COMMENTARY: Redistricting


Joe Hallett commentary: Redistricting reform falls victim again to dreams of power

Sunday, June 13, 2010 02:57 AM
By Joe Hallett
The Columbus Dispatch

Politics is the enemy of common sense.

Year after year, as mendacious lawmakers come and go, the single reform that overnight would make our government better and we, the governed, better off, is forsaken at the alter of power.

To what end? Nothing really changes. One set of partisans reign until voters get fed up and elect an opposite set of partisans until they, too, become insufferable. The Statehouse's well-heeled lobbyists perpetuate the broken system by plying it with money, bending legislators to their will, while growing ever fatter themselves.

People's problems go unsolved. The economic and social well-being of Ohio declines with torturous drip-drip-drip predictability.

Despite the best efforts of officials such as Sen. Jon Husted, R-Kettering, and Peg Rosenfield, head of election reform for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, another opportunity has been lost to change the way Ohio draws new districts every 10 years for its members of the Ohio House and Senate.

There still is time for the General Assembly to pass a redistricting-reform bill by Aug. 4, the deadline for putting it on the Nov. 2 ballot, but don't hold your breath.

Lawmakers have gone home to campaign for their mostly slam-dunk re-elections, living large in a preponderance of districts drawn to ensure the party they represent can't lose. In contested races for the Ohio Senate in 2008, the average margin of victory was 25 percentage points.

The 99 Ohio House and 33 Senate districts were drawn in 2001 by the State Apportionment Board, comprised of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and a legislative member from each party. Whichever party wins two of those statewide offices on Nov. 2 gets the right to gerrymander new districts to favor its candidates.

Thus, dysfunctional governance will continue at a Statehouse already overrun with ideologues whose greatest threat of losing is in partisan primaries from even more intractable extremists.

"Republicans go to the right and Democrats to the left, and we get a very polarized legislature and Congress because the people in the middle can't win anymore, and they are absolutely critical if you're going to have a functional legislature," Rosenfield said. "Why would you compromise if your opponents (in a primary) are going to beat you over the head with it?"

Husted agreed, saying compromise "used to be considered statesmanship, but now it's considered selling out."

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