Carving Up Ohio

By Brian Faler
Friday, August 26, 2005

As California goes, so goes Ohio? The Buckeye State is awaiting word on whether it will become the second state, in addition to California, to vote this fall on whether to change the way it draws congressional districts.

A Democratic-leaning group called Reform Ohio Now has submitted more than 500,000 signatures to put a handful of proposals on the state's November ballot, including one that would take the power to draw those districts from state lawmakers and give it to an independent panel. "We want our citizens to have meaningful choices again," said Reform Ohio Now's Herb Asher, who added that he hoped the recent spate of scandals involving Republican state officials would put some wind behind the effort.

Ohio lawmakers, like those in nearly every state, use detailed voting information to bunch their supporters in often oddly shaped districts that promote the reelection of incumbents and defeat of the other party's candidates. Critics complain that the practice leads not only to uncompetitive elections but also to government gridlock, because lawmakers end up worrying more about their base than voters elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Last year, a majority of the state's House races were decided by more than 30 percentage points. President Bush won Ohio by three points.

The proposal, which is sure to be hotly contested if it makes the ballot, would require the panel to draw as many competitive districts as possible.

Republicans, who control the state government and two-thirds of the state's 18 House districts, are not supportive. "If Democrats want to make Ohio's elections more competitive, they should start fielding better candidates," said John McClelland, Ohio Republican Party spokesman.

Election officials are in the process of verifying the signatures -- 332,000 valid ones are needed -- to qualify for the ballot. California is slated to vote this fall on a similar redistricting measure. There, where Democrats are in firm control of the legislature, the effort is being led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

Luke to Lukewarm

Speaking of. . . . A new poll suggests that the California governor still has some work to do when it comes to selling his redistricting plan.

The Public Policy Institute of California released a survey this week that found 49 percent of likely voters there oppose the plan while 34 percent approve of it and 17 percent remain undecided.

Schwarzenegger has staked much of his prestige on a November special election, when voters will consider his redistricting plan along with two of his other proposals, neither of which fared particularly well in the survey.

Twenty-eight percent said they support the governor's initiative to limit state spending, while 49 percent backed -- and 42 percent opposed -- his proposal to extend the probationary period for teachers in public schools.

A majority of the respondents said it would have been "better" to leave all of the ballot measures to next year's regular election.

"None of the propositions favored by the governor's administration are inspiring much passion or enthusiasm among voters," said PPIC director Mark Baldassare.

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