by J.D. Davidson
The Ohio Redistricting Commission announced it will meet Thursday, the same day as a court-ordered deadline to submit its third effort at state legislative maps.
The meeting comes as the two Democrats on the commission have spent the past two weeks calling for meetings and after Republican State Auditor Keith Faber criticized Democrats for not calling a meeting themselves, despite commission rules that require both co-chairs to make the call.
Faber responded to statements from nearly a week ago from House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, and Commission Co-Chair Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, that urged the commission to immediately reconvene.
Faber said in an email to Sykes that Sykes had authority to send notice and call a meeting. Faber also said Sykes and Russo could leave the commission if they wanted.
“Additionally, you and Leader Russo are members of the Commission with the same authority and responsibility and subsequent consequences as your fellow commissioners, with one exception, you are not personally required to be on the commission and can choose others to serve in your spot if you are unable to act,” the email read. “Being a Democrat does not and would not exempt you from working to a solution.”
The commission’s rules, however, require a 24-hour notice of called meetings and requires both Sykes and Co-Chair House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to jointly call meetings. Neither has the authority to call a meeting on their own.
Mike Rowe, chief of staff for the House Minority Caucus, responded to Faber with an email that outlined the rules of the commission and the Democrats’ willingness to meet.
“Since the evening of the Supreme Court decision on February 7, I have repeatedly and continuously indicated the availability of Democrats to meet at any time,” Rowe’s email said. “The holdup has been entirely on the majority side.”
Sykes and Russo sent a letter Wednesday to Republican members of the commission, asking for feedback on their proposal by 9 a.m. Thursday.
“The Court has given the Redistricting Commission clear orders to adopt constitutional maps. If you have map proposals, we urge you to release those as soon as possible so the public and Commissioners will be able to provide feedback,” Sykes and Russo wrote. “It is possible for us to draw constitutional maps and for us to work together as the Court has directed us to do. In fact, our proposal before the Commission has created constitutional state legislative maps.”
The court ruled Feb. 7, 4-3, the commission’s second attempt that preserved Republican majorities was unconstitutional and ordered the commission to adopt a new plan, saying if the commission would have used its time more wisely and been committed to working together to find a map that met court guidelines, it could have been accomplished.
The court ordered the commission to pass and file a new plan with Secretary of State Frank LaRose by Feb. 17 and file a copy with the court by Feb. 18. The court retained jurisdiction to review the third set of maps.
The commission’s first maps favored the GOP by 62% in the House and nearly 70% in the Senate. The second set of maps showed 58.3% Republican-leaning legislative districts, above the court-ordered 54%.
The commission includes Republicans Gov. Mike DeWine; Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima; Cupp; Faber; and LaRose; and Democrats Russo and Sykes.
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J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is a regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by Steven Miller CC BY 2.0.