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Redistricting bill has critics - Some senators unsure of House GOP plan

Paper: Columbus Dispatch, The (OH)

Date: May 24, 2006

Even if House Democrats provide the votes to pass a Republican plan to dramatically overhaul the drawing of state and congressional districts, Senate Republicans continue to show little enthusiasm for such a change.

The Dispatch spoke to nine of 22 Republican senators, and only one, David Goodman, of New Albany, said definitively that the current line-drawing system needs changing and that the House proposal is the right way to do it.

"I like the House approach because it's a more bipartisan process," Goodman said. "I think our districts need to be more realistic compared to the general public we represent, and not just drawn for partisan political expediency."

But Goodman appears to be in the minority.

The House Republican plan would create an independent, bipartisan, seven-member panel responsible for drawing new district lines every 10 years, after each new census.

The idea is to draw districts based more on compactness, communities of interest and competitiveness. Today, the political party in power gerrymanders districts to its benefit, leaving Ohio with few competitive races.

House GOP leaders hope to pass the plan Thursday, if Democrats -- who remain unsure what they will do -- provide the handful of votes needed to reach a three-fifths majority. The Senate must act before Aug. 9 to place the issue on the November ballot.

None of the senators outright dismissed the House plan. But they weren't exactly praising it either -- a bad sign, considering that for the Senate to act before the Aug. 9 deadline, members must choose to interrupt their summer vacation and return to Columbus for a vote.

"If our members feel they want to move forward during one of those times, we'll discuss that," said Senate President Bill M. Harris, R-Ashland.

Asked if he thought the current system should be altered, Harris noted that last year 70 percent of voters turned down a different redistricting proposal on the ballot.

"Until I see that (the House plan) is a fairer way, I think what we've got is good for all of us," he said.

A number of Republican senators said they were willing to explore a new redistricting option, but at the same time they weren't critical of the current system.

"Everybody knows the score up front. You know you've got to win two of those three statewide elections," said Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, referring to the five-member apportionment board that draws state House and Senate districts.

And history shows that the party drawing the lines doesn't always keep its power, Jordan said.

Sen. Kevin J. Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls, said the framers of the U.S. Constitution chose to have legislatures draw congressional maps. "That means that whoever is in power (in each state) has certain advantages."

Sen. Randall Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said he's open to a change in the law but is concerned that the House plan includes a competitiveness factor that is "terribly subjective."

Speaker Jon A. Husted, R-Kettering, has said if lawmakers wait until next year to change redistricting, it would be too late because the winning party will have no interest in taking politics out of the process after the elections.

"Sometime before the deadline we have in August, we're hopeful they'll consider it," he said of the Senate.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Copyright (c) 2006 The Dispatch Printing Co.


Section: News

Page: 01C

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Copyright (c) 2006 The Dispatch Printing Co.