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Analysis: Ohio Republicans finally have what they want: Total control

Ohio House and Senate maps passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on September 26, 2023.
Dave's Redistricting Website
Ohio House and Senate maps passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on September 26, 2023.

It took Ohio Republicans two years to do it. They finally have what they wanted all along.

They have complete control of the Ohio General Assembly through a set of maps that will set their veto-proof supermajority in stone for the rest of this decade, if not more.

And they did it with the help of the two Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

All it took for the Republicans was two years of changing the goalposts, kicking the can down the road and using every stall tactic in their playbook to defeat Democrats and the voting rights groups which stood in their way.

Total control.

The two-year quest came to an end late Tuesday night after closed-door negotiations among members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission — far away from the glare of the meddlesome public — that produced a backroom deal.

RELATED: Ohio Redistricting Commission unanimously adopts new House, Senate maps in late night meeting

The two Democrats on the seven-member commission — Senate Minority Leader Nickie J. Antonio and House Minority Leader Allison Russo — folded late Tuesday night and signed on to the Republican maps.

They chose to live to fight another day rather than engage in a quixotic battle with the majority Republicans on the commission that they were certain to lose.

"The harsh reality is you can't un-gerrymander gerrymandered maps when those in control are unwilling to give up unearned power," Russo said in a written statement. "Every step of this process has been nothing but political.

"Every district we've discussed has been viewed as a political pawn," Russo said. "Something that can be moved, shaped, or divided any way needed, as long as it fits the endgame of a stronger GOP supermajority."

As the public portion of the Tuesday night meeting wrapped up, Republicans on the commission were quite pleased with the result.

"I think this map meets the constitutional test," said State Auditor Keith Faber, the Republican co-chair of the commission. "It certainly does what we indicated should be done. It allows people to be represented by people who share their views and values. And it keeps communities together, certainly where possible."

Aside from the Republicans, no one else seemed very happy about it.

RELATED: Why did Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission vote for maps they said were unfair?

"The process that kept the map-making process out of the public eye has resulted in rigged maps that help politicians and their friends get re-elected at the expense of Ohio families and their communities," said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio.

Turcer questioned whether closed-door discussions in private among elected officials on a body that was created by a 2015 amendment to the Ohio Constitution is a violation of Ohio's Open Meetings Law.

"A more transparent process would have produced better maps,'' Turcer said.

Many Democrats and voting rights advocates have been grumbling on social media about what Russo and Antonio did since the news broke late Tuesday night.

They want to know why Antonio and Russo signed off on maps they know are skewed to preserve a veto-proof supermajority for the Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly and are in no way in line with the voting preferences of Ohioans.

There is only one explanation:

They knew the alternative would be much worse.

Look at it this way: The maps approved on a 7-0 vote Tuesday night will likely result in a 61-38 Republican advantage in the Ohio House and a 23-10 split in the Senate.

There would be eight Democratic toss-up seats in the House, along with three GOP toss-ups. In the Senate, there would be three Republicans toss-ups and one Democratic toss-up.

RELATED: Ohio Supreme Court hears case that could lead to the return of the state's six-week abortion ban

The current situation in the House is 67 Republicans and 32 Democrats. In the Senate, there are only seven Democrats and 26 Republicans.

Better than the current situation, but nowhere near the 54% to 46% partisan split the Ohio Supreme Court suggested last year, based on Ohio's voting patterns between 2012 and 2020.

The Republicans on the commission — along with Republican Sharon Kennedy, the new chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court — have made it quite clear they don't care a whit about the partisan split.

State Rep. Jessica Miranda, a Democrat and the Ohio House minority whip, probably has it right.

"I understand why the leaders signed on to this," said Miranda, whose own north central Hamilton County House district was redrawn yet again to make it more difficult for her to be re-elected next year.

"The Republicans likely said to them, 'OK, if you don't like this, watch out for the map we put in on Friday,' " Miranda said. "They would likely have given us only 20 seats."

With the votes of the two Democrats, the Republicans can put their maps in place through the 2030 election.

RELATED: Ohio's redistricting process was 'doomed to fail,' former chief justice says

Without them, they could only make maps for the 2024 election. But, now, with a friendly Ohio Supreme Court headed by Kennedy, they could do this same thing every two years and get the same result.

The GOP gets a win-win. Which is what they were after when this redistricting process began two years ago.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.