used for the 2022 elections. A federal court allowed the current map to be used for 2022, but only for that year.

V.L. Bicknell said she was on her way to the beach at Deer Creek but decided to take a detour to testify when she heard about the meeting. The Democrat, who referred to herself as an average voter, wanted to tell lawmakers they were hurting the state’s image.

“I do, as a citizen, hate that Ohio takes in on the chin repeatedly for being corrupt,” Bicknell said.

Republican auditor Keith Faber, the panel’s other co-chair , took issue with Bicknell’s comments about corruption.

“I’m going to just take an objection to the notion that Ohio is the most corrupt. I disagree with that,” Faber said. “As the person who enforces a lot of the public corruption with regard to local government and other folks, I can tell you we certainly have our issues but I think most people who work in Ohio government are honest, hard-working folks, trying to do the will of the people of Ohio.”

Antonio said she agreed that Ohio workers are not corrupt but added some of the state’s top leaders and politicians committed crimes, leading to giving the state the moniker of being the most corrupt in the nation.

At the end of the meeting, members of the commission discussed when and where they could hold a fourth meeting. Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said members have tight schedules in the coming days.

“We are trying to balance seven schedules here to try to set up a meeting,” McColley said.

The commission concluded without setting a place or time for a fourth meeting but members said they could come up with details for it at Monday’s hearing.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.