Randy Basham, chairman of the Scioto County Democratic Party, said he fears the Republican-controlled Apportionment Board will redraw lines in such a way that benefits their own party — a tactic known as gerrymandering.
“They’ve been in power now for the last 20 years and I assure you they’ll be drawing those lines to protect the sitting candidates that they have now,” Basham argued.
Rodney Barnett, chairman of the Scioto County Republican Party, had no comment about the redistricting.
The Ohio Constitution requires districts be the same size in terms of population. Districts can generally vary 5 percent from its “ideal” population, which is determined by dividing the state’s population by the number of districts. The original Congressional Districts from the First U.S. Congress in 1790 averaged 36,800 constituents, and today according to the Ohio Secretary of State each district has a population of 630,730.
At one point in the 1960s, Ohio had 24 Congressional Districts. Today there are 18, and two will be eliminated from the state in this new round of redistricting. Scioto County is split between by the 2nd and the 6th Congressional Districts.
The 2nd District is represented by Republican Jean Schmidt, and includes Adams, Brown, Clermont, Pike, and parts of Scioto, Hamilton and Warren counties. The 6th District is represented by Republican Bill Johnson, and includes the other part of Scioto County, as well as Columbiana, Gallia, Jefferson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Noble, Washington, and parts of Athens, Belmont and Mahoning counties.
Basham worries that the 6th District could be eliminated, and absorbed by the 18th and 2nd Congressional Districts. The district is occupied by a Republican congressman now, but it has historically been a Democrat-controlled area. Democrat Rep. Ted Strickland occupied the seat from 1993-1995 and again from 1997-2007, until he moved on to Governor and the district went to Democrat Charlie Wilson until he lost re-election in 2010.
Feight said the 6th District has been a model for how parties can get local candidates elected to higher offices.
“You can draw these Congressional Districts in a way to propel one to a higher office in federal or state government. Ted Strickland, when they changed the district and ran it all the way up the Ohio River from Portsmouth to Youngstown, it gave him a huge district and that enabled him to run for statewide office,” Feight said.
By possibly eliminating the 6th, it could create two larger districts in the 2nd and the 18th which are both occupied by Republican congressmen. Feight suggested that it is not in Scioto County’s best interest to merge with either district, and recommends forming a new southern Ohio Congressional District from Chillicothe to Portsmouth.
“Our interests are not as well-represented by a district that has a bulk of the population in suburbs of Cincinnati (2nd District), or one where the bulk of the votes can be found outside Youngstown (6th District). I think it would be best to have a district that encompassed the lower Scioto valley,” Feight said.
The House maps could also be moved in this recent round of redistricting. The 89th House District has a population of 120,278 that includes Scioto County and parts of Lawrence and Adams counties. Basham said he hopes the 89th isn’t split-up, and called the idea “devastating” to Scioto County.
Rep. Terry Johnson, R-89th, said members the Ohio House of Representatives have no direct input into the process, and he’d be happy if his district didn’t change at all. Whether they change or not, he said, it won’t affect how he does his job.
“I look at all these borders around us as being artificial. I see things more regionally. I don’t see the people in Lawrence County any different than the people in Scioto County, and whichever way the district should happen to move I would be content in representing the district as well as I can,” Johnson said.
The Ohio Secretary of State has an online competition inviting people to submit their own created District maps. Feight called the competition a charade. Like Basham, he suspects the Republican party — being in control of the Apportionment Board — will draw the lines to benefit its own candidates and party.
“My understanding is that a vote has already been taken to ensure that the public had no direct input on the maps. The only Democratic member (of the Apportionment Board) put forward a motion that would have allowed the public to have a say on the maps and the Republican majority voted it down,” Feight said.
Basham said the Scioto County Democratic Party was still waiting to see where the final lines are drawn, and promised to have candidates ready to challenge the Republican Party in the 2012 election.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.