It’s a long road to Nov. 6, 2018, but what happens on that date may come to define to fate of the Buckeye State through at least 2031 and perhaps beyond. The campaign starts now.
All five statewide elected offices will be up for grabs. Three of the officeholders who win those seats – the governor, auditor, and secretary of state – will sit on the Ohio Apportionment Board. The other four seats come from the General Assembly with one majority and one minority representative from each chamber.
Democrats must win at least two of the three statewide seats to hold a controlling majority on the board, which will redraw state legislative districts in 2021 following the 2020 U.S. Census.
Starting that year, if at least two minority party members vote to approve the new maps, they take effect for 10 years. If not, then the maps must be redrawn again in four years.
Democrats last controlled the apportionment board in 1971 and 1981. Republicans controlled the board in 1991, 2001, and 2011.
In the 119th Ohio General Assembly from 1990 to 1992, the Ohio Senate was controlled by Republicans 19 to 14 and the Ohio House of Representatives was controlled by Democrats 62 to 37.
In January 2017, the 132nd Ohio General Assembly will convene with Republicans controlling both chambers (as they have since 2010), with a super majority in the Ohio Senate 24 to nine and another super majority in the Ohio House 66 to 33.
This means, on net, Democrats have lost 29 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate since Republicans began controlling the redistricting process.
One only need look at the absurdly drawn state legislative districts in Ohio – more closely resembling Rorschach ink blots than thoughtfully mapped political districts – to see this turnabout has been the direct result of opportunistic gerrymandering. Voters know this. That’s why redistricting reform was passed in 2015 with 71 percent support.
Nevertheless, in the next General Assembly, Republicans will have enough power to do essentially anything they feel like. It is a man of strong faith indeed who believes they will exercise restraint.
You see, another consequence of redistricting has been that seats have become so safe from the opposition party that the true threat comes from within, with zealots outflanking and defeating more moderate voices in primaries, thereby increasingly radicalizing the legislature.
The good news is this: Ohio Republicans will assuredly, repeatedly overstep themselves. Ohio remains a purple state for now. The voters of Ohio are much more evenly split than the state legislative lines would indicate.
When General Assembly Republicans enact far-right legislation, they are doing themselves no favors among the more moderately inclined of their constituents. When they cross this line, Democrats must take advantage, publicize it, and hammer it home without end. Democratic officials must speak out, loudly and often.
Party chairs across all 88 counties must call all troops to muster. Nevermind Republican advantage: Recruit candidates and challenge officeholders if for nothing else than to generate dialogue. And regular folk must keep the dinner table conversations going, reminding friends and family of the policy decisions being made.
On a whole other level, the Ohio Democratic Party itself ought to find ways to unite the various factions at work in different power centers around the state and within itself. The party must present a united front. Stronger together, eh?
The Democratic Party is the party of the people and always has been. The Republican Party is the party of private interest profits, and always has been. (Everything else – the relative conservative or progressiveness of the parties, ethnic, geographic, religious, and urban/rural alliances – has been in flux through the long arch of American history, though conservatives and progressives are essentially entirely split now on party lines.)
Being the party of the people, to me, is the central idea that the Democratic Party must use to remind voters whose ideas are aligned with their best interests and whose are not. The incoming Trump government has already sold out the people in cabinet appointments.
Being the party fighting for the best interests of the people can be demonstrated with all manner of data, but as Cicero taught us over 2,000 years ago, by far the most effective appeal a politician can make is pathos, the appeal to emotion. Logos may win the intellectual, and ethos the moral, but pathos wins the masses, for good or ill.
We are about to see in America how pathos rules for the ill. Democrats must fight to enact the will of the people for the good, and not just by compassion and tolerance, but by tangible betterment in the everyday lives of regular people, all people, and a full-throated commitment to same. Loud, and often.
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 The 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.