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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: Republicans won't give up their scheme to dodge Ohio's redistricting law

headshots of ohio republicans on the redistricting commission, clockwise from top left: Bob Cupp, Matt Huffman, Mike DeWine, Frank LaRose and Keith Faber.
DeWine, Jason Whitman
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All others AP
Clockwise from top left: Bob Cupp, Matt Huffman, Mike DeWine, Frank LaRose and Keith Faber.

Truly, there is no end to the dog-ate-my-homework dodges the Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission will try to pull in order to avoid simply following the law.

All the Ohio Supreme Court asked them to do was to draw state legislative district maps that adhered to the requirements of the 2015 state constitutional amendment, which had the support of 70% of Ohio voters that year.

That's it. They could have done it last fall. But they failed, and the Ohio Supreme Court threw it back in their faces and told them to try again.

They tried again last month and submitted maps that, on the face of it, looked to be more fair and closer to matching the 54-46 split between Republican and Democratic voters in Ohio over the last decade.

But those maps had one major problem — a piece of political sleight-of-hand that makes it appear that the Republicans would be favored in 57% of the state legislative districts. But, in reality, those maps would make many of the so-called "leaning Democrat" districts toss-ups and could end up preserving the GOP's veto-proof super-majority in both the House and Senate.

The latest round of maps would supposedly create 42 Democratic districts. Twelve of them "lean Democratic," but in fact, the margin of Democratic districts in those 12 is less than 51%. Those are, in fact, jump ball seats. They could go either way. With a handful of GOP wins, the Republicans could maintain their super-majority. What a joke.

The voting rights groups who filed suit against the first set of maps (and won) are challenging the new maps before the Ohio Supreme Court.

In an act of jaw-dropping hubris, the five-man Republican majority on the commission has offered the Ohio Supreme Court a deal — either rule on the challenge before Feb. 11 or let the maps be in place for this fall's state legislative elections. And, then, the Ohio Supreme Court can rule on the legality of the maps under which the 2022 election was held.

The unmitigated gall of these people is almost beyond belief. Almost.

And let's be clear who we are talking about: The five Republican members of the Redistricting Commission are Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Auditor Keith Faber (all of whom are up for re-election this year), along with Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman.

Those are the five politicians driving this clown car.

The two Democrats on the commission — State Sen. Vernon Sykes and the new House Minority Leader, State Rep. Allison Russo — opposed the GOP maps, of course. They had their own version, which was rejected by the Republicans.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost — a Republican, of course — denied the Democratic minority the authority to hire state-funded legal representation before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The clown car crew argued that a ruling by Feb. 11 is necessary so the 88 county boards of elections can have time to prepare for a May 3 primary.

But it’s pretty clear that what the Republicans would really like is to push this decision off until after the November election, preferably into early 2023.

"They took everything down to the deadline and do it purposely against the ruling of the court and then say, well, just give us what we want anyway, because that's the simplest solution here now that we've run out the clock and giving you these nonsense maps,' " Mia Lewis of Common Cause Ohio told Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler. “There's absolutely no reason why this kind of behavior should be rewarded."

You see, there was a 4-3 majority of the Ohio Supreme Court which rejected both the state legislative and congressional maps in separate actions last month.

The three Democrats on the court voted to reject the Republican maps — no surprise there. But a Republican — Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor — joined with the Democrats as the deciding vote.

O'Connor — who is no fan of gerrymandering, regardless of which party is doing it — can't run for re-election this year because of Ohio's age limits law.

So O'Connor will be gone, a thorn removed from the side of the GOP leadership in the Statehouse. The Republicans believe that they can elect a more cooperative Republican justice this fall, now that the GOP-controlled legislature passed a law that puts party designations on the ballot for Ohio Supreme Court candidates.

The Republicans think this will guarantee them another seat on the court, in the form of a justice who will play along with their little map-making venture. They may be whistling past the graveyard, but that is what they think. We'll see in November.

Or maybe O'Connor can be convinced to approve these maps by Feb. 11. Doubtful, but possible.

Either way, it's this kind of tiresome, cynical partisan scheming on the part of statehouse Republicans that is turning off voters in droves.

And that's the real crime. Even worse than phony-baloney maps.