Democrats have only themselves to blame
By David H. Landon
I’m sorry, but the loud wailing sounds and the great gnashing of teeth coming from my Democratic friends over the new redistricting could have been easily avoided. During the 2009–2010 legislative term, when Democrats still controlled the Ohio House, the governor’s office, and the secretary of state, they were presented a plan that would have called for a bi-partisan approach to the once-a-decade constitutionally mandated practice of redrawing legislative lines. In a redistricting amendment proposed by then Sen. Jon Husted (R-Kettering), the Apportionment Board would fundamentally change how it does business.
Under Husted’s plan, the redrawing of legislative lines was to be undertaken by a seven-member panel that would include: the governor, secretary of state, auditor, House Speaker, Senate president, and the House and Senate minority leaders. The critical factor wasn’t so much the additional two members to the board. Rather, the critical part of the plan was that no redistricting proposal would move forward unless it had a five-vote supermajority, with two votes coming from commission members not in the majority. In other words, a simple majority wouldn’t be enough to pass a redistricting plan. This plan required cooperation from both parties in drawing the lines. The plan even had the support of the Ohio League of Women Voters and Ohio Citizen Action.
It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It was a legitimate “good government” solution to one of the most cynical practices in representative government — the age-old practice of gerrymandering. So then why did my Democrat friends take a pass? Quite simply, they got greedy. Going into the 2010 midterm elections, they controlled three of the five seats on the Apportionment Board, which is responsible for drawing the new legislative lines. All they had to do was hold those three seats and Democrats would be the party in charge of drawing the lines. So go the best laid plans of mice and men.
In those 2010 elections, in a reaction to federal spending and the passage of Obamacare, there was a voter backlash towards Democrats at the polls. The resulting Republican-sweep captured all three of the Apportionment Board seats previously held by the Democrats. Now the Republicans control the process and the result wasn’t pretty for Ohio Democrats. Assuming these new lines withstand judicial scrutiny, the Democrats are at a disadvantage for the next 10 years until the next decennial census.
The Supreme Court has consistently refused to place any restraints on partisan districting. The guiding principal for the court is the “one person, one vote” rule. However, it turns out that even heavily partisan gerrymandering can be undertaken and still accomplish districts with equal populations. The only real restraint to slow down the party in charge is the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The purpose of the act is to protect racial minorities from discrimination. It does not thwart partisan gerrymandering. In the new lines Republican map makers were careful to enhance majority-minority districts in order to avoid a VRA challenge.
Both parties have taken their shot over the years at drawing the lines for their own political advantage. Democrats had control of the Apportionment Board in 1971 and 1981, and Republicans had control in 1991 and 2001. In each of these instances there were serious gerrymandering shenanigans undertaken. When Democrats turned down the Husted plan last year, they were hoping to repeat the redistricting lines glory years of 1971 and 1981, which with the exception of Jim Rhodes, gave the Democrats roughly 20 years of control of state government.
At the congressional level, because of our very low growth in population (about 180,000 since 2000) Ohio is scheduled to lose two congressional seats. Under the plan passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Kasich, there will be a net loss of one Republican and one Democratic seat. Unfortunately for the Miami Valley, the Republican seat will be sacrificed by combining the seats of Congressman Mike Turner and Congressman Steve Austria. These two Republicans are now expected to run against one another in the March primary.
The new district includes about two-thirds of Montgomery County (which Turner currently represents) and Greene, Madison, Pickaway and Fairfield counties (which were in the old Austria district). Of the two candidates, Austria is the more conservative and more likely to have the support of “Tea Party” Republicans. Both Turner and Austria have been strong proponents of protecting jobs at Wright-Patt, the largest employer in Ohio. Turner is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Austria is on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
In the aftermath of the Republican dominated redistricting and reapportionment, now Secretary of State Jon Husted has refloated his bi-partisan proposal. Ohio Speaker Bill Batchelder and Senate President Tom Niehaus, have agreed to hold hearings on Husted’s plan. Because it changes the Apportionment Board, the proposal will require an amendment to the Ohio Constitution. Since no one knows what the future may bring, the Republicans are willing to make the future plans more bi-partisan. Democrats have been non-committal to the Husted proposal so far. Maybe they are thinking that in 2021 that they will be back in control and will be drawing of the lines to inflict the same damage to the Republicans that they are presently suffering. As they wander the political wilderness during the next decade, maybe they should reconsider.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at