Following the 2008 Election, I left Columbus for Athens, Ohio. Starting in 2009, I began covering Ohio’s 6th and 18th Congressional districts, often seeing U.S. Reps. Charlie Wilson and Zack Space in Athens County.
They visited my offices at The Athens NEWS. They attended events at Ohio University. When they were up for re-election, they debated their positions at candidate forums hosted by the local League of Women Voters. Democracy was working for the Republic.
In 2011, the great gerrymandering of Ohio happened. The majority of Athens County was included in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, stretching across the state all the way over to Clark County before absurdly clawing its way around and into Upper Arlington to include the home of U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, the Republican who has represented most of Athens County in U.S. Congress since.
Over the last five years, I’ve seen and met Stivers in Athens County exactly once, at an Athens County Republican Party dinner. I believe he’s attended a couple such dinners, but I’ve only met him once. He’s stood for re-election several times, but he’s never held a campaign event in Athens County open to the public at large. He’s never attended a League of Women Voters candidate forum in Athens County.
It appears that he won’t do so this year either. We asked the ACLOWV today whether there would be any U.S. Congressional candidate forums this fall. There will not.
“Stivers’ campaign people keep promising that someone will get back to us about scheduling,” an email update from them said today. “He was the first one contacted the first week of July.”
But nada. No love down here. I shan’t be seeing my elected representation in U.S. Congress at any public forum in my beloved Athens County any time soon.
Why should he debate Amanda-area pilot Scott Wharton? The election’s in the bag. Why would Stivers expose himself to public scrutiny? Why would he allow Wharton the opportunity to question his record in front of an audience? He’s a shoo-in for another term. He’s got nothing to gain by appearing in Athens publicly. Politically, such a candidate forum for Stivers is pure liability.
But for the purposes of our democratic republic, this sort of thing is death. It’s not as though he’s absent purely during campaign cycles; he’s absent from Athens County all the time. Why should he come to Athens? Athens, full of leftists and liberals and Ohio University, what does he care about us? Should he care because we’re his constituents? Probably. Does he? Probably not.
This is what gerrymandered Ohio has done to us. Gerrymandered Ohio has rendered Athens County politically insignificant in relation to U.S. Congress, the same U.S. Congress with a 14 percent approval rating, the same U.S. Congress with a 90 percent re-election rate.
We’ve heard it all election cycle: People feel powerless. Yes, because they are. People feel helpless. Yes, because they are. People feel like their elected officials in Washington aren’t listening. Yes, because they’re not. Why should they? Re-election is assured. Best to focus on the people with power, and that’s not the voters.
This isn’t how a representative republic is supposed to work. A representative republic is supposed to have some semblance of representation, of responsiveness, of at least the basic respect for constituents that representatives will, upon occasion, show up. We have none of that.
And this is the situation across the state. Ohio has 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 12 held by Republicans and four held by Democrats, and nothing is going to change that so long as the districts are drawn the way they’re drawn. Pardon the expletive, but holding elections every two years is a fucking farce. It’s a put-on. It’s a show. It’s meaningless.
When I was covering the 2008 election in Ohio for The New York Observer, we marked off five U.S. Congressional races that were competitive enough to cover consistently. If I was doing that job this year, I don’t think I could confidently argue that we have one.
In this week’s column, The Columbus Dispatch’s Thomas Suddes notes that Republicans like to point to Democrats gerrymandering when they had power in Ohio. Suddes notes correctly that this is akin to arguing that two wrongs make a right. And besides, he notes, the last time the Democrats in Ohio got to draw districts the way they wanted to was 45 years ago, at least.
In November of 2015, Ohioans passed a redistricting reform plan with 71 percent of the vote, and that plan covers the statehouse, and there is reason for hope, I suppose, in the General Assembly, but Congressional districts are so far left unscathed.
Why? Because the Congressional leaders who oppose it have been buying off the state legislators with massive campaign donations to ensure that nothing changes. Republican legislative committees collected nearly $600,000 from GOP congressional candidates in 2010 and 2011, the last time the map was being drawn.
It paid off. We haven’t had a competitive U.S. Congressional race in Ohio since. This goes way beyond shameful. This is insulting to the very foundation at the heart our form of governance. This is a direct assault on the very idea of self-government. It is in direct conflict with the essence of a republic, and it is killing the “American experiment.”
Forget flag pins and national anthems and pols flapping their maws about love of country; gerrymandering on this scale is so wickedly unpatriotic that it may as well be treason.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive’s RouteFifty.com, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.