Ohio General Assembly starts work on drawing new congressional maps

Congressional redistricting proposals
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Congressional redistricting proposals

Ohio state legislators dove into the task of drawing a new congressional district map Wednesday, holding back-to-back hearings on one Democratic and two Republican proposals.

The Senate Republican map would, if adopted, remove Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — the largest single-site employer in Ohio with about 30,000 workers — from the district of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton. Turner has long made support and development of Wright-Patt and the surrounding area his top priority, he said, and he objected to the proposal in an emailed statement.

“The Senate’s proposed map fails to recognize that Wright-Patt needs a single regional advocate in Congress, as it generates billions of dollars for our state and local economies,” Turner said. “If passed, this map could jeopardize the base’s tremendous impact on our state.”

Here’s a breakdown of the three different proposals.

House Republican proposal

The House Republican proposal puts all of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus in one district each. Seventy-five counties are kept intact, with only 13 split. The current congressional map splits 23 counties, state Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton,

Eight of the proposed districts would likely go to Republicans, two to Democrats, with five up for grabs, Oelslager said. A district that doesn’t exceed a 45%-55% partisan split is considered competitive, he said.

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House Republican proposed congressional redistricting

House Republican proposed congressional redistricting
Caption
House Republican proposed congressional redistricting

House Democrats objected to the little time they had to review the map and questioned if it.

“We have not had any time to review this map in any meaningful way,” state Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, said.

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State Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, said it appeared to her that the competitive districts were “all leaning Republican.”

Senate Democratic, Republican proposals

The Senate Local Government & Elections Committee also took up both Democratic and Republican map proposals. State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, said they will receive multiple hearings.

Senate Bill 237 is the Democratic plan sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights; and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, who served as co-chair of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Democrats introduced their map Sept. 29 and the Republican maps were unveiled Wednesday.

Yuko said Democrats hope to agree on a bipartisan map that will endure for a decade.

Senate Democratic staffer Randall Routt said the Democratic proposal splits 11 counties, with none of them split twice. It would create seven Democratic-leaning and eight Republican-leaning seats, he said.

Gavarone said all the proposed Democratic districts vary “rather significantly” from the benchmark of 786,630 people per district.

Routt said mapmakers valued the principle of preserving existing political subdivisions intact over exactly matching population.

Gavarone said she saw several districts in which current congressional incumbents would be pitted against one another.

“Is there a reason why only Republicans were bundled together in your map?” she asked.

Routt said with only four Democrats in the current 16-member congressional delegation, it’s less likely they’d wind up competing for the same district.

Senate Republicans introduced their own map proposal as Senate Bill 258 from state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon.

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McColley said the Senate Republican proposal splits 14 counties instead of the current 23, and splits only three twice.

“This is also the lowest number of counties split in at least 50 years,” he said.

All proposed districts come within just one resident of the 786,630 ideal, McColley said.

It’s also the map that would move Wright-Patt out of Turner’s district.

Using the 45%-55% definition of competitiveness, the Senate Republican map would create five Republican, two Democratic and eight potentially competitive districts, McColley said. A “good number” of the compettive districts would lean Democratic, he said.

“I can speak with some level of confidence that the map that’s drawn, and is proposed in front of you, is much more competitive than the map we have right now,” McColley said.

Senate Republicans’ goal is also a bipartisan 10-year map, he said.

McColley said SB 258 would pit incumbents against each other in two districts. One of those pairings is Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Warren; but Ryan is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Rob Portman.

The other matchup is between Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, but McColley said he thought that might not be an issue either because he’d recently read that Beatty was moving. Beatty announced last month that she was moving from the eastern edge of Franklin County to downtown Columbus.

Rapid reaction

The League of Women’s Voters of Ohio held an online briefing Wednesday afternoon analyzing the House Republican and Senate Democratic proposals. It dealt little with the Senate Republican map, since that had been released only three hours earlier.

In that briefing Chris Cusack, professor emeritus of geography at Keene State College in New Hampshire and redistricting technical manager for Fair Districts Ohio, said the Senate Democratic proposal outscored Republican proposals by almost every redistricting standard. The House Republican map, by contrast, ranks as low as possible for proportionality, he said. Based on past electoral performance, the proportion should be eight Republican-leaning districts and seven Democratic-leaning ones, Cusack said.

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Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, talks to media about the House Republican proposal for a new congressional district map on Nov. 3, 2021.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, talks to media about the House Republican proposal for a new congressional district map on Nov. 3, 2021.
Caption
Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, talks to media about the House Republican proposal for a new congressional district map on Nov. 3, 2021.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

The Democratic map would likely create nine Republican districts and six Democratic ones; the House Republican map would result in 13 Republican districts and two Democratic ones; and the Senate Republican map would likely result in eight Republican seats and six Democratic ones, with one as a toss-up, he said.

David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, called the House Republican map “a masterclass in gerrymandering.” It includes counties split unnecessarily, including a spot in Akron where it’s possible to stand in three districts at once, he said. Such splits confuse voters as to who represents them, Niven said.

On the state’s southwestern corner, an “E.T. finger” links Cincinnati to Warren County unnecessarily, he said.

Niven said the splits are intended to dilute Democratic representation.

Why must Ohio redraw its congressional districts?

Ohio must lose one of its 16 U.S. House districts, as required by 2020 census results. Each of the 15 new districts will contain about 780,000 people. The new process for drawing those districts, established in 2018 via state constitutional amendment, says legislators must hold at least two public hearings before approving a map.

If legislators can create a 15-district map that garners a three-fifths overall majority and support from one-third of Democrats, it will be valid for a decade. If not, they can accept a map by simple majority vote without bipartisan support, but it would have to be redone in four years.

All three bills are scheduled for second hearings before the same committees on Thursday.

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