Jon Husted well understands the difficulties facing a group of four lawmakers who last week unveiled a plan to improve the way Ohio redraws legislative and congressional districts after each census. The secretary of state, a former state senator, pushed hard in the past legislative session to gain support for a similar proposal, but it failed to make the ballot.
By Friday, Husted had given a welcome endorsement to the constitutional amendment drafted by the bipartisan gang of four, his stamp of approval based on the sound principles that guided his own effort: Redistricting reform should be kept as simple as possible, with emphasis on bipartisan cooperation rather than complex formulas to design districts according to given criteria.
That approach is embodied in the work of state Sens. Tom Sawyer and Frank LaRose, joined by House members Ted Celeste and Mike Duffey. They, like Husted, settled on the idea of a bipartisan commission of officeholders that would need a supermajority to approve a map, with participation required from the minority party.
Husted also endorsed the idea that the legislature should act quickly to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, correctly warning that delay would cripple consensus. Already, he noted, citizens groups are working to put a plan on the November ballot that would embed in the constitution overly complicated rules for creating an independent commission.
Husted’s realistic fear is that the gang of four’s plan will get hopelessly bogged down if, as is being suggested by William Batchelder, a fellow Republican and House speaker, it first must go through a legislative task force and then a special constitutional study commission.
The commission, co-chaired by Batchelder, is set to make an initial report no later than Jan. 1, an amendment thus unlikely to make the November ballot this year. Even now, some Democrats are leaning toward the citizens groups because their plan would go into effect in 2014. Finally, Husted has an astute warning: The longer Republicans stay in power, the less likely they will be to support any plan creating a bipartisan commission.