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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 GOP leaders simply don't care what you think

matt huffman
Andrew Welsh-Huggins
/
AP
This Wednesday, June 9, 2021, photo shows Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman discussing the Senate passage of Ohio's two-year, $75 billion state budget, in Columbus.

After months and months of this redistricting fiasco, one thing is clear — the Republican leadership in the Ohio Statehouse treats Ohio voters like dirt, like mud to scrape off the bottom of their shoes.

The only thing that matters to them is what they want.

Here, dear Ohio voter, is an example of how little the Republican leadership of the Ohio legislature cares about what you think:

On May 18, 2018, nearly 75% of Ohioans went to the polls to vote for Issue 1, the constitutional amendment that set out a new and less partisan way of drawing congressional district lines. About 1.2 million Ohioans voted for that amendment.

Today, there are two guys from Lima who seem determined to take that away.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp — the two most powerful Republicans in Ohio — have suggested that it might be time to go the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal the Ohio Supreme Court's repeated rejections of their highly gerrymandered congressional district maps.

ohio gop congressional map 2021
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Voter rights advocates scrutinize the Congressional district map proposed by Republican lawmakers. The map goes from 16 districts to 15 and creates just two districts that strongly favor Democrats

Their maps were rejected because they in no way, shape nor form represented the 54%-46% partisan split of the state — it's not a red state, friends; it is purple — and would likely leave the Democrats with no more than two of the state's 15 seats in the U.S. House.

There is nothing even remotely fair about that. And they know it.

Huffman, in a phone interview on Friday, told me why he wants to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review Ohio's map-making process.

"I believe the Ohio Supreme Court has gone far beyond what the (U.S.) constitution allows them to do,'' Huffman said. "They have no authority to tell the legislature how to do its job."

But the voting rights groups that have been battling the legislators and the Ohio Redistricting Commission all year long believe that Huffman and Cupp think it's unfair that they can't steamroll over Ohio voters, the Ohio Supreme Court, and anyone else who stands in the way of them getting what they want.

Huffman is apparently hanging his hat on a dubious belief that is spreading like wildfire in GOP circles, the "independent state legislature theory," which basically says that state courts have no right to review the legislature's decisions when it comes to setting the time, date and form of elections for federal offices.

The Senate president prefers calling it a "concept" and says it is one he believes "should be tested before the U.S. Supreme Court."

Four of the most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court seem to have bought into this theory; and the court has decided to review a North Carolina case that is similar to the situation in Ohio.

It's really no surprise that the leadership of a legislature that not only has a majority in both houses, but a veto-proof super-majority, would buy into the "independent state legislature theory."

After all, the Republicans in the legislature have had three decades of being able to gerrymander state legislative districts to the point where Democrats would need a miracle of Biblical proportions to flip the Ohio General Assembly.

That's how in Ohio — a state with beaucoup major cities and eight media markets — can end up with a gang of Republicans from rural and suburban districts running the legislature. For the most part, big city Democrats have been marginalized.

The tail is wagging the dog.

How else do you think that two guys from Lima — population 36,908 — became the most powerful politicians in the state? More powerful than the Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who, throughout this redistricting mess has been meekly dragged around by the nose by Huffman and Cupp.

In July, when the Ohio Supreme Court — in its usual 4-3 decision — rejected the second congressional district map for unduly favoring Republican candidates, the court set out a timeline, based on the constitutional amendment, for drawing a new one.

Both the legislature and the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission have chosen to simply ignore that timeline and do nothing. Except, maybe, run to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief.

"We need to answer a question: Does the Ohio Supreme Court have the authority to tell us how these districts are going to be drawn?" Huffman said. "That's the question I would like the U.S. Supreme Court to answer."

Eat your vegetables!

Mia Lewis, associate director of Common Cause Ohio, one of the groups who have objected to the GOP maps, said the Republican attempts to get around the Ohio Supreme Court are getting tiresome.

"It's just reminding me of a kid not wanting to eat his vegetables and coming up with one excuse after another," Lewis said.

The irony of Huffman now trying to dismantle the constitutional amendment voters passed four years ago is that he supported it when the legislature placed it on the ballot.

"Huffman was one of the primary architects of this amendment," Lewis said. "And the power to review plans was given to the Ohio Supreme Court. He opposes the amendment now because (the Ohio Supreme Court) hasn't given him what he wants."

And what he and his GOP friends in the legislature want is complete control.

When a constitutional amendment — a legally-binding part of the state constitution they are sworn to uphold — doesn’t produce the outcome they wanted, they are more than willing to ignore the law, ignore the Ohio Supreme Court, and ignore the clear will of the people in Ohio.

Little wonder that Ohio's political scene has become a laughingstock around the country.

The problem is that it's not so funny when you are a citizen living in the middle of it.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.