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Politics

Witnesses Malign Ohio's Gerrymandered Maps At First Redistricting Hearings

 Areeqe Hammad, of Cleveland, testifies at the first public hearing of the Ohio Redistricting Commission at Cleveland State University, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Cleveland.
Julie Carr Smyth
/
AP
Areeqe Hammad, of Cleveland, testifies at the first public hearing of the Ohio Redistricting Commission at Cleveland State University, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Cleveland.

More than 120 activists, scholars, pastors, students and average citizens attended the first hearing Monday of a new panel charged with redrawing Ohio’s state legislative districts for the next 10 years.

The panel of lawmakers who will draw new district lines for Ohio’s representatives and senators in the Statehouse held its first two meetings Monday in Cleveland and Youngstown, with eight more scheduled throughout the state this week. While there are no maps for people to offer input on, there was plenty of testimony on what they want them to look like.

The meetings brought out past and current political candidates and longtime activists, among others. Most like Kathleen Gage wanted maps with more Democratic representation.

“Whatever Ohio is, we are not a 76% Republican, 24% Democrat state, which is the current configuration of the Ohio Senate,” she said.

Under the maps drawn by Republicans in 2011, there are GOP supermajorities in the Statehouse and Republicans dominate 12-4 in the Ohio Congressional delegation.

The executive director of Free Ohio Now expressed a different point of view. Tom Hach complained that the commission’s hearing schedule doesn't accommodate diverse perspectives, including those of Republicans.

“This audience is not reflective of Ohio as a whole. Who’s getting heckled? The guy who speaks out different than anybody else,” he said.

Maria Cordaro is in the same anti-COVID lockdown group as Heck, and said that’s how she heard about the meetings.

“The only reason I know about any of this election is joining groups like Free Ohio Now, which is how I get most of my information,” she said.

Bria Bennett, who is a Democrat running for a Ohio House seat in Trumbull County, called out Republicans Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose for missing the meeting when they’re on the seven-member commission.

“They show that they don’t really care about us. They just care about what they can get from us,” she said.

DeWine was photographed at the Cincinnati Bengals training camp. A statement from DeWine’s office noted he was at the Cleveland Browns camp last week and enjoys supporting all of Ohio’s professional sports teams.

Several of those testifying before the members who were there said the times and locations of the meetings prevented more people from weighing in. Some said also hoped for meetings to be held after the maps are drawn.

The constitutional amendments that changed the map-drawing process require three hearings after the Ohio House and Senate maps are proposed and before the redistricting commission votes, and at least two after the Congressional map is put forward but before state lawmakers vote on it.

The panel is supposed to draft new legislative districts by Sept. 1.

The Associated Press' Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this article.