Ohio’s Issue 2 Seeks To Stop Blatant Gerrymandering — By “Removing Authority Of Elected Representatives”

Ohio’s Issue 2, for this 2012 election, asks voters to change Ohio’s constitution. The ballot language says Issue 2 will, “remove the authority of elected representatives and grant new authority to appointed officials to establish congressional and state legislative district lines.”

If Issue 2 is approved, congressional and state legislative lines would be redrawn in time for the 2014 elections by a newly formed Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission. New commission members again would be chosen and would redraw the state lines in 2021 and, then, this process would repeat every 10 years after, after each national census is completed. The commission would be composed of 12 citizens of the state: 4 affiliated with the largest political party in the state, 4 affiliated with the second largest political party in the state and 4 who are not affiliated with either political party. (See below for details.)

Those urging a “Yes” vote say that politicians, our elected representatives, Republicans and Democrats, when given the chance, have drawn wildly distorted districts, simply for political advantage. Those urging a “Yes” vote say it makes no sense to perpetuate a system that gives a fox the job of guarding the chicken house. Voters First, the organization urging a “Yes” vote, advances the slogan, “People, not politicians.” And, the League of Women Voters is urging a “Yes” vote, rejecting objections by the Bar Association and saying, “Issue 2 is a legally sound proposal for creating an independent redistricting commission.”

Those urging a “No” vote, such as protectyourvote, say Issue 2 will empower a “new government bureaucracy”and these appointed officials will not be accountable to the public. Protect Your Vote says, “Don’t put our election in the hands of unelected bureaucrats.” In this video, the group warns against “unaccountable bureaucrats.”

The Republican Party is making a big effort to defeat Issue 2, because the Party is pleased as punch with the status quo. Unless there is a change in the state’s constitution, the wildly gerrymandered lines that are now in effect, will not be changed until 2021. Issue 2 calls for an immediate change and if it is approved, the elections in 2014 will no longer be radically lopsided to the Republicans’ advantage.

The Republican Party wants to keep its big — and unfair — election advantage, but that reality hardly makes for a good slogan. This week the Ohio Republican Party mailed a large full color mailer to selected voters urging a “No” vote. My Republican neighbor received one and shared it with me. It presents Issue 2, as a “big government program” and features a quote from Ronald Reagan, “Government Programs Once Launched, Never Disappear.” The mailer, of course, doesn’t mention the fact that Reagan was outspoken against gerrymandering and said that the founding fathers made a mistake in not making a better strategy for reapportionment. He said when politicians redraw lines for their own election there is “a great conflict of interest.”

Mike Curtin is seeking election in the gerrymandered OHD 17

Voters First has made an official complaint to the Ohio Election Commission charging that the perpetrators of this mailer have gone too far and are guilty of false advertisement, in violation of Ohio law. The complaint states, “Respondents have knowingly, or with reckless disregard of the truth, made false statements in printed campaign material.”

The mailer makes three claims that, in its complaint to the OEC, Voters First disputes.

  1. The mailer states that “Some of the members (of the commission) will be chosen in secret.” This claim refers to the fact that after the first nine members of the commission are appointed, these nine members, in turn, will choose the final three members of the commission. But VotersFirstsays the selection of these last three members will be via a transparent process because Issue 2 specifies that “all meetings of the commission shall be open to the public.”
  2. The mailer states that the Commission will have “a blank check to spend our money.” But VotersFirst points out that the Ohio Supreme Court, in its September 12 decision concerning ballot language, has already ruled this as a false statement.
  3. The mailer states, “There is no process for removing these bureaucrats, even if they commit a felony.” VotersFirst says this is a false statement because “the amendment requires that commissioners be electors and when a person is convicted of a felony he or she loses his or her status as an elector.”

It appears that one reason Issue 2 may have a good chance of being approved is that, in its gerrymandering strategy, this time the party in power has gone too far.  Mike Curtin, a former writer for the Columbus Dispatch Good afternoon, is now the Democratic candidate seeking election in Ohio House District 17.   In an address to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, he points out that District 17 is hopelessly gerrymandered, needlessly separating communities, and says, “At no time in Ohio’s history have the congressional and state legislative maps been as blatantly gerrymandered as our new maps now in place for 2012 and the rest of the decade.” (See complete comments below.)

Under The Proposed Amendment:

1. The Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission would be established to draw the boundaries for Ohio’s state legislative and congressional districts, once following approval of this amendment and then once every ten years following the federal census. Under current law, a state board determines state legislative districts and the General Assembly determines congressional districts.

2. Redistricting plans could not be adopted with the intent of favoring or disfavoring a political party, incumbent officeholder or candidate.

3. The Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission would be balanced to not favor any political party and to reflect the diversity of Ohio. It would be composed of 12 citizens of the state: 4 affiliated with the largest political party in the state, 4 affiliated with the second largest political party in the state and 4 who are not affiliated with either political party.

4. Members of the commission must be persons with the relevant skills and a capacity for impartiality.

5. Certain persons would not be eligible to serve on the commission, including office holders, candidates, political party officials, paid lobbyists, and certain public employees and family members.

6. The commission would be required to adopt state and federal redistricting plans that most closely meet the following four factors: community preservation, competitiveness, representational fairness and compactness.

7. Legislative districts must be comprised of contiguous territory and be relatively equal in population and comply with the Ohio and United States Constitutions and federal law.

8. The public could submit proposed redistricting plans to the commission and the commission would be required to give full and fair consideration to such plans.

9. The commission would be required to make relevant data available to the public, make publicly available all proposed plans, allow public comment before adopting a plan, and conduct all its business in meetings open to the public.

10. Any eligible Ohioan could apply to be a commission member. From all applicants, a bi-partisan panel of eight Ohio appellate judges would select 42 persons (14 affiliated with the largest political party, 14 affiliated with the second largest political party and 14 not affiliated with either party) to form three pools. Three persons each may then be removed from each pool by the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and by the leader in the House of the opposite political party. From those remaining, three members would be randomly selected from each pool. These nine members would then select the final three members, one from each of the two major political parties and one not affiliated with either party.

11. The affirmative vote of 7 of the 12 commission members would be required to adopt a redistricting plan. In the event that the commission is not able to agree on a plan by October 1st of the year following the census, an action may be initiated in the Ohio Supreme Court and the court would be required to adopt from among all plans submitted to the commission the plan that most closely meets all of the factors described above.




Mike Curtin’s Comments To

The Columbus Chamber Of Commerce

When it comes to our collective attempts to foster good government – honest, open, responsible government – there have been few barriers as persistent, as corrosive and as detrimental to that goal as the blatant gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts.

We all know this to be the case, and we’ve all known it for a long time.

When John Adams, in 1780, was writing the Constitution of Massachusetts, he called for the creation of compact, contiguous districts that would not unduly split towns or wards, and that would protect communities of interest.

Like John Adams, our best national and state leaders throughout history – those who have put good government ahead of personal or partisan interest — have identified gerrymandering for the evil it is, and have called for clear and strong standards to prevent its cancerous spread.

Unfortunately, there are no federal standards that apply to political gerrymandering, except for the requirement that districts be of nearly equal population. There are federal standards that apply to racial gerrymandering, but not partisan gerrymandering.

This lack of a federal standard has been lamented by many of our esteemed U.S. Supreme Court justices over the years, including current Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has remarked: “It is unfortunate that when it comes to apportionment, we are in the business of rigging elections.”

So, without a federal standard, the constant battle to curb the evil of gerrymandering is a state- by-state battle.

Good-government advocates, and our best state leaders, have been waging this battle for a long time. Ohio had serious reform efforts in the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and in the last dozen years as well.

In each decade, as now, the party in power admitted that our system is broken and needs reform. But they found fault with the particular reform being proposed, and said they would be for a better reform plan down the road.

Like an addict with an addiction to an intractable vice, the party in power admits he needs intervention, admits he needs to be reformed, but please not just yet, and not through the program currently being offered.

And in each subsequent decade, the gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional and state legislative districts has become more blatant and more corrupt.

At no time in Ohio’s history have the congressional and state legislative maps been as blatantly gerrymandered as our new maps now in place for 2012 and the rest of the decade.

I have distributed three maps for you to examine. The first is the map of the 17th Ohio House District, for which I am running this year. It divides communities of interest. For example, it separates Marble Cliff from Grandview Heights, which have been sister communities for 70 years. They belong to the same school district, the same library district and have the same municipal services. But they are now separated by the new Ohio House map. Why? There is no justification for it. There is only a blatantly partisan one.

The same is true for Franklinton, the Hilltop and the South Side. The map fractures neighborhoods, discards symmetry, creates voter confusion and fuels public cynicism toward government. Public cynicism toward our government is at an all-time high in the modern era, and gerrymandering is one of the primary causes.

The second map you have is a map of Franklin County showing all 10 Ohio House districts in the county. As you can see, the 17th District is no exception. Nine of these 10 districts are absurdities. They violate any sense of decency, any sense of doing what is right for our citizens, taxpayers and voters.

And everybody knows it. Even the opponents of State Issue 2 won’t insult your intelligence by trying to defend the shape of the current districts.

All you will hear them say is that they want reform, too, but that the proposed remedy has too many flaws. And, so, we will get some reform down the road.

The third map you have is our new and nationally infamous map of congressional districts. No one even tries to defend this map. It is, of course, entirely indefensible.
It puts Steve Stivers in Athens, Morgan and Vinton counties. It puts Pat Tiberi in Muskingum and Richland counties.

The map is a slap in the face to voters all across our state, most grievously, in the north, where Ohio now has the most disfigured district in all of history – the 9th District that slinks its way from Toledo and Lucas County along the Lake Erie shoreline to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

Ohioans deserve a government that respects them. That puts their interests first.
That at least makes a nod toward being of, by and for the people. It amazes me that I even have to be making this case.

Ohio is long overdue for congressional and state legislative districts that make sense, that don’t insult us, that don’t continue to feed the beast of hyperpartisanship and hyperpolarization, as we all know these districts do.

I respectfully ask that the Columbus Chamber stand for reform, and not put its good name in defense of an indefensible status quo.

The opponents of State Issue 2 have raised a number of concerns about the proposal. It is not perfect. The perfect plan does not exist and will never exist. I would ask you to use your common sense, and to acknowledge the time-honored maxim to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

This is a good plan. It is 100 times better than what we have, which is in the running for being the worst in the nation.

We have an opportunity to take the high road, and to do the right thing. I respectfully ask for the Chamber’s endorsement of State Issue 2, and I will be happy to try to answer any questions you have. Thank you.


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