HJR 13: Did Ohio Miss a Rare Opportunity?

On Thursday, May 25, 2006, House Joint Resolution 13 failed in the Ohio House of Representatives, and consequently Ohio may have missed a rare opportunity to lead the nation in redistricting reform. The vote on the House floor featured some strategic parliamentary maneuvers by the Republicans which ultimately forced the Democrats to vote against their own redistricting proposal. As a result, the Speaker of the House, Rep. Jon Husted (R-Kettering) said that the Democratic opposition to redistricting was based on politics. [1]  Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Cincinnati), who drafted the proposal that the Democrats ultimately voted against, dismissed the Republican maneuver as "no more than a stunt." [2]  Regardless of whether or not the move was a stunt, the chances that the November 2006 ballot will feature a redistricting proposal are very bleak, and many feel that redistricting reform will be off the table for years to come.

By the end of the day Thursday, the House Democrats rejected not only HJR 13, as expected, but also their own proposal from March 2005. [3]  Because it would amend the state constitution, HJR 13 needed a supermajority of sixty votes to pass, but it failed by a vote of 53 for and 42 against. [4]  Among those who voted against the measure were Republican Representatives Charles Blasdel (R-East Liverpool), Jim Carmichael (R-Wooster), Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), Speaker Husted, and the sponsor of HJR 13, Kevin DeWine (R-Fairborn). [5]  Because he voted on the prevailing side, Rep. Blasdel was able to move to have the vote on HJR 13 reconsidered. [6]  This motion, supported by all five Republicans who voted against the measure, succeeded on a 58 to 37 vote. [7]  After a motion to adjourn by Rep. Skindell (D-Lakewood) failed, Rep. DeWine amended HJR 13. [8]  The amended version of HJR 13 mirrored a proposal introduced by Rep. Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) in March 2005, [9]  but it too fell short of the required supermajority, by a vote of 58 for and 37 against. [10]  After the vote, Speaker Husted voiced his disappointment and stated that the Republicans "tried to exhaust every excuse that had been given not to vote for this." [11]  Rep. Driehaus, in addition to referring to the Republican maneuver as a "stunt," stated that both plans had shortcomings and the most important reason to vote against his proposal was that there had not yet been any public input on it. [12] 

HJR 13 would have established a seven member commission, comprised of four members appointed by the legislative leaders of both parties and three "neutral" members, to redraw the legislative district map and U.S. Congressional districts after each decennial U.S. census beginning in 2011, using criteria such as compactness, existing political boundaries, and competitiveness. [13]  Rep. Driehaus's proposal from 2005, like HJR 13, established a commission to draw legislative districts. In contrast, however, the Democratic proposal would have created a five member commission featuring four members of the public appointed by the legislative leaders of both parties and a fifth member elected by the first four appointees. [14]  This commission would determine the legislative districts of the Ohio General Assembly and the districts for the U.S. Congressional Representatives from Ohio. [15] 

Ohioans recently rejected a redistricting proposal. Issue 4, a ballot initiative from November 2005 that would have created a five member commission to redraw legislative districts effective in 2007, with "competitiveness" being "a primary criterion," was soundly defeated with 70 per cent of voters opposing the measure. [16]  The general consensus is that voters rejected Issue 4 because it was confusing. Prior to the November 2005 election, Issue 4 was described as "based on a seemingly complicated formula that tends to be laid out in esoteric terms." [17]  After Issue 4 and several other election reform issues failed in November 2005, The Columbus Dispatch stated "[b]oth sides agreed that the issues' complexity caused widespread confusion among voters." [18]  Not everyone, however, attributed the defeat to voter confusion. Former Issue 4 supporter and HJR 13 opponent House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) seemed to interpret Issue 4's defeat as a statement by Ohio voters that they are not interested in redistricting. Referring to HJR 13, she stated, "I'm just focusing on the fact that this is something Ohioans don't want, and we're rushing it." [19] 

Given the current system of line drawing, however, redistricting reform may need to be rushed. Under current system, the General Assembly draws congressional districts, and the state legislative districts are drawn by a five member "Apportionment Board" consisting of the governor, secretary of state, the state auditor, and one legislator from each party. [20]  Whichever party wins two of the three races in 2006 for governor, secretary of state, or state auditor will be in a position to redraw the map in their favor after the next census. [21]  Consequently HJR 13 was possibly Ohio 's best hope to improve its redistricting process, because after November one party will have an incentive to keep the current system in place. [22]  The day after Issue 4's defeat, Republican opponents of the measure reached out to leaders of the reform effort to begin work on a redistricting plan. [23]  Rep. DeWine and Speaker Husted crafted HJR 13. Ed Jerse, a former Democratic legislator who chaired the campaign in support of Issue 4, supported the principles of HJR 13 [24]  stating, "it's simpler and it's a good compromise." [25]  The Democrats did not feel like they were involved early in the process, despite asking to be included in 2005 meetings between Republicans and Issue 4 proponents. [26]  Rep. DeWine said that Democrats were excluded from the first meeting but were included in all subsequent meetings. [27] 

The multifarious objections to HJR 13 by the Democrats combined with their rejection of Rep. Driehaus's proposal may suggest that they would oppose any redistricting reform regardless of its particular details. Democrats such as Chris Redfern ( D-Catawba Island ) have objected to the Ohio Supreme Court's involvement in the event of a commission deadlock because the Republicans have a 6-1 majority on the court. [28]  Rep. DeWine amended the measure in committee to clarify the jurisdiction of the Ohio Supreme Court, providing that a plan rejected on constitutional grounds would go back to the commission to choose a new plan. [29]  To quell concerns regarding minority voting rights, Rep. DeWine amended the resolution to clarify that any commission plan has to comply with federal statutes. [30] 

Other objections may be difficult to reconcile with Ohio 's electoral past. Democratic candidate for governor, Ted Strickland, and Cliff Arnebeck, Chairman of the Ohio Honest Elections Campaign, have both indicated that "competitiveness" should be the top priority in a redistricting plan and the language in HJR 13 that calls for "best efforts to maximize competitiveness" is not adequate. [31]  Yet this recommendation is in tension with the fact that Issue 4, a redistricting proposal that made "competitiveness" the top priority, was soundly rejected by Ohio voters in November 2005. Mr. Arnebeck also indicated that there was no rush to pass HJR 13 because the members of the apportionment board will not be known until 2010, and the parties will have incentive to cooperate on a redistricting plan until then. [32]  Others, however, have said that 2010 may be too late, because the winners this fall will run as incumbents in 2010. A brief survey, dating back to 1966, shows that the incumbents have a decided advantage in the races for governor, auditor, and secretary of state. Incumbents are 6-1 in the race for governor, 6-0 in the race for auditor, and 6-2 in the race for secretary of state, compiling an impressive 17-3 record. [33] 

Some of their public comments seem to suggest that the Democrats apparently feel it is their turn to do a little "politics as usual" gerrymandering. Rep. Beatty claims that politics is at play for both sides stating, "If people think this is because we think we have an opportunity to win-they think they have an opportunity to lose.what is fair on one side is fair on the other." [34]  But Rep. Redfern indicated that no one should question the motives of the minority and that Democrats will consider reform whatever the results in November. [35] 

There is only a slim chance that Ohioans will vote on redistricting reform in November. A plan would have to be approved by the House and the Senate by August 9 to qualify for the November ballot, which would require the General Assembly to return from summer recess to pass a measure. [36]  The Senate, however, has not shown much enthusiasm for redistricting reform. The Senate President, Bill Harris (R-Ashland), indicated that the House's redistricting plan would not be a priority if the Senate returns from recess. [37] 

The Democrats rejected HJR 13 despite a broad range of support. Independent groups such as the League of Women Voters and Ohio Citizen Action supported the measure. [38]  In testimony before the Rules Committee, Professor Edward Foley, an elections law expert at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, stated that "I don't think anyone should take the position that the status quo is better than [HJR 13]. It should be adopted." [39]  Recent editorials from the Columbus Dispatch and the Cleveland Plain Dealer have criticized the Democrats for opposing HJR 13. In a May 8, 2006, editorial, the Plain Dealer stated that "It is disingenuous for Democrats to carp about one-party rule and then not support an effort to inject genuine fairness into the system." [40]  In the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, May 14, 2006, Senior Editor Joe Hallett referred to Democrats as "apologists for the status quo." [41]  And a Columbus Dispatch editorial from Sunday, May 28, 2006, stated that "Democrats helped to block this overdue reform (HJR 13), and in doing so failed their party and the people of Ohio." [42]]  The editorial later states "legislators who don't support reform will lose credibility with voters." [43]  It will be interesting to see whether or not the demise of HJR 13 has any effect on the electorate come November-particularly in the races for governor, auditor, and secretary of state.

Notes

[1] Democrats Withhold Support for GOP Redistricting Plan in House-and for a Democrat Alternative
As Well
, http://gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75, Report 100-Thursday, May 25, 2006.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Ohio House of Representatives Journal, Thursday, May 25, 2006, p. 2905, available at http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/JournalText126/HJ-05-25-06.pdf, (pdf p.40).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 2906, pdf. p.41.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 2907, pdf. p.42.

[9] Democrats Withhold Support for GOP Redistricting Plan in House-and for a Democrat Alternative
As Well
, http://gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75, Report 100-Thursday, May 25, 2006.

[10] Ohio House of Representatives Journal, Thursday, May 25, 2006, p. 2909, available at http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/JournalText126/HJ-05-25-06.pdf, (pdf p.44).

[11] Democrats Withhold Support for GOP Redistricting Plan in House-and for a Democrat Alternative
As Well
, http://gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75, Report 100-Thursday, May 25, 2006.

[12]Id.

[13] http://www.gongwer-oh.com/126/resolutions/hjr13.pdf.

[14] Democrats Withhold Support for GOP Redistricting Plan in House-and for a Democrat Alternative
As Well
, http://gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75, Report 100-Thursday, May 25, 2006.

[15] Ohio House of Representatives Journal, Thursday, May 25, 2006, p. 2907, available at http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/JournalText126/HJ-05-25-06.pdf, (pdf p.42).

[16] State Issue 4 Official Results: November 8, 2005 Ballot Language and Arguments Included, http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/ElectionsVoter/results2005.aspx?Section=1168.

[17] Travis McDade, The Issue 4 Redistricting Plan Explained (in a way), http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/electionlaw/election2005/051020.php (posted October 20, 2005).

[18] Jim Siegel, Joe Hallett, & Mark Niquette, GOP asks for help drawing districts, Columbus Dispatch, November 10, 2005, available at http://www.dispatch.com/news-story.php?story=dispatch/2005/11/10/20051110-E1-01.html.

[19] Jim Siegel, Redistricting Reform, round 2 , Columbus Dispatch, May 5, 2006, available at http://www.columbusdispatch.com/news-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/05/05/20060505-E1-00.html.

[20] Jim Siegel, Redistricting reform, round 2, Columbus Dispatch, May 5, 2006, available at http://www.columbusdispatch.com/news-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/05/05/20060505-E1-00.html.

[21] Reginald Fields, GOP proposes new redistricting panel , Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 5, 2006, available at http://www.cleveland.com/open/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/ispol/114682673881660.xml&coll=2.

[22] Id.

[23] Sandy Theis, Opposition gracious after election reforms fail, Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 2005, available at http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/news/113161871370410.xml&coll=2.

[24] Julie Carr Smyth, House supports district reform , Cincinnati Post, May 5, 2006, available at http://news.cincypost.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060505/NEWS01/605050350.

[25] Reginald Fields, GOP proposes new redistricting panel, Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 5, 2006, available at http://www.cleveland.com/open/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/ispol/114682673881660.xml&coll=2.

[26] Redistricting Effort Fails on House Floor, Hannah News Service, May 25, 2006, http://www.ohcapcon.com/ipc/ipc.htm?/hanart/20060525_HANNAH_2.htm.

[27] Id.

[28] Republican Redistricting Plan Heads for House Vote After Emerging from Committee on Partisan
Tally
, http://www.gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75 Report 99, May 24, 2006.

[29] Redistricting Heads to House Floor, Hannah News Service, May 24, 2006, http://www.ohcapcon.com/ipc/ipc1.htm?/hanart/20060524_hannah_4.htm.

[30] Id.

[31] http://www.ohiohonestelections.org, May 24, 2006.

[32] Redistricting Heads to House Floor, Hannah News Service, May 24, 2006, http://www.ohcapcon.com/ipc/ipc1.htm?/hanart/20060524_hannah_4.htm.

[33] Ohio Secretary of State website, http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/ElectionsVoter/electionResults.aspx.

[34] Jim Siegel, Democrats may block overhaul of districting, Columbus Dispatch, May 25, 2006, available at http://www.ohioelects.com/?story=dispatch/2006/05/25/20060525-B3-00.html.

[35] Redistricting Heads to House Floor, Hannah News Service, May 24, 2006, http://www.ohcapcon.com/ipc/ipc1.htm?/hanart/20060524_hannah_4.htm.

[36] Jim Siegel, Redistricting Plans Rejected, Columbus Dispatch, May 26, 2006, available at http://www.dispatch.com/politics/politics.php?story=188362.

[37] John McCarthy, Senate won't act on redistricting plan before break, Akron Beacon Journal, May 22, 2006, available at http://www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal/news/state/14642704.htm.

[38] Joe Hallett, Democrats might not be up to doing the right thing on redistricting, Columbus Dispatch, May 14, 2006, available at http://www.dispatch.com/editorials/editorials.php?story=dispatch/2006/05/14/20060514-B5-01.html.

[39] Dueling Lawyers Praise, Condemn Repbulican Ballot Issue to Change Process of Drawing Political District Boundaries, http://gongwer-oh.com, Volume 75, Report 94-Wednesday, May 17, 2006.

[40] Reform? No Hurry Now , Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 8, 2006 at A9.

[41] Joe Hallett, Democrats might not be up to doing the right thing on redistricting, Columbus Dispatch, May 14, 2006, available at http://www.dispatch.com/editorials/editorials.php?story=dispatch/2006/05/14/20060514-B5-01.html.

[42] Reform won't wait, Columbus Dispatch, May 28, 2006 at D4.

[43] Id.