Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly have devised a great new way to tackle redistricting “reform” while crowing about bipartisanship and solving exactly nothing, at least not for anybody who cares about fair elections.
And Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is pushing hard to get it done by the end of the year.
With shades of Senate Bill 5’s “last best offer” provisions, one proposal being offered by House Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Huffman, R-Lima, is an “impasse resolution” that would allow four members of the majority party to draw the districts, then go to voters to ask if that map should be redrawn, with a no vote keeping the map for another two election cycles and a yes vote requiring a whole new plan. Confused? That’s kind of the point.
But anybody reasonably acquainted with the insidious nature of Republican undermining of good governance might see that this is simply a tactic that ends up putting more power into the hands of the majority party and does nothing to make Ohio’s districts less gerrymandered or more fairly drawn.
Dan Tokaji, a law professor at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, said the proposals also remove safeguards that allow Ohio citizens and public officials to challenge newly drawn district maps. Tokaji said the resolutions don’t allow a citizen-initiated referendum or a governor’s veto of the congressional map approved by state lawmakers.
“This will ensure the majority party can ram through the plan they want without any votes from the minority party and any realistic plan of it being reversed,” Tokaji told reporters Monday. (From Cleveland.com)
What it also does, of course, is allow Republicans to say they championed redistricting reform during the next statewide campaign cycle, as they cynically appeal to Ohioan’s natural suspicion that something is terribly wrong with the system while doing exactly nothing to fix it, and likely breaking it further.
So when the minority (see: Democratic) party members object to the maps, Republicans can accuse them of being unwilling to compromise. Then they can jam through their own designs regardless, counting on the fact that voters won’t get into the procedural weeds, nor understand that this is not a true referendum anyway, as a “no” vote upholds the map while it is a “yes” vote that would reject it and send them back to the drawing board.
“It doesn’t simply allow the majority to say, ‘we got elected, we win, we’ll draw the maps the way we want,'” Huffman said defending his proposal. “It provides a series of disincentives for the majority to ignore the minority — they sort of do that at their peril.”
Except, y’know, not at all, because for the majority, under these designs, peril doesn’t exist.
Huffman is living in an alternate reality where the problem that needs to be addressed is minority obstructionism, but in the real world, where Ohioans are dismayed, perplexed and angered by the Rorschach-esque designs of their representative districts, it is majority overreach and game-rigging people are worried over.
And if it is democracy we seek in our Republic, as Tokaji noted, Huffman’s proposal specifically forbids citizens from taking up the initiative themselves to draw districts fairly, in addition to forbidding a governor’s veto, if one day, perchance, the Democrats reclaim that office.
As for the plan going to voters, with the aforementioned intentionally confusing question, here’s Tokaji:
“People distrust the state legislature and distrust any commission,” Tokaji said. “When voters are asked this question, they will almost certainly vote no.”
Tokaji would know — he backed a 2012 ballot issue that would have formed an independent commission to draw district lines meeting several criteria. The issue failed in a 63-37 percent vote.
Now comes Husted of the flatlands to proclaim that, wait a moment, a Senate resolution on the table is a “better starting point.” As a starting point, sure, because it’s just a starting point and an “impasse resolution” poison pill can be slipped in over the holiday season to meet Husted’s timeline of approving a plan by the end of the year.
And as ever, Jon plays it both ways.
From the article: “Husted said there’s no need for an impasse resolution but if lawmakers feel there should be one, there are ways to do it other than with a ballot issue.”
There is no need for an impasse resolution if the majority can get what it wants without one, right? I mean, why even head-fake? And if lawmakers feel there should be an impasse resolution, there are other ways to make sure the majority gets what it wants other than snowing the voters with an ill-conceived ballot issue, right?
The important thing here is to make sure it looks like significant “reform” is being done, while firmly entrenching structural power advantages. Certainly nobody wants to deal with that meddlesome 2020 Presidential where, y’know, a majority of registered voters will actually cast ballots and decide a couple things in that U.S. Census year.
On the very edge of my seat, I tell ya, waiting to see what they come up with next.
David DeWitt is a journalist and universal minister based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.