Caution urged in redistricting congressional seats

Members of Congress warn of unintended consequences.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich argues that the current process for redrawing congressional districts should be relegated to the “dustbin of history.”

That’s all well and good, say lawmakers serving in Congress, but the details of such a proposal are important.

“It’s time to take a look at it, but it’s super-complicated and we have to make sure it’s thought through,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington. “Because I’d rather make sure what we do has intended consequences and not unintended consequences.”

Ohio lost two congressional seats after the lines were redrawn following the 2010 Census, which also made some toss-up districts lean Republican and some safe Republican districts even safer. Since Republicans controlled the process, critics found plenty not to like in how the new districts were carved out.

But Democrats weren’t the only ones put in tricky situations.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and former Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, had their districts largely combined. The same phenomenon occurred in northwest Ohio, where Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, found herself pitted against former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland.

Kucinich ran against Kaptur and lost, while Austria chose not to run in a redrawn district that included all of Montgomery County, Turner’s home county.

Six years later, Turner admits the process “certainly was tumultuous,” but he says he’s hesitant to weigh in on Kasich’s comments until he says something more definitive.

But he does have one firm opinion on the process: Communities should be kept whole.

“The problem with gerrymandering either for political gain or enhanced competitiveness is you end up dividing a community,” he said.

In some cases, making a district more competitive might mean splitting a city in half. Turner said doing this confuses voters, who don’t know who represents them.

It’s better, he said, to have a lawmaker represent one community, regardless of whether it’s residents have like-minded political views or not.

“If you end up with communities like Dayton or Cincinnati or even the northern counties being divided, then you weaken their voice,” he said. “They don’t have one representative to go to and hold accountable for their performance.”

Last November Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to change the way legislative districts are drawn, but congressional district reform was left out of the ballot issue. The Ohio House and Senate — both dominated by Republicans — control congressional redistricting, which occurs every 10 years to adjust to changes in the Census.

Ohio could lose at least additional congressional seat because of population changes by the 2020 Census.

Members of Congress say they have little control over how their district boundaries are drawn. For example, when the lines were redrawn after the 2010 Census, Stivers said he wanted two things: to keep Union County and downtown Columbus.

He got neither.

Downtown Columbus went to Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty, while Union County went to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana.

Overall, Republicans have 12 congressional districts in Ohio and Democrats have four. As with some others, Stivers’ district became more solidly Republican when the final map was approved.

“I got nothing I asked for,” he said. “I did get a better district even though I didn’t ask for a more Republican district.”

Another suburban Columbus Republican, Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., said he has talked with Kasich about the congressional redistricting process, and they share similar concerns.

Kasich, he said, “hasn’t communicated a prescriptive plan on it. He’s communicated the idea that the process needs to be more balanced. I wouldn’t disagree with that.”

Tiberi said there is no silver bullet that will make campaigns and districts fair and take the partisanship out of politics.

In fact, he said, some states have tried to take the politics out of the process and seen it become more political. He said that’s the case in Arizona, which has some of the most liberal and conservative districts in the nation.

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