A panel of good-government advocates met today to swat down misinformation from political opponents and argue that passage of Issue 2 is needed to reform Ohio's corrupt and dysfunctional system of government.
To help make their case, they provided never-before-disclosed records showing that Republicans in charge of drawing Ohio's legislative and congressional boundaries took special care to:
- Accommodate Marathon Oil and other large donors
- Shut out the public but allow GOP consultants to help draw district lines
- Made a priority of crafting an absurd congressional district snakes along the Lake Erie shore line.
The records were collected as part of The Elephant in the room report, which highlighted the flaws in Ohio's methods of drawing legislative boundaries. That report eventually led to State Issue 2, which would take the power to draw boundaries away from politicians and give it to an independent citizens' panel.
"If you want evidence of just how corrupt the system is today," said Sam Gresham of Common Cause, "look at the worst congressional map in the nation."
With the map behind him, he pointed to the 9th district, ridiculed as "the snake on the lake." It connects Greater Toledo to a slice of western slice of Cuyahoga County. Records show that mapmakers acknowledged they intentionally packed Democratic voters into the district and did so by connecting "spits of sand and census blocks between Lorain and Cuyahoga Counties."
Joining Mr. Gresham were ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg; Jim Slagle who chaired the Ohio Campaign for Fair Redistricting; and former Republican state legislator John Lawrence, a long-time member of the League of Women Voters. She has been trying to reform gerrymandering for 38 years.
The purpose of the event, Rothenberg said, is to "correct the avalanche of misinformation" from Issue 2 opponents.
Although critics are insisting that Issue 2 is a front group for organized labor, he showed emails between supporters complaining that labor leaders would not even meet with them until recently.
Slagle, who is a lawyer, disputed claims that members of the citizens' commission could not be removed even for bribery. An existing provision in the Ohio Constitution lays out the method for impeachment, he said, and would apply it to the commission.
During her days as a legislator, Lawrence sponsored a string of efforts to reform Ohio's method of making maps Whichever party was in power, she said, traditionally opposed the reforms out of a desire to guarantee it stayed in power.
"More and more you end up with a legislative body that thinks compromise is a dirty word," she said. "Compromise is what makes the process work."
In Ohio, Rothenberg said, voters are seeing the concrete impact of extreme policies.
"The economy is the No. 1 issue in Ohio but if you look at the legislature's priorities, you'd think limiting women's health care options are the top concern," he said.
Lawrence, a moderate Republican who supported abortion rights agreed.
"I just want my party back but most important I want the system fixed."