The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 31, 2014

Ohio congressional map is little help to moderates

By JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS — Ohio has mostly Democratic voters, but is headed toward another rock-solid Republican majority in Congress this fall.

This bellwether state provides one of the clearest examples in the nation of how congressional districts drawn after the 2010 Census gave Republicans a 33-seat majority despite heavy voting losses. Redistricting has created such strong party majorities in each U.S. House district that few, if any, of Ohio’s congressional contests are competitive.

Politicians elected via such a map — from both parties — are less moderate and less likely than representatives from closely divided districts to listen to voices outside their own ranks, including those of independents, observers say.

“You dance with the one who brung you, as the saying goes,” said Common Cause Ohio policy analyst Catherine Turcer. “At the end of the day, that’s not good for anybody. It’s not as if the Democrats get their Democrats and the Republicans get their Republicans, and it’s all fair. Well, no. Ordinary voters get lost in the mix.”

An Associated Press analysis of 2012 voting data found that Ohio’s four congressional districts controlled by Democrats have higher concentrations of uninsured, poor and black constituents. The 12 districts controlled by Republicans are on average wealthier and predominantly white.

Those breakdowns play out in the types of issues representatives are fighting for in Washington — the minimum wage by Democrats and tax cuts by Republicans, as examples.

But what’s the incentive to compromise, asks Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji, if you’re guaranteed victory at home no matter how you vote?

“It promotes polarization on both sides,” Tokaji said. “We get extreme Republicans and extreme Democrats with very little common ground.”

Democratic President Barack Obama beat Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Ohio 51 percent to 48 percent in 2012. That tight margin favoring the Democrat didn’t reappear in a single of the 16 districts created during Ohio’s post-2010 redistricting process, which was controlled by Republicans.

Instead, the numbers fell this way: Twelve districts — or 75 percent — contained Romney majorities, including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s home district that’s 62 percent Republican; and four districts contained Obama majorities of 63 to 83 percent.

Ohio Republican Chair-man Matt Borges said it’s difficult to avoid drawing heavily Democratic districts in Ohio, because most of the state’s Democrats live in densely populated urban areas. Republican voters dominate most of the rest of the state’s spread out rural and suburban areas, he said.

Tokaji said Ohio’s redistricting system provides an incentive to whichever party is in control to stack the map in their favor. He was among advocates of a 2012 ballot proposal to revise Ohio’s redistricting process that was rejected by voters.