According to the Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report released this afternoon, Republican lawmakers at the state house implemented a strategy of deliberate secrecy to withhold information from the public about redistricting efforts. The documents paint a picture of lawmakers who purposely operated in a legal gray area to prevent their actions from ever being made public.
For months, Republican lawmakers and staff meet in secret to work on redistricting efforts in possible violation of Ohio’s open meetings law. The documents show a Republican party that are so obsessed with privacy that they used taxpayer dollars to rent a secret hotel room in Columbus that was used as a location to meet on redistricting issues.
While almost 200 pages of documents were released to the public today, many public record requests have still not been filled and lawmakers and staff are now claiming “attorney-client privileges” from having to release the requested documents.
As early as the spring of 2010 House Republicans were starting to shape the structure that would later be used to direct all redistricting efforts in 2011. Documents included in the Transparency report show that Mike Lenzo, Ohio House Majority Caucus Counsel, attended a redistricting training conducted by the Republican National Committee in May of 2010. The theme of the training was – “Keep it secret, Keep it safe”. Documents from the training were later copied and given to Heather Mann and Ray DiRossi, the secretaries of the Apportionment Committee and those in charge of Ohio’s redistricting efforts.
Copies of the documents from the training show that secrecy would be a primary part of the process. The document encouraged such efforts as:
“Control access to the location (a door with a key)”
“Machine security, plan security, personnel security”
“Away from distractions”
As early as July 11 weekly secret meetings were held between the Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Senate President, House Majority Leader, and the Secretaries of the Apportionment Board. According to documents included in the report Republican staff members worked throughout the summer to organize closed door meetings with Lawmakers and consultants to work on drawing the lines that would later be introduced in HB 319.
While these lawmakers met in private to discuss how to carve up Ohio to maximize their own political gain, it would be over two and a half months before the public would see the first proposed districts.
This wasn’t by accident either.
Included in the documents made public today are several files that appear to be redistricting “timelines” made by staffers. In one document entitled “Congressional Redistricting Timeline” a note was made that the date to get a redistricting bill to the Legislative Service Commission was on August 19th but that they should,
“Hold it ‘in the can’ until legislature comes back in September (13th/14th).”
While this document makes it seem that lawmakers were agreeing to what lines should be drawn at least as early as August 19th, district lines would not be made public until September 13th when Representative Huffman gave sponsor testimony for HB 319.
Republican lawmakers went to such lengths to protect the secrecy of their actions that they rented a secret hotel room, using tax payer dollars, for three months a cost of $9,614.89. The hotel room was located in a building directly behind the House of Representatives offices and was referred to as “the bunker” by staffers.
This wasn’t the only secret location obtained by Republicans. Documents also show Ms. Mann requesting, and receiving, a room directly across from the Clerk of the House of Representatives office.
“As we are likely to be using the Sgt. of Arms office across from the House Clerk’s office as our temporary office space, we will need to get four keys (two for Senate staff and two for House staff) more or issued and we will need to ensure that other than Security personnel, the four people issued those keys are the only ones with access to that office space…”
While the report and supporting document that were released today direct a large spotlight onto the actions taken by lawmakers and staff, many documents that were requested are either being withheld or have simply not been turned over yet.
For example, Republicans hired Washington D.C. attorney Mark Braden to serve as legal counsel to the Apportionment Board. For 10 years Mr. Braden served as chief legal counsel to the Republican National Committee. In emails released today though Mr. Braden supplied more than just legal assistance to the Board. Rather he hired consultant to advise the committee and participated in meetings with redistricting officials. House Majority Counsel Mike Lenzo refused to turnover any documents shared between him and Mr. Braden claiming attorney-client privileges protect them.
All government business is done, to a certain extent, behind closed doors. In this instance though the documents released today make the state house Republicans look almost Nixon-esque in their paranoia. These documents prove that Republican lawmakers purposely withheld information from the public on the redistricting process and failed to act in good faith. Their actions were not only dirty by political standards but possibly criminal.
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