by J.D. Davidson
Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission invited the five Republican members to a commission meeting Monday morning after contacting members several times over the past week asking for the group to reconvene.
When House Minority leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, and Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, showed up to the committee meeting room at the Ohio Statehouse, the doors were locked and no Republican showed up.
“The fight for fair, constitutional maps is not over – for 2022 or the rest of the decade,” Russo said. “We have a constitutional obligation to produce fair state legislative maps for this upcoming fall election. Republican commissioners can lock all the doors they want, but Democrats won’t give up. We will be here every day to protect our democracy and uphold the will of the people.”
The two remained outside the committee meeting room for around 15 minutes, answering questions from the media.
Aaron Mulvey, spokesman for House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said the Democrats never filed a request with the clerk’s office to use the room Monday.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the commission’s fourth attempt at drawing state legislative district maps unconstitutional April 14. The commission has not met since the ruling, and Republican members of the commission have given no indication when or if it plans to meet.
Three members of the commission – which also consists of Republicans Gov. Mike DeWine; Secretary of State Frank LaRose; State Auditor Keith Faber; Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima; and Cupp – must agree to a meeting for one to be called.
Republicans have said they are reviewing the court ruling, along with a federal court ruling from last week that said if the commission cannot draw maps that pass Supreme Court review by May 28, the federal court will impose the group’s third set of maps.
Those maps were also ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
In a letter to fellow commissioners, Sykes and Russo said the commission still has a responsibility to meet and develop maps despite the federal court order.
“Nothing in the order yesterday absolves the commission of its responsibilities, rather the order encourages us to rise above partisan interests and adopt constitutional maps prior to the court’s deadline,” the letter reads.
The lack of state maps forced a split in the Ohio primary. Local issues and statewide races are being contested now in the May 3 primary, while state lawmakers are expected to face primaries Aug. 2.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, on March 16 the commission’s third attempt at state legislative district maps unfairly favored Republicans, saying the commission has attempted three sets of maps without input from Democrats on any, instead using GOP staffers to draft each map.
The court also suggested, but did not order, an independent map drawer be engaged, but the commission holds the responsibility to draw and approve maps.
Aside from claiming the process was not transparent, the court focused on toss-up districts and said they could not count to the proportionality it required in previous rulings.
It also ordered a more collaborative effort between Republicans and Democrats on the commission and for the commission to hold more frequent public hearings.
The commission’s first maps favored the GOP by 62 percent in the House and nearly 70 percent in the Senate. The second set of maps showed 58.3 percent Republican-leaning legislative districts, above the court-ordered 54 percent.
Both were ruled unconstitutional.
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J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with The Center Square. He has 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.
Photo “State Sen Sykes and State Rep Russo” by State Senator Sykes.