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Will redistricting change the history of Ohio's congressional districts

Posted at 5:25 PM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 17:25:07-04

CLEVELAND — Three years ago this week Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1, a plan to more fairly redraw the state's congressional districts. It's a move that will no doubt change the often odd shapes of Ohio's districts but could also change part of state history.

When Carl Stokes was elected Cleveland's first black mayor in 1967 his older brother Louis fought not only for him that year but for other African American politicians by challenging in court how legislative districts in Ohio were divided.

"People forget he was a great lawyer," recalled former Congresswoman Marcia Fudge in 2016. The seat was a majority minority one that came about when Stokes challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court the gerrymandering of Ohio districts that diluted for generations the black vote.

"He was the one who really was so good at what he did that he encouraged the state of Ohio to make the change before he had to sue them. Because they had already lost in the Supreme Court," Fudge said. "He was going to sue the state of Ohio. They knew and they said, 'we give, let's just make the district for you.'"

For 30 years it would be his district, before passing the baton to Stephanie Tubbs Jones who was followed by Fudge and is about to be filled by the next generation after Fudge left the seat in February to take the post as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But when the winner of this year's special election runs for re-election next year it may no longer be in a majority minority district.

"If you don't have the population, you don't have the population," said Catherine Turcer, Executive Director of Common Cause Ohio who helped push for the reforms that came about in Issue 1. She said to get the current 11th Congressional District to be a majority minority one a decade ago was a stretch.

"To get that district, that Congressional District 11 to be 50 percent African American it literally had to go from Cuyahoga County all the way down into Summit County."

On top of that, the splitting of counties is something that under Issue 1 is harder to do but while it won't be majority minority Turcer said the district that will be drawn later this year will have a significant minority foothold.

"Don't worry that in fact if you don't have an absolutely 50 percent African American district that you will not in fact have a minority representative," she said.

Stefanie Brown James co-founder of The Collective, a PAC dedicated to the recruiting, training and funding of black candidates across the country agrees.

"Even though the African American population has definitely decreased I think we're going to see where this district will have a significant of people of color in it and that we will have a person of color, probably a black person in that seat for the foreseeable future," she said.