Senate action on redistricting symbolic, but hopeful

bipartisan reform measure ought to be a priority in 2013

Published:

A bipartisan proposal

passed by the Ohio Senate aimed at reforming the state's redistricting process is a step in the right direction, although it apparently faces an uncertain future.

The measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Sawyer, a Democrat, and Sen. Frank LaRose, a Republican, calls for creation of a seven-member commission to draw state legislative and congressional boundariesand includes a built-in safeguard to prevent reapportionment from being approved along party lines.

The redistricting commission would consist of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and four members appointed by the legislative leaders in each chamber. It would elect bipartisan co-chairs, and none of the members could be a sitting member of the legislature or Congress. Any plan proposed by the commission must receive five votes -- including at least one vote from the minority party. The panel would meet the year following the Census to draw the districts.

LaRose said the plan "creates a process that is fair and accountable." Sawyer, who lost his congressional seat more than a decade ago because of redistricting, praised it for its simplicity.

It's certainly better than the current process, a textbook example of backroom political dealing that resulted in legislative and congressional districts that gerrymandered Northeastern Ohio. Portage County ended up in three congressional districts for the first time in history and Summit County was divided among four.

The plan, according to its sponsors, is easier to explain than Issue 2, the redistricting reform measure that was trounced by voters in November, in part because of its complexity. It appears to be straightforward, with a commitment to drawing compact districts with reasonable boundaries.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, who proposed a redistricting reform plan when he served in the legislature, hailed the Senate's action as "a positive sign that momentum for reform is alive in the legislature," adding, "I am optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can pass a plan next year that will help restore competitiveness and common sense to our political process."

We hope so, too. The Senate's action is a symbolic one, because there is no time for final action on the measure in the current legislative session. It ought to be a priority for the House in the next legislative session.

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