COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republicans in the Ohio House passed a four-year congressional map on a 55-36 party-line vote after more than an hour of floor speeches Thursday.
Democrats and others opposed to Amended Sen. Bill 258 called for Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, to veto the measure while House Minority Leader Emelia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) urged Ohioans to overturn the legislation by putting it on the ballot.
The vote marks a stark partisan outcome despite a 2018 amendment to the Ohio Constitution supported by 74 percent of Ohio voters that had called for a bipartisan process to create a 10-year map following specific guidelines. Those included the creation of districts minimizing the split of Ohio’s 88 counties, cities, and townships while also keeping populations in each district close to the 786,629 average in 15 districts, one less than the state had after the 2010 U.S. Census.
That effort for a 10-year map stalled with scant effort by the Republican leadership in the House and Senate to work through the Ohio Redistricting Commission on a bipartisan plan.
State Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) said the substitute map unveiled Monday night offers six Republican-leaning, two Democrat-leaning districts and seven “competitive” districts either party could win. The Democrat alternative suggested an 8-7 or 9-6 split between GOP-leaning and Democrat-leaning districts.
“This plan satisfies the plain meaning of the (Ohio Constitution’s) text,” Swearington said during floor debate broadcasted live on The Ohio Channel. “The Democrats’ map offers predetermined outcomes.”
Democrats hammered on their contention the GOP map will create an Ohio congressional delegation with 13 Republicans and just two Democrats. Ohio currently has 12 GOP U.S. House members and four Democrats as well as one member of each party in the U.S. Senate.
“It unduly favors Republicans,” Minority Whip Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester) of the projected House split, “therefore it violates the (Ohio) Constitution.”
Brown said the passed map unnecessarily splits Hamilton County, anchored by Cincinnati, into three separate districts, with the eastern suburbs put in a district with 12, mostly rural counties that are part of Appalachia and a portion of a 13th county.
He also noted Summit County in Northeast Ohio is split, putting the urban Akron and Canton communities in separate districts even though they are within miles of each other and share a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and market.
“This Republican congressional map does not meet the letter of the law or the spirit of the (2018) reforms,” he said. “This was done for partisan advantage.”
Sykes said Democrats, as measured by the 45 percent of Ohio voters supporting President Joe Biden in 2020, should have an opportunity to have a more favorable opportunity in selecting members of Congress.
She then called on DeWine to veto the bill and force the General Assembly to create a bill with Democrats and Republicans in support. That lack of bipartisan support means the districts will have to get redrawn again for the 2026 election.
Sykes also suggested Ohio’s voters can take charge by signing a petition to force the map onto the ballot box through a referendum.
The left-leaning Fair Districts Ohio Coalition also pressured DeWine in a letter sent to The Ohio Star just moments after the House vote.
“The Congressional map presented by this bill is a classic gerrymander that slices and dices communities in order to achieve a rigged outcome benefitting one political party,” said the letter from the coalition made up of Common Cause Ohio, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and two faith-based organizations.
The redistricting bill as passed, it said, goes against the May 2018 referendum seeking bipartisanship. Later that year, DeWine became governor.
“At that time, you spoke about the newly enacted redistricting process, ‘The rules are pretty clear – the voters said that the redistricting process should be done in a bipartisan way and when I’m governor there will be an expectation that the new maps honor the voters’ wishes,'” the letter said.
Also, the letter said, “… No matter what happens next, it is your duty to uphold the Ohio Constitution, honor the will of the people, and veto this bill.”
DeWine’s press office did not return messages seeking comment. The governor is in Arizona attending the Republican Governors Association.
The legislation could also get challenged before the Ohio Supreme Court should DeWine approve the plan.
The GOP’s map for Ohio House and Ohio Senates maps, which also did not get bipartisan support, remains before the court, which will hear oral arguments on three legal challenges to the General Assembly map during a hearing scheduled for December 8.
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Brian R. Ball is a veteran Columbus journalist writing for The Ohio Star and Star News Network. Send him news tips to [email protected]