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Speaker returns to redistricting issue

Friday, January 20, 2006

Jim Siegel

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

As he works toward a ballot issue in November that aims to draw fairer congressional and legislative districts, House Speaker Jon A. Husted also is pushing for federal help to keep Ohio from losing more congressional seats.

The Kettering Republican wants to give voters another chance to devise a system to control the politically coveted process of shaping districts in Ohio — one in which concepts of compactness and competition outweigh which party controls the process.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a redistricting plan in November, and Husted joined other Ohio Republicans in opposing it. But he and others have said that while that plan was poorly constructed, Ohio’s current system, which allows for rampant gerrymandering by the majority party, needs to be fixed.

But that fix had better come this year, Husted said, before the November election determines which party likely will control the state Apportionment Board in 2011. The five-member panel consisting of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and two legislative members approves Ohio House and Senate districts.

"Whoever wins two out of three (statewide board seats) is going to say it’s not a good idea anymore," Husted said. "I believe we have to do this this year or it’s lost for another decade."

Ohioans may once again find statewide amendments crowding the ballot. In addition to redistricting and a proposal limiting government spending, voters may decide on a statewide smoking ban and whether to raise the state minimum wage.

Ed Jerse, campaign manager for Reform Ohio Now, the coalition that pushed to pass the redistricting plan in November, said he continues to talk to House Repub- licans and "I think we’re moving in a positive direction."

"We’re trying to see what is feasible in balancing compactness and competitiveness," he said.

Husted also said he was stunned to learn recently that congressional representation is based on census counts that include illegal immigrants.

Ohio dropped from 19 congressional seats to 18 after the 2000 census and is expected to lose one or two more seats after 2010. Husted said the state could be spared the loss of at least one seat if only citizens are counted for the purpose of national apportionment.

He has started talking to some of Ohio’s congressional delegation about backing a U.S. House resolution, sponsored by Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller, that would make that change.

California , for example, would lose six congressional seats if just citizens were considered. A number of Midwestern states would pick up seats.

"Why should we lose two when we’ve got citizens of the United States here, and why should California get six extra when they’re counting people that are not citizens?" said Scott Borgemenke, chief of staff for Husted.

The speaker said the loss of congressional seats would mean a loss of power in Washington.

"We just feel we have an obligation to do the work and see if we can show some leadership in the nation on this," Husted said.

U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, a Republican from Genoa Township, is one of 29 cosponsors of the resolution. Only citizens can vote, he said, so for purposes of federal representation, only citizens should be counted.

The bill would not change census counts for other purposes, such as human-services funding.

But approving an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is very difficult, requiring a two-thirds vote of the U.S. House and Senate and ratification by at least 38 states.

One problem, Tiberi said, is the states who stand to lose under the proposal also have the nation’s largest delegations — California, Florida, New York and Texas. Those four states chose 32 percent of the 435-member U.S. House.

Few expect that lawmakers would vote to reduce their own delegations.

"I don’t think it’s a philosophical issue. It’s a power issue," Tiberi said.

jsiegel@dispatch.com 

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