Redistricting proposal backers say Ohio lawmakers’ reaction to Issue 1 shows need for change
Since Ohio voters approved an amendment to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution last week, Republicans who dominate the state legislature have said they won’t change existing abortion laws because of the approval of Issue 1, which passed 56.6%-43.4%.
Some have proposed tying up attempts to change in legal challenges that would prove costly to supporters of reproductive rights. The legislature would be represented by state legal counsel paid for by taxpayers in such efforts. Some legislators have also suggested they could remove authority over the new amendment from the courts too, saying Ohio lawmakers have control over laws pertaining to abortion. It’s unclear if the legislature is on solid legal footing in making that suggestion.
Backers of an effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters next year to change the process for drawing lawmakers' district lines say this reaction is proof that the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts needs to change.
Jen Miller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said lawmakers are not doing the will of the people right now and, because of gerrymandering, they don’t have to.
“At the end of the day, Ohio voters have not been able to hold lawmakers accountable who are profoundly out of step with the beliefs and interests of Ohio voters because of gerrymandering, because these districts are rigged in a way that insulates these legislators from losing their seats,” Miller said.
The amendment from Citizens Not Politicians would replace the seven elected officeholders on the Ohio Redistricting Commission - five Republican and two Democrats - with a 15 member citizens commission. Current and former politicians could not serve on that panel.
For his part, Gov. Mike DeWine has said he thinks “the will of the voters” should be respected on Issue 1. But he also said, “People of the state will want to take a look at, once this goes into effect, they will have the opportunity to make a decision and to continue to judge how it is, in fact, working.”
Miller said that's more proof of the impact of gerrymandering because it is harder for leaders in statewide offices to be as out of step with voters. For example, she says when voters repealed an anti-union bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature in 2011, then-Gov. John Kasich backed off.
“We can look back to the SB 5 days where we saw Gov. Kasich really walk away from any other anti-union behaviors because the people spoke. Statewide office holders are more sensitive to voters’ interests and needs because they are not protected by gerrymandered districts,” Miller said.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), who supports the redistricting proposal under consideration, said there’s no doubt her Republican colleagues are ignoring the will of Ohioans.
“This gerrymandered legislature, the majority, is very out of step with where most Ohioans are,” Russo said. And she said she thinks the GOP response to last week’s election outcome is going to eventually help those wanting to change the system for drawing legislative and congressional districts.
“Whatever retaliation comes, which I anticipate, in the next couple of months, do I think it will help those who are leading more redistricting reform? Yes,” Russo said.
John Fortney, a spokesman for Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes issue with the comments made by the redistricting reform backers, referring to the former Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, who is leading the effort.
“The truth is, Maureen O’Connor’s group doesn’t care about any issue other than their own, which is passing guaranteed gerrymandered wins for Democrats,” Fortney said.
Political insiders widely believe Huffman, who's term limited in the Senate and is running for the House, will challenge Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) for that position if they're both elected.
Attempts to get a comment from Stephens were unsuccessful.