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Politics
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Commentary: Ohio GOP's new district maps are like a game of three-card monte

a person holds a deck of cards
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Sleight-of-hand is a required tool of anyone who masters the art of card tricks. Make your audience watch your right hand while your left hand is up to no good.

Great for magicians, not so great for people given the responsibility of drawing fair legislative district maps.

And yet, the five Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission — without the support of the two Democrats — have concocted new maps that they say address the concerns raised early this month by a four-member majority of the Ohio Supreme Court.

They've created maps that on the surface appear to more accurately reflect the actual 54% Republican, 46% Democratic vote in Ohio over the past decade.

What they have actually come up with is a Trojan Horse of a map, a map that subtly gives the GOP a break in a dozen districts they claim "lean Democratic."

All it took was a little sleight-of-hand. A little three-card monte.

As the great philosopher W.C. Fields said, "Never give a sucker an even break or smarten up a chump."

It is hard to imagine the four members of the Ohio Supreme Court who threw out the original GOP map buying into this. They are not chumps.

The whole thing has become a dog-and-pony show and it is getting very tiresome.

If you want an example of how horribly bad the new state legislative district maps coughed up like a hair ball last Friday by a Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission, you need look no further than State Rep. Jessica Miranda, a Forest Park Democrat.

You might think that Miranda would be dancing on her desk in delight over the new map. But she's not.

The original GOP map – the one declared unconstitutional in a 4-3 vote of the Ohio Supreme Court – took Miranda's home town in north central Hamilton County out of her 28th Ohio House District and placed it in the heavily Republican 29th Ohio House District, which stretches all the way to the Indiana border and is represented by Republican Cindy Abrams.

Forest Park is where Miranda is raising her family; where her business is located. Moving into another district in order to stay in the Ohio House was not an option.

The very presence of Miranda, the new House minority whip, in the Ohio House drives the GOP majority caucus barking mad, ever since she emerged on the scene four years ago, defeating Republican incumbent Jonathan Dever by a scant 56 votes. In 2020, they thought they could get rid of her by running former Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County commissioner Chris Monzel against her. She beat him by 2,314 votes.

But, in an effort to appear to be fair to the minority Democrats, the five Republicans on the commission put Forest Park back in the district, giving Miranda an opportunity to run again this year and in 2024 in a district that would still be something of a toss-up.

While she's still in the game, Miranda is, like most Democrats, extremely frustrated and angry over the new attempt by the Republicans on the commission to preserve the GOP's veto-proof super-majority in the Ohio General Assembly.

"It doesn't meet the requirement of the law," said Miranda. "It skirts around them."

The maps approved last Friday would create a 57-42 Republican majority in the House and a 20-13 GOP majority in the Senate.

The original plan, the one punted back to the commission by the Ohio Supreme Court, would have likely led to 67 House seats for Republicans and 32 for Democrats, and a 23-10 split in the Senate.

It would appear to be a better deal for the Democrats and at least somewhat closer to the 54-46 split of Ohio's vote. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is a member of that commission and he has voted for both plans. He defended the second map in a story by Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow.

"I think we all would have liked to have seen us get to those numbers exactly," DeWine said, referring to the 54-46 split. "But there was no other map that was presented — certainly the Democrat map did not do that. The Democrat map had some pretty blatant violations of the constitution."

Here, though, is where the sleight-of-hand comes in. Here's where the Republicans try to get their Trojan Horse through the gates of the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Republicans say that 42 of the 99 House Districts in their new map would favor Democrats. But the fact is that in 12 of those districts, the Democratic voter index is less than 51%.

"Those are not competitive districts; those are toss-up districts," said Miranda.

And if the Republicans won only half of these 12 jump-ball districts, they would likely preserve their super-majority, veto-proof caucus. Same goes for the Senate districts they coughed up last Friday.

The Democratic-drawn House map created 54 Republican districts and 45 Democratic districts. Of those Democratic-leaning districts, eight have a Democratic advantage between 50% to 52%. All the GOP-leaning districts have an index of Republican voters above 52%.

The Democratic-drawn Senate district map has 18 Republican districts and 15 Democratic districts. All the GOP-leaning districts have an index of Republican voters above 53%.

The voting rights groups who challenged the original maps filed their objections to the new maps Tuesday with the Ohio Supreme Court.

"The Commission’s refusal to follow this Court’s order and comply with the Ohio Constitution reflects a stubborn intransigence toward complying
with (the Ohio Constitution), and a troubling willingness to flout those mandates whenever political expediency might dictate," attorneys for the voting rights groups wrote.

In other words, playing three-card monte with the law.

Time is of the essence because of a looming Feb. 2 filing deadline for state legislative candidates. And no one in either party really wants to push back the May 3 primary election, where there are contested races in both parties for governor and an open U.S. Senate seat.

The sad part of this is that all this insanity could have been easily avoided.

All that would have had to happened was for the two or more of the Republicans on the redistricting commission to accept the final offer of the commission's two Democrats when it was put on the table last September.

That plan would have had a 58-41 split in the House and 20-13 in the Senate — almost identical to the map that the Republicans passed last Friday. But all five Republicans on the commission rejected it in September.

All of this mess could have been avoided.

Instead, statehouse Republicans chose to crack open a new pack of Bicycle playing cards and try out some new card tricks. They seem to enjoy this game.