MARCANO: Former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice wants to put fairness to a vote

Maureen O’Connor didn’t expect to lead the charge of fair redistricting in Ohio.

But here she is.

O’Connor, the former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice, has become a key figure in the group Citizens Not Politicians, which wants to put fairness to a vote. The group hopes to have an amendment on the November ballot that would create an independent commission charged with drawing fair redistricting maps.

“I am passionate about it,” O’Connor said. “I believe in fairness. That’s just in my DNA.”

She showed that fairness when, in 2022, she voted with the court’s three Democrats and declared GOP redistricting maps unconstitutional. Her vote so angered Republicans some threatened to impeach her.

The threat was yet another display of arrogance. These politicians have ignored voters who passed constitutional amendments in 2015 and 2018 and told them to draw fair maps.

The GOP laughed at that and hasn’t hidden its contempt while doing so.

Famously, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman bragged about his illegally gerrymandered supper majority, when he said, “We can kind of do what we want.” That doesn’t sit well with O’Connor.

“That does not strike me as fair representation,” she said. ”You get in office, and you don’t forget about the people that didn’t vote for you.”

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

The group is out collecting the signatures needed to get the amendment on the ballot, and when that happens, lawmakers against the effort will try to paint an independent commission as an unwieldy, complicated group that’s simply a cover for some left-wing plot to put Democrats in control of the state.


“You’re going to see the commercials, you’re going to see the misinformation, you’re going to see the opposition. It’ll probably be scorched earth. That’s how they’re going to deal with this, because, if this amendment is passed, it revolutionizes how districts are drawn both for the legislature and for Congress.”

Republicans have a reason to be nervous.

The redistricting effort seems to be already gaining steam. Some 70 business and thought leaders have already signed a letter supporting the effort. “You look at that, you see the titans of businesses in Ohio,” O’Connor said.

She noted that voters active in defeating August’s Issue 1 and then helping enshrine a woman’s right to choose in the constitution and approving limited recreational marijuana use also support the redistricting measure.

Early on, “there’s tremendous support,” she said.

Combine that with the history — 71% of Ohioans demanded fair redistricting in 2015, and 75% reiterated that in 2018 — and the effort seems to have all the ingredients for success.

O’Connor took pains to note that the redistricting effort is not an anti-Republican endeavor (with fair maps, the GOP should still hold majorities in the House and Senate, just not veto-proof ones).

“They think it is, but it’s not,” she said. “They think I’m trying to annihilate the Republican party. Not true. I want fairness in our elections. If it works out that there’s more Republicans than Democrats, so be it. At least the people spoke.”

O’Connor also understands that Ohio is at the forefront of an important issue.

“Everybody is looking at Ohio,” she said. We’re the only state that has a redistricting amendment on the ballot. And we have a redistricting amendment that’s tailored for Ohio. Other states that want to do this are looking at what’s happening in Ohio. I’m mindful of that. It’s big. That responsibility has additional weight because so many other states are watching what we’re doing. We’ve got to get it right. And we’ve got to be successful.”

Hopefully, she and Citizens Not Politicians will be.

Ray Marano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday.

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