State Issue 2 on the November ballot has strong coaltions of supporters and opponents.
The Columbus Metropolitan Club hosted a debate on Issue 2 Wednesday. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.
The complicated language in Issue 2 takes the authority to draw maps for Congressional and Statehouse districts out of the hands of lawmakers and the state apportionment board and gives it to a 12 member commission of citizens who aren’t politicians or lobbyists. Former Congressman Zack Space from Dover in eastern Ohio said it’s about time people who aren’t politicians had a role in the process that determines who will represent them.
"The notion that citizens are somehow involved in the redistricting process as it now exists is utterly laughable. The process – and believe me, I’m not faulting the Republican Party, because frankly if the Democrats had control, they’d have done the same thing – but the process now is a back room process with no transparency and no accountability."
But Jenny Camper, who speaks for Issue 2’s opponents, said a bad map isn’t a reason to change to a system that has the potential to be fraught with problems and dogged by lawsuits over its constitutionality.
"Certainly the map has raised questions and it’s up, it’s something that can be debated. But Issue 2, remember, Issue 2 is offered up as the solution for how we improve the map-making process. It’s offered up not just as a solution, but as a permanent solution – the last solution. It would get locked into our Ohio constitution."
Republicans, business organizations and socially conservative groups have campaigned against the issue, saying the commission would be unlimited, unaccountable and unconstitutional, and that lawmakers are motivated now to look into the issue. Space said Issue 2’s backers have heard that over and over.
"The legislatures have time and time again had the opportunity to create that better way and have failed. And they’ve failed for the primary reason that the partisanism and the polarization that exists that Issue 2 is designed to remedy prevents them from doing that. It’s a self-propagating system and the chain needs to be broken."
Democrats, labor unions and progressive groups have said the commission would be accountable, transparent and balanced. But Republican former state senator Jeff Jacobson said voter turnout is volatile – Democrats come out big in some years, Republicans in others. So Jacobson said by requiring maps to be equal, the new maps would be just as partisan as the existing ones.
"If there’s a partisan sweep going on, it doesn’t matter if you were bipartisan. It didn’t matter if you voted against your party. All that matters is, you were on the wrong side. You’re going down. And if that’s the way that we’re looking at, then we have a parliamentary system. We don’t have a system where people get represented."
Jacobson said the electorate is getting more extreme on both sides, but Space said that’s because the moderate voices in the ideological middle are being ignored in the current map-drawing system. But Issue 2 backer Catherine Turcer said Jacobson knows the problem with redistricting inside and out. She quoted from his farewell speech when he left the Senate in 2008.
"My friend over there, Senator Jacobson, was on his way out. He was basically doing his farewell thing. And this is what he said: ‘Redistricting is the most fun anyone could ever have in politics without going to prison.’"
Jacobson responded by referencing a similar redistricting proposal from California.
"Let me start out by saying I agree with a lot of what you said. You are right – the problem is winner-take-all. The thing that I can’t understand in reviewing your issue is you took the California plan and you took out the part that requires bipartisan support."
Turcer said the Issue 2 amendment wasn’t based solely on the California proposal or any specific plan, but was in the works for years. Issue 2’s opponents say they’d rather voters reject Issue 2 and let the lawmakers on the bipartisan Constitutional Modernization Commission come up with a proposal.