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Ohio Redistricting Commission set to meet Wednesday, Dems introduce legislative map

The governor’s notice of a meeting comes a few hours after the attorney general circulated a letter suggesting he could do so
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Posted at 12:03 PM, Sep 20, 2023

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.

After idling for a week and facing a self-imposed deadline for new Statehouse district maps on Friday, Ohio’s Republican-led redistricting commission is getting ready to meet again Wednesday at 3 p.m.

During that interlude other state leaders attempted to spur it to action. Republican Attorney General Dave Yost sent members a letter arguing a spat over co-chairs doesn’t preclude holding meetings. Given Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to call a meeting Wednesday — something Yost suggested he had the power to do — it appears the governor was listening.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, the governor expressed optimism.

“The House and the Senate are going back and forth but we’re close — the Republicans are close,” DeWine said.

“What we hope,” he added, “is tomorrow we will have a map and get this thing going.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the routinely sidelined Democratic members of the commission unveiled their own map that they believe would pass constitutional muster.

Yost’s letter

The commission has been in a holding pattern thanks to a dispute between House and Senate Republican leaders over who should hold the gavel. One Democrat and one Republican co-chair the committee, and traditionally the House and Senate trade off. Senate Republicans contend their commissioner should take the leadership role.

In addition to holding up the mapmaking process, the dispute is widely seen as an early skirmish in next year’s House speakerrship race. Senate President Matt Huffman is term limited, and Waynesfield Republican Rep. Susan Manchester is already running to replace him. Her open House seat could give Huffman a chance to return to the chamber and mount a leadership challenge against Speaker Jason Stephens. Many House Republicans remain bitter over Stephens’ surprise victory in the speaker’s race. With his designee in charge as co-chair of the redistricting commission, Huffman could potentially steer toward a map that leaves the speaker’s gavel in play.

Yost’s letter argued the commission shouldn’t let this proxy fight derail its larger efforts. The attorney general said although the commission has to select co-chairs, once it does, “Ohio law does not require them to do much.”

He described how they’re required to communicate about publicly submitted maps and their ability to split allocated funds if there’s an impasse. He added that the commission can give them more responsibilities in its rules, but they’ve yet to do so this time around.

“Thus, the fact that one side has not yet chosen a co-chair does not prevent the commission from conducting its business,” Yost argued. He suggested the governor could call another meeting and just get on with it.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, however, mostly seemed puzzled about the AG weighing in.

“It’s nice that he has an opinion,” she said, “but my understanding is he has no official business with this commission at this point.”

But Antonio added that if the letter helps break the logjam it would be “great.”

Democrats’ map

Antonio joined House Minority Leader Allison Russo Tuesday to share a map they believe meets constitutional requirements.

“Our map more closely matches Ohio statewide voter preferences than the current map that were functioning under,” Antonio insisted. “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.”

They’ve posted their House and Senate proposals on Dave’s Redistricting, and plan to introduce them officially once the commission convenes.

According to the stats on Dave’s Redistricting, the House map gives Republicans a comfortable (54% or more) advantage in 52 seats. Democrats hold that advantage in 28 seats. Of the remaining 19 potential toss-up races, though, Democrats hold an edge in 12. Three others are within a single percentage point.

Currently, Republicans control the House with 67 seats. Democrats hold 32.

Antonio and Russo’s Senate map gives Republicans a comfortable advantage in 17 seats, compared with 10 for Democrats. Of the six remaining toss-up races, Democrats would hold a narrower edge in four.

Republicans control Ohio’s Senate with 26 seats, compared with just seven for Democrats.

In both cases, the Democratic proposal comes closer to replicating statewide voter preferences than the existing map. Using recent statewide elections as a guide, mapmakers are supposed to aim for a 54-46 GOP advantage.

But Russo acknowledged the gulf between Republicans’ existing majority and the ideal. Leveling the playing field, she said, “would mean that Republican legislators would simply lose seats.”

And Russo didn’t sound particularly optimistic about the next chapter for the commission.

“We fully anticipate that the only maps produced by Republicans will again be gerrymandered, GOP districts,” she said, “drawn for a GOP supermajority, by a GOP supermajority, all designed quite simply to keep absolute power no matter the cost.”