CLEVELAND — Ohio's oddly drawn legislative districts have been called many things over the last decade and Peter Petto of Bay Village adds this to the list: "These maps have been a gruesome tattoo on our body politic over the last ten years,” said Petto.
The retired high school teacher was among the hundred or so who showed up this day for the first of the 10 public hearings being held across the state this week by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, the seven-member panel charged with drawing the new state district boundaries under voter approved constitutional changes.
Catharine LaCroix of the League of Women Voters reminded the panel of at the hearing that those changes had very strong support.
"Seventy-five percent of Ohio voters spoke in 2018, 70% in 2015. Draw lines in ways that respects our communities and is not politically biased,” LaCroix said.
Several speakers including Matt Kuhns expressed concerns over the fact that the commission was holding hearings without first having maps to comment on.
"We could have had hearings like this six months ago,” he said.
Absent those maps, the plea was to be fair—gerrymandered districts discourage voter participation and some argued leave the public with elected officials who are unresponsive to the voters who elected them.
"They're unresponsive because they are so confident of re-election,” Betsy Rader told the panel.
That's why election law professor Brian Glassman encouraged this commission of elected leaders to do what may be difficult for some and set politics aside.
"I urge the Ohio Redistricting Commission to seize this historic opportunity to draw voting districts that are free of gerrymandering and thus give better candidates and better ideas a chance to flourish,” said Glassman.
Did it resonate with the panel? Carmen Butler of South Euclid says we'll find out next week.
"We're being heard but I don't know if we're going to get what we need,” she said.
House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement on the Commission’s first public hearing on state legislative maps Monday in Cleveland.
What we heard today from the people in Cleveland is what we’ve heard from Ohioans for the better part of a decade—that our state needs better representation and people need a real voice in their democracy,” said Leader Sykes. “I encourage Ohioans to stay engaged and to show up in person or submit written testimony on what they think their district should look like, because how we draw our maps determines the future of our state for the next decade or more, including what hospitals, schools and resources are funded in our neighborhoods and communities. Public input is critical as we move forward with our constitutional duty to draw fair maps and I ask for any Ohioans who can to let us know how the new district lines can better serve their needs.
The commission faces their first deadline next week of Sept. 1 to get the maps completed.