Updated Sun, Jun 24, 2012 8:13 am
Updated Sun, Jun 24, 2012 8:13 am
As we have already reported, former Governor Ted Strickland has been active in Southeast Ohio recently on behalf of President Barack Obama and other Democrats seeking election or re-election.
Strickland is supporting something else, too: a ballot initiative backed by the group Voters First.
"There is something underway now that many citizens aren't even aware of, but there is a petition drive underway, right now, to get to get a provision on the fall ballot, this November's ballot, that will set up a bi-partisan commission or a non-partisan commission to re-draw the legislative lines both for the Congressional representation and for the State House and the State Senate in 2014," said Strickland.
Voters First supporters argue the proposal is timely and needed. Strickland says it appears as though the signature gathering effort is on track to get the issue on the ballot.
"The voters in November will have a chance to get rid of gerrymandering in Ohio and to set up a commission to draw up fair, balanced legislative and congressional districts. And then those new districts would be in place in 2014," said Strickland. "If that happens, I think it's going to be good for Ohio because we will no longer have, in my judgement, the kind of polarization we now have. People will have to exercise more common sense and reasonableness when they seek public office."
Efforts such as this are not new.
Others have tried and failed to come up with a new way to draw boundaries.
This time, though, Strickland says polling indicates if the measure were on the ballot, it would have approximately a 30-point margin. He calls that "significant."
"The current lines are so egregious and people have become increasingly aware that we have gotten to a point where politicians are choosing their voters rather than voters being able to choose their politicians. This effort was initiated through the League of Women Voters and by a young law professor at Ohio State University; it was not an initiative that started with politicians," said Strickland. He says because the effort was largely based in a grass roots movement, there is broad support.
Another Democrat, State Representative Debbie Phillips of Athens, is also supporting the Voters First initiative.
"These lines are, we believe, unconstitutional. House Democrats actually brought suit, oral arguments were heard several weeks ago at the Ohio Supreme Court because these House and Senate district lines divide local communities more than 250 times. In the Ohio Constitution, it says if you can keep a county whole, you should do that, and then a township, a city and a city ward. Those existing communities should be kept whole to the greatest extent possible as new state legislative districts are drawn," said Phillips.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted agrees with Phillips and Strickland and says there is a need for redistricting reform, but he argues this proposal is not a good one.
"I think updating the Constitution with a new plan makes sense. Now, the question is: does this plan make sense? And from the test that I told you about earlier: does this keeping the districts compact, competitive and keeping communities of interest together, this plan failed on that account. It is a plan that prizes competitiveness over keeping the districts compact, keeping communities together. It allows for them to be divided up for competitive reasons and that is not a good plan," said Husted.
Secretary Husted says despite claims to the contrary, Voters First is not non-partisan. He says the plan is being pushed by Democrats.
Husted says the same group attempted a redrawing in 2005 and voter shot down the issue at the polls.