Mike Curtin retired from a long and distinguished career at the Columbus Dispatch and is now taking a position contrary to his former bosses: Mike supports the redistricting reforms proposed by Voters First.
Mike has written multiple books on Ohio politics and most would consider him an expert on the subject. He covered state politics for 18 years as a reporter before moving into management at the Dispatch, where he retired as vice chairman and CEO in 2007.
Today he told the Columbus Chamber of Commerce why he supports a YES vote on Issue 2 – the ballot initiative proposed by Voters First.
We’ve included his full remarks below.
Good afternoon, and thank you for your attention to this most important issue of gerrymandering.
When it comes to our collective attempts to foster good government – honest, open, responsible government – there have been few barriers as persistent, as corrosive and as detrimental to that goal as the blatant gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts.
We all know this to be the case, and we’ve all known it for a long time.
When John Adams, in 1780, was writing the Constitution of Massachusetts, he called for the creation of compact, contiguous districts that would not unduly split towns or wards, and that would protect communities of interest.
Like John Adams, our best national and state leaders throughout history – the relative few who have put good government ahead of personal or partisan interest — have identified gerrymandering for the evil it is, and have called for clear and strong standards to prevent its cancerous spread.
Unfortunately, there are no federal standards that apply to political gerrymandering. except for the requirement that districts be of nearly equal population. There are federal standards that apply to racial gerrymandering, but not partisan gerrymandering.
This lack of a federal standard has been lamented by many of our esteemed U.S. Supreme Court justices over the years, including current Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has remarked: “It is unfortunate that when it comes to apportionment, we are in the business of rigging elections.”
So, without a federal standard, the constant battle to curb the evil of gerrymandering is a state-by-state battle.
Good-government advocates, and our best state leaders, have been waging this battle for a long time. Ohio had serious reform efforts in the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and in the last dozen years as well.
In each decade, as now, the party in power admitted that our system is broken and needs reform. But they found fault with the particular reform being proposed, and said they would be for a better reform plan down the road.
Like an addict with an addiction to an intractable vice, the party in power admits he needs intervention, admits he needs to be reformed, but please not just yet, and not through the program currently being offered.
And in each subsequent decade, the gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional and state legislative districts has become more blatant and more corrupt.
At no time in Ohio’s history have the congressional and state legislative maps been as blatantly gerrymandered as our new maps now in place for 2012 and the rest of the decade.
I have distributed three maps for you to examine. The first is the map of the 17th Ohio House District, for which I am running this year. It divides communities of interest. For example, it separates Marble Cliff from Grandview Heights, which have been sister communities for 70 years. They belong to the same school district, the same library district and have the same municipal services. But they are now separated by the new Ohio House map. Why? There is no justification for it. There is only a blatantly partisan one.
The same is true for Franklinton, the Hilltop and the South Side. The map fractures neighborhoods, discards symmetry, creates voter confusion and fuels public cynicism toward their government. Public cynicism toward our government is at an all-time high in the modern era, and gerrymandering is one of the primary causes.
The second map you have is a map of Franklin County showing all 10 Ohio House districts in the county. As you can see, the 17th District is no exception. Nine of these 10 districts are absurdities. They violate any sense of decency, any sense of doing what is right for our citizens, taxpayers and voters.
And everybody knows it. Even the opponents of State Issue 2 won’t insult your intelligence by trying to defend the shape of the current districts.
All you will hear them say is that they want reform, too, but that the proposed remedy has too many flaws. And, so, we will get some reform down the road.
The third map you have is our new and nationally infamous map of congressional districts. No one even tries to defend this map. It is, of course, entirely indefensible.
It puts Steve Stivers in Athens, Morgan and Vinton counties. It puts Pat Tiberi in Muskingum and Richland counties.
The map is a slap in the face to voters all across our state, most grievously, in the north, where Ohio now has the most disfigured district in all of history – the 9th District that slinks its way from Toledo and Lucas County along the Lake Erie shoreline to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
Ohioans deserve a government that respects them. That puts their interests first.
That at least makes a nod toward being of, by and for the people. It amazes me that I even have to be making this case.
Ohio is long overdue for congressional and state legislative districts that make sense, that don’t insult us, that don’t continue to feed the beast of hyperpartisanship and hyperpolarization, as we all know these districts do.
I respectfully ask that the Columbus Chamber stand for reform, and not put its good name in defense of an indefensible status quo.
The opponents of State Issue 2 have raised a number of concerns about the proposal. It is not perfect. The perfect plan does not exist and will never exist. I would ask you to use your common sense, and to acknowledge the time-honored maxim to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
This is a good plan. It is 100 times better than what we have, which is in the running for being the worst in the nation.
We have an opportunity to take the high road, and to do the right thing. I respectfully ask for the Chamber’s endorsement of State Issue 2, and I will be happy to try to answer any questions you have. Thank you.