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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 voters get an encore presentation of Republicans thumbing their noses at them

Ohio Secretary of State
The 1st Congressional District, currently held by Republican Congressman Steve Chabot, now includes the entire city of Cincinnati. The partisan split for the new 1st district is 51% Democratic, giving the Democrats a slight advantage. But, in fact, it is a toss-up district — the only jump ball district on the GOP map.

This latest congressional map coughed up by the Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission is a joke.

Not a funny, ha-ha joke. A horrible joke of a map where five statehouse Republicans are once again trying to con the public and slip one by the Ohio Supreme Court.

It boggles the mind how they could, with straight faces, present a map that creates 10 Republican congressional districts, three Democratic districts and two that ostensibly lean Democratic but in fact could go either way and say it is not gerrymandered.

And then, in their meeting Wednesday where they passed this hash, they wagged their fingers at the two Democrats on the commission because they wouldn't go along with this nonsense; and pretended to have their feelings hurt by the Democrats' refusal to play along.

David Niven, a political professor at the University of Cincinnati who has advised the Fair Districts Coalition, made fun of the Republicans and their sham of being offended by the Democrats' opposition.

It was, Niven said on Twitter, as if the Republican members of the commission were saying, "The nerve of these Democrats; here we are trying to dig their graves, the least they could do is pick up a shovel and help."

They are so desperate to hold their grip on power in the Ohio Statehouse that they will throw the entire election system in Ohio into utter, absolute chaos and pretend they are blameless and the victims of a rogue majority on the Ohio Supreme Court, who have rejected their state legislative and congressional district maps at every turn.

This new one they came up with will almost certainly be challenged in court by the same voting rights groups who have successfully fought off the Republicans' previous attempts to ram through unconstitutional four-year maps with zero Democratic support.

The Republicans on the commission and their allies in the Ohio General Assembly are hoping against hope that Ohioans will blame the Ohio Supreme Court for the current mess and the uncertainty it has created for the May 3 Ohio primary.

Blame the court for what? Following the Ohio constitution? Following the mandates of the constitutional amendments passed by over 70% of the voters in both 2015 and 2018 setting new rules for drawing legislative district lines? For insisting that the maps follow the 54%/46% split between Republican and Democratic votes in Ohio elections over the past decade?

Well, the court is guilty of all of that.

The rest of the confusion and chaos you can lay at the feet of five Republican commissioners who seem determined to thumb their noses at Ohio voters, the Ohio Supreme Court, and anyone else who stands in their way.

These five people have names, by the way. If you follow Ohio politics at all, you probably know them.

They are the two ringleaders of the commission, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp; and three statewide elected officials — Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and State Auditor Keith Faber.

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
All others AP
Clockwise from top left: Bob Cupp, Matt Huffman, Mike DeWine, Frank LaRose and Keith Faber.

The two Democrats on the commission are State Sen. Vernon Sykes of Akron and State Rep. Allison Russo, the newly elected minority leader of the Ohio House.

LaRose, the chief elections officer of the state, has ordered the 88 count boards of elections to use the current state legislative and congressional maps passed by the redistricting commission as they prepare the ballot for the May 3 primary — even though neither set of maps have been signed off on by the Ohio Supreme Court.

And, the fact is, the county elected officials who actually have to do the work of putting on elections, are not at all certain they can get it done in time. The Ohio Association of Election Officials sent a letter last week to legislative leaders pleading with them to postpone this election, in part so there is more time to sort out this mess with the maps.

At Wednesday's meeting of the redistricting commission, Russo offered the Republicans an alternative — a map that created eight Republican congressional districts, six Democratic and one Democratic-leaner that could go either way. She said she was willing to work with the Republicans to hammer out the details.

The Republicans turned it down flat.

Instead, Huffman launched into a long, convoluted argument, using mile-long sentences that would have made my eighth grade English teacher's head hurt, which boiled down to this: At this stage of the process, we don't have to follow the rules and can do whatever we want.

And then they proceeded to do so.

Russo seemed flabbergasted by Huffman's long-winded assertion.

"That is like me robbing a bank and saying it is my money," Russo said.

Is there any good news for Democrats in this new congressional map?

Well, maybe in Hamilton County. Maybe.

Congressman Steve Chabot's backside was protected back in 2011 when the Republicans in the legislature grafted heavily Republican Warren County onto his 1st Congressional District, connected by a tiny land bridge.

The land bridge is still there, but the district now includes the entire city of Cincinnati, a very, very blue place where Joe Biden won 76% of the vote in 2020. The partisan split under the new map is at 51% Democratic, giving the Democrats a slight advantage. But, in fact, it is a toss-up district — the only real jump ball district on the GOP map.

There is no doubt this silly map will end up being challenged before the Ohio Supreme Court, as have the others.

But, unlike the state legislative maps, there is nothing in the language of the 2018 constitutional amendment that would prevent the Ohio Supreme Court from drawing its own map or hiring a special master to do so.

In the meantime, Ohioans are subjected to this seemingly endless charade yet again.

It's like being stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, without Bill Murray around to provide some humor.

There's nothing funny about this disaster.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.