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Commentary: Republicans on Ohio's redistricting commission are pushing their luck


So, what have the five Republicans of the Ohio Redistricting Commission been doing since the Ohio Supreme Court told them last week that their latest version of state legislative district maps were unconstitutional and they had seven days to fix it?

Not much. Nothing in fact, except twiddling their thumbs and watching the sand drain out of the hourglass.

One of the GOP members, Gov. Mike DeWine, took a trip to sunny Los Angeles for the Super Bowl, which clearly could not have been played had the governor of Ohio not been present.

DeWine and the rest of them — Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Auditor Keith Faber — have been moving with all the alacrity of a three-toed sloth.

As of now, they have not even held a meeting of the seven-member commission and don’t plan to until Thursday afternoon — just hours before the court-imposed deadline for approving a new set of maps for Ohio House and Senate districts.

Meanwhile, last Friday, while the Republicans on the commission were busy doing something else — maybe whipping up guacamole bean dip for Sunday's big game and making sure their Barcaloungers were nice and comfy for the Rams-Bengals showdown — the two Democrats on the commission, State Sen. Vernon Sykes and State Rep. Allison Russo, submitted their maps.

The Democrats' proposal nailed it — the maps favored Republicans in 54% of the districts, mirroring the 54%-46% split between Republican and Democratic votes in Ohio over the past decade.

In other words, the two Democrats did exactly what the Ohio Supreme Court majority ordered. So, too, did the Fair Districts Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs in the Ohio Supreme Court cases. The coalition's maps also hit the 54-46 mark.

So, what's the Republicans' problem? Why do they keep kicking the can down the road?

Could it be that they are hoping to stall this long enough to get Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican who provided the deciding vote on rejecting the GOP maps, off the court? She can't run for re-election because of Ohio's age limits law for judges.

The word out of Columbus is that there are some in the GOP legislative super-majority who would like to impeach O'Connor and remove her from office — apparently for following the law and not bowing to their whims.

That's a non-starter.

The court's order last week was to produce maps by the end of the day Thursday and have them delivered to the court by Friday.

The Republicans on the commission are running out of clock. Maybe they don't care.

If they don't, there could be some very unpleasant consequences. Unpleasant for the Republicans on the commission, that is.

After having had two sets of legislative maps rejected by the court, the Republicans can't afford to fail again. They likely have to come up with something.

If they don't, they could be subject to charges of contempt of court, which, in Ohio, carries a $250 fine, up to 30 days in jail or both.

I'm not expecting the state's top Republican elected officials to actually end up doing a perp walk to the Franklin County jail, but, hey, who knows? The Ohio Supreme Court may have just had enough of the five Republicans and are ready to teach them a lesson they won't forget. Probably not the way DeWine, LaRose and Faber want to kick off their 2022 re-election campaigns.

The Republican majority could waltz into the Ohio Supreme Court sans maps but with an excuse — they could argue that it is not possible to draw maps that meet the 54-46 standard and meet all of the other conditions of the 2015 constitutional amendment that was approved by 70% of Ohio voters and set up this new process for redistricting.

It's not likely that O'Connor and the three Democrats on the Ohio Supreme Court would buy that argument.

In the absence of GOP-drawn maps, the Ohio Supreme Court could decide to accept the Democratic plan. But legal experts say that could lead to an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the Republicans are really serious about this, they could work out a deal in which they might tinker with the Democratic map but accept it as an accurate reflection of the state of politics in Ohio.

Then, they could all march into the Ohio Supreme Court, Republicans and Democrats, arm-to-arm, with a set of maps they can agree on.

But that would be too simple. And, from jump street, there has been nothing about this process that has been simple. And we know who to thank for that.

Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.