In 1980, when Ronald Reagan carried Ohio, he drew about 51.5 percent of the state's vote, and Ohioans sent 23 people to the U.S. House of Representatives. Thirteen (or 57 percent) were Republicans, 10 (or 43 percent), Democrats.
A few months ago, Donald Trump carried Ohio. He drew about 51.7 percent of the state's vote, and Ohioans sent 16 people to the House. Of those 16 House members, 12 (or 75 percent) are Republicans, four (or 25 percent) are Democrats.
Anyone wonder why most General Assembly Republicans (i.e., 66 of 99 state House members, 24 of 33 state Senate members) aren't in any rush to reform how Ohio draws congressional districts?
The legislature draws districts now. And it appears that Republicans don't want good-government busybodies gumming things up. (In fairness, though, Sen. Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican, has called for districting reform. So has state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat. Clyde and LaRose are considered likely 2018 candidates for secretary of state, Ohio's chief election officer.)
Reforming congressional redistricting could take time, hinge on opinions of members of Congress (2015)
For some Statehouse legislators, a seat in Congress inevitably seems like it's the next rung up the career ladder. And only a saint would pass up the chance to draw himself, or herself, a congressional district.
(Footnote: If U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, a Wadsworth Republican, runs for governor in 2018 rather than seeks re-election, consider getting out of the way if you value your life: A Republican stampede for Renacci's seat could make Black Friday at the mall seem like a morning in church).
Not every state legislator in Columbus wants to go to Congress. But the congressional districts legislators draw can make or break other pols' careers. That's power. And power's hard to surrender.
True, Democrats and Republicans alike have used the federal Voting Rights Act to draw districts that concentrate black voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. On one hand, that can assure black Ohioans that at least some Ohioans in Congress are African-American (currently, Reps. Marcia Fudge, of Warrensville Heights, and Joyce Beatty, of suburban Columbus).
But concentrating Ohio's black Democrats in one or two districts cuts Democrats' prospects in neighboring Ohio congressional districts. Call it "packing" (if you don't like it) or "fairness" (if you do). Either way, it's a dilemma for Democrats. They don't want to shortchange a key constituency, but they'd sure like to have a fighting chance in more than four of Ohio's 16 congressional districts,
After 2020's Census, Ohio will lose one, maybe two, U.S. House seats because of national population shifts. That is, in redrawing Ohio's congressional map in 2021, the General Assembly will determine which Ohio politicians have a post-2020 future at the U.S. Capitol - and which don't. That'll require some very Machiavellian calls, politically: Members of Congress are no readier to surrender their cushy Washington billets than National Rifle Association members are to surrender their firearms.
Fix to Ohio gerrymandering picks up support: editorial (2016)
Districts as safe for one party or the other as Ohio's are mean that, as a practical matter, an Ohioan in Congress likely can only be unseated in a party's primary. So GOP incumbents must periodically kowtow to the GOP's no-compromises right wing, to ward off primary challenges. Same goes for Democrats, who periodically make nice with Democrats to their left (whatever "left" means to Democrats nowadays, given the Third Way, pro-business "triangulation" that's helped fracture their party).
Bottom line: Arguably, as things stand, Ohioans aren't so much electing members of Congress as ratifying choices already made for them by Paul Ryan's and Nancy Pelosi's caucuses, and by fat-cat campaign contributors. Call that anything you want. Except democracy.
Thomas Suddes, a member of the editorial board, writes from Athens.
To reach Thomas Suddes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 216-999-4689
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