Senate President Matt Huffman, left, and House Speaker Bob Cupp, right, speak before the Tuesday meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. GOP leaders may move for a vote on new congressional maps as early as Wednesday morning. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal
Congressional maps could be voted on as early as Wednesday morning by the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
Senate President Matt Huffman took the lead in presenting GOP congressional maps in a Tuesday meeting of the ORC. He said he plans to make a motion to adopt the maps at a Wednesday meeting, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The maps were released to the public just before the Tuesday meeting, and Democratic members of the commission said they received the maps earlier that day.
“The map looks pretty crisp and tight, what we have right now,” Huffman told reporters after the meeting.
The senate president said the map “did not exist until sometime Monday afternoon or Monday night.”
In terms of partisanship, something that’s been at the forefront of court challenges against legislative and congressional maps, the new maps have a 10-3 GOP advantage. Two districts – District 1 that covers Warren and part of Hamilton County, and District 9 that stretches from Williams and Defiance County, along the top of the state to Erie County – are both within the range considered by experts to be tossups with a slight Democratic advantage.
District 1 carries a 51%-49% Dem advantage, and the 9th district has a narrow 50.25%-to 49.75% lean toward Democrats.
Democrats continued to call out Republicans for keeping them out of the process, which Huffman took issue with during Tuesday’s meeting. But Huffman also said disagreement has been a bipartisan affair.
“In this process, the Senate has a version of the world that they like, the House has their version, you’ve got three independent acting commissioners who all have their version,” Huffman said. “At some point (agreement) does become impossible.”
Commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, said Dems planned to send suggestions and recommendations to the GOP before they came together again on Wednesday, but he still didn’t see the need to rush the process.
Republicans have said they’d like to get the congressional maps done by the end of the week to accommodate deadlines for the May primary. The Ohio Supreme Court gave the commission until March 14 to submit new congressional plans to them.
“This time limit … is self-imposed, it can be changed,” Sykes said. “So, if we are seriously concerned with trying to be fair, then we need to take the time that’s necessary to have a good collaboration.”
One matter that the commission attempted to put to rest on Tuesday was whether or not they needed bipartisan approval to adopt maps this time around. Democrats believe the constitution requires it since the maps have had to come back to the commission.
House Speaker Bob Cupp said he reached out to state Attorney General Dave Yost for an opinion on the matter, and Yost said a simple majority is all that is needed. All other plans, constitutional and legislative alike, that have come out of the commission have been passed by a simple majority.
Cupp said the fact that the commission is allowed to use a simple majority vote shouldn’t serve as indication that the ORC doesn’t plan to aim for bipartisan agreement, but the AG’s opinion is “certainly persuasive” in saying the GOP majority could move forward.
As the congressional map consideration moves ahead, the commission is yet again awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court on its legislative plan. They submitted the plan a week after the Feb. 17 deadline, for which they could face contempt charges.
A hearing to discuss the contempt charges was scheduled for Tuesday, but the court postponed the hearing without rescheduling it.
SUSAN TEBBEN Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.