A bipartisan group of four state lawmakers seized the moment Monday to advance a plan to improve the way the state redraws congressional and legislative districts after each census. By forcing compromise, their proposed constitutional amendment would create more competitive districts, robust contests producing legislators closer to the center and more open to practical solutions.
In the Senate, Frank LaRose, a Copley Township Republican, has teamed with Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat. They have been joined by House members Mike Duffey, a Worthington Republican, and Ted Celeste, a Grandview Heights Democrat. The four correctly see the opening created by the gerrymandered districts drawn under the current winner-take-all system following the 2010 census, the bitterness lingering. The timing also is right because the next changes won’t come until after 2020, making it all but impossible to predict who will be in control.
Under the proposed amendment, a commission would be in charge of legislative and congressional maps. On it would sit the governor, auditor and secretary of state, plus the House speaker and the Senate president. Two other legislative leaders, of the opposite party of the speaker and the president, would round out the body.
The key to the plan is its requirement for a supermajority vote, with minority participation. It would take five votes to win approval of a plan, with two votes from the party in the minority.
That sets a simple, more effective route to compromise, wisely avoiding overly complex formulas and, as some citizens groups impractically advocate, a citizens commission whose members have no political ties at all.
LaRose, Sawyer and the others did add a standard for political competitiveness (the parties not more than 5 percentage points apart). Existing language against splitting jurisdictions was reversed, protecting smaller units as the top priority, important to create coherent communities of interest. These elements would not be binding, but balanced along with other factors.
If the commission could not reach agreement, the amendment creates a solution and a penalty. First, a ballot issue with three plans (one Republican, one Democratic and one reflecting a compromise) would go to voters. Next, nonpartisan primaries would be put in place for 10 years. Both would create the pressure necessary for the commission to reach bipartisan consensus, inviting a climate for continuing cooperation.
Other groups, including a legislative task force of which Sawyer and LaRose are members, a constitutional commission and a coalition of citizens groups, are considering changes to redistricting. The four lawmakers who released their plan Monday have provided the framework around which a single ballot issue should be crafted.