OPINION: If redistricting commissioners won’t draw a fair map, throw them in jail

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Here we go again.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission met Thursday and — SURPRISE — accomplished nothing.

So it’s time for drastic measures. It’s time to throw some people in jail.

The seven-member commission voted along party lines to reject a map proposal by Democrats. The five Republican members didn’t produce a map of their own, instead claiming there’s no way to produce what the court has ordered — a fair redistricting plan — without violating other parts of the state Constitution.

If this wasn’t so absurd it would be laughable, especially since Republican members didn’t explain how drawing fair and proportional maps violate the state Constitution.

Let’s review. On Jan. 12, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the maps submitted by the Republican-controlled commission unconstitutional. The commission drew new maps that didn’t at all move the needle, and on Feb. 7, the court once again ruled the maps unconstitutional.

The court gave the commission until midnight Feb. 17 to draw new maps and guess what? Ohio House Speaker. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, waited until the last minute — well, 1:30 p.m. on February 17 — to call a commission meeting. He could have called one on Feb. 3 or 4 or 5, but instead, he purposely waited 10 entire days to call a meeting.

Remember, back in 2015, 71% of Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment that was supposed to do away with partisan gerrymandering.

Now it’s time to take extreme measures.

When the court meets next, it should threaten the five obstinate commission members with contempt of court and jail time if they don’t comply.

That, in essence, is what the petitioners in the case have asked for. Here’s what a Friday night press release said:

“In response to the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s defiance of an order from the Ohio Supreme Court to produce a new set of legislative maps, the petitioners in Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Ohio Redistricting Commission filed a motion today asking the court to enforce that order. The petitioners propose that the court require the commission to explain why it should not be held in contempt for failing to draw new maps. The petitioners, who are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and Reed Smith, are the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, CAIR-Ohio, Ohio Environmental Council, Ahmad Aboukar, Crystal Bryant, Samuel Gresham Jr., Prentiss Haney, Mikayla Lee, and Pierrette “Petee” Talley.”

Republicans have spent the last few months telling voters — and this includes their own base — they could care less what they want. Their members keep passing partisan maps that would give the GOP far more than the 54% of the vote they’ve won over the past decade. They apparently refuse to consider any fair maps that are in line with the state voting average.

Let’s be very clear. No one, not even Democrats, suggests that Republicans should not receive the majority of seats in the House and Senate. They should. But they shouldn’t rig the system.

The state GOP will issue another incredulous and disingenuous statement about how power-hungry Democrats are trying to game the system when Republicans have shown the opposite to be true. Staying in the majority isn’t enough; nothing short of dictatorship will do.

I don’t expect the commission members to spend one day in jail. I do expect such a move would make national headlines. I expect GOP lawmakers to lose their minds in Columbus for two reasons — the nerve of the Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor making such a threat; and the stain such a ruling puts on every Republican running for reelection.

Republican commissioners could do the right thing and accept one of the maps with the 54%-46% split. I don’t know which one’s best, but they’re out there. They’re being ignored because it doesn’t cement GOP dictatorship. Nothing more, nothing less.

So since they refuse to do their jobs, the court should do its job.

Throw those who stand in the way in jail.

Ray Marcano is a longtime journalist whose column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com

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