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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 caused Ohio's redistricting mess. It's time they fixed it

ohio redistricting
Andy Chow
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Statehouse News Bureau
Voter rights advocates scrutinize the Congressional district map proposed by Republican lawmakers late last year.

Getting the five Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission to own up to the mess they have made is harder than getting a three-year-old to fess up to using crayons to decorate the living room walls.

They are facing possible contempt of court charges from the Ohio Supreme Court for their failure to produce sound and legal district maps for Ohio's state legislature and congressional delegation.

Thursday morning, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered all seven members of the commission — the five Republicans and the two Democrats — to appear at a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday on possible contempt of court charges.

And, now, they are facing the very real possibility that it might not be possible to hold a May 3 primary, at least for candidates who want to run for state legislative or congressional seats.

The state legislative leaders who are on the redistricting commission and are principally responsible for this mess are Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman. The two act like the notion of the Ohio General Assembly using its power to move the date of the primary — or perhaps having a separate primary for the legislation offices — would be a tragedy from which the world would never recover.

Instead, like the three-year-old who accuses of the family dog of marking up the walls, they try to blame others.

They blame the four-member majority of the Ohio Supreme Court, who struck down earlier weak maps for failing to follow the law. The court's sin, apparently, was taking the Ohio Constitution seriously, which the five Republicans on the commission have thus far failed to do.

They blame the two Democrats on the commission — State Sen. Vernon Sykes and the new House Minority Leader, Allison Russo. Their sins, it seems, are having their hired mapmakers draw maps that would likely pass the muster of the Ohio Supreme Court but make a serious dent in the GOP's super-majority in the legislature and its domination of the Ohio congressional delegation.

And now, this week, with the pressure coming from the court and the 88 county boards of elections wanting to know what they should do to prepare for the primary, the five Republicans appear to have gotten religion on this subject and have been holding hearings and suggesting to the court that they might well come up with new maps by the end of business Friday.

Maybe so. Maybe no.

This flurry of activity this week does nothing to let the five Republicans off the hook.

In addition to Cupp and Huffman, the GOP majority on the commission includes Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Auditor Keith Faber — all three of them running for re-election this year.

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.

That is why DeWine has been demanding the commission "follow the law" and produce maps, while making sure that everyone knows that the mapmakers Republicans hired work for Cupp and Huffman, not him.

And that is why LaRose penned a very urgent, almost breathless letter to his colleagues this week urging action on the maps now.

“It is impossible to see a scenario in which these maps are favorably passed by the Redistricting Commission, challenged by litigants, reviewed by a court, and given final approval within a time frame conducive to a May 3, 2022 primary election date,” LaRose wrote.

He suggested, as others have, that it might mean a second primary for candidates elected from districts, possibly in August. But LaRose, the chief elections officer of Ohio, doesn't like that idea much because it would probably mean an incredibly low-turnout election in the middle of summer, which many of the smaller counties in Ohio can't afford to put on without help from the state.

LaRose is concerned; and rightly so, because it is up to him to give the 88 county boards of elections instruction on how to carry out the primary election. Or elections. Whenever they might be.

But maybe the Republican statewide officeholders — LaRose, DeWine, and Faber — should have thought of this last fall when they went along with Cupp and Huffman and voted for maps that were clearly unconstitutional on their face because they gave Republican candidates an unfair advantage.

David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said it was "as if the commission was living in an alternate universe. How could they have not seen this coming? The disdain for the process they showed was staggering."

"The rational path for the Republicans was to have worked with the Democrats last fall to come up with a plan that would satisfy the courts," Niven said. "It would have been easy to do. And then all of this could have been avoided."

Instead, we have had to suffer through months of the court, the voting rights groups, Ohio Democrats and the statehouse Republicans at loggerheads over what could have been a clean and simple process.

What the Republicans have done for the most part is to blame others for the mess they made.

We've all been in a pottery store or a china shop where there was a sign on the door warning us to be careful handling the goods.

You broke it; you bought it," the sign says.

The Republicans in the legislature and on the Ohio Redistricting Commission are the ones who broke it. Now, it is up to them to put it back together again.