Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) thinks that Republicans in this state are shrewd when it comes to reapportionment gimmickry, even though "their plan would wipe me and most of the black state legislators out of office."
"They don't control the reapportionment game in Ohio now, so they're trying to change the rules," said Stokes, whose congressional district was gerrymandered in 1968 to maximize the black vote for him on this city's predominantly black east side.
The target of his wrath, and that of Democrats throughout Ohio, is a constitutional amendment called FAIR (Fair and Impartial Redistricting) that will appear on Tuesday's ballot.
Though billed as a nonpartisan, good-government issue whose supporters include the Ohio League of Women Voters, the FAIR amendment has triggered a wild political war between the Democratic and Republican parties.
State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Tipps said he will see to it that the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives punishes corporations contributing to the FAIR committee's $1.6 million war chest.
"I'll talk to the leaders of the House and Senate about which industries to help and which industries get taxes," said Tipps. Already, the Ohio House is considering excise taxes on soft drinks at a time when Pepsico Inc. and Coca-Cola Inc. each gave $15,000 to FAIR.
If approved, FAIR would dissolve the State Apportionment Board, which Democrats control, 3 to 2, by virtue of representation in state offices. FAIR would replace it with a five-member Commission for Reapportionment and Redistricting, with two members selected by each party and a fifth to be selected by the other four. A lottery would break an impasse. Theoretically, any individual or group would be able to submit a redistricting plan to the commission, which would select from the proposals the one that best meets a compactness test.
The state's 10 million residents would be divided into census tracts of 5,000 persons each. These "building blocks" would be used in the assembling of new districts, which must be as nearly square as possible, to eliminate gerrymandering.
Therefore, black legislators such as Stokes would find it much more difficult, if not impossible, to get reelected because their constituents -- ironically because of integration-- are more widely dispersed, Democratic leaders said.
Stokes' fears, said FAIR Director Joseph Elton of Columbus, are unfounded.
"Blacks have an opportunity to create their own plan," said Elton. "Now, they've got to get on their hands and feet and crawl into the political bosses and beg them to create districts for their black leaders."
The Democrats are not convinced.
"Under the FAIR plan, even Libyan strongman Muammar Quaddafi could submit a plan," said Democratic state Representative Benny Bonanno of Cleveland, who opposes FAIR. His sarcasm reflected a fear shared by most Democrats that while hostile Arabs are not likely to submit a congressional redistricting proposal, special interest groups such as oil or utilities corporations may be inclined to do so.
"It would cost them corporations less money to prepare and submit a redistricting plan that would reward or punish congressmen than to lobby the congressional delegation over the next 10 years," said state Rep. Kenneth Rocco, a Cleveland Democrat.
Rocco said that state House Democrats have alienated powerful corporations during the past decade with tax revision bills, utility rate changes and consumer protection legislation.
There are other flaws in FAIR, Rocco said. It is virtually impossible to complete new maps in time for the Jan. 15, 1982, deadline, especially if there are anticipated court challenges, he charged. And he said another potential problem would be that special interest groups involved in drafting reapportionment plans could escape public attention because they would not have to report any expenses incurred in drafting the plans.
Elton countered that Democratic leaders are overreacting to FAIR.
"They are trying to scare Democratic voters into believing that Republicans are going to automatically take control of the legislature," he said, accusing FAIR foes of "casting aside longterm protections for short-term gains."
Elton acknowledged that the time frame is short, but blamed this problem on the Democrats who knocked it off the November 1980 ballot because of a technicality.
No matter what happens to the FAIR amendment this week, Ohio's reapportionment battle is likely to wind up in court. New districts for state representatives and senators drawn up by Democrats already have been challenged in court by the FAIR committee. And if the FAIR amendment passes, Democrats are expected to file a lawsuit aginst it.