Ohio's Congressional Map Drawers Should Get Rid Of Gym Jordan... But They Won't
Earlier today, we saw how Wisconsin's super-predatory GOP gerrymandering is keeping the state's residents from getting things that would make their lives better. On Monday Keith Osmun penned a GOP gerrymandering post for The Bulwark, but one that focused on Ohio-- and specifically on Gym Jordan's super-gerrymandered district-- widely known as the duck district, mostly because it looks like one. I almost dismissed the piece out of hand because Osmun had written that Jordan's R+14 district "is arguably the safest Republican district in the country." That kind of absurdity pisses me off. First of all, OH-04 has gotten redder since 2018 when the PVI was R+14. The hellish red district is now R+20, but not even the safest Republican district in Ohio, let alone the country. There are dozens of worse districts across the country and Bill Johnson' Ohio River Valley district (OH-06) is much worse-- R+24. In fact, Trump won Jordan's district with 67.1% and won Johnson's district with a whopping 72.2%! And Jordan, a national figure, was reelected with 67.9% while the little-known Johnson, a backbencher who keeps his mouth shut, was reelected with 74.4%!
And there are plenty of worse districts than either around the country. There are 38 congressional districts where Trump received over the 67.9% he got in Jordan's, including 6 in Texas alone, 3 in Pennsylvania, 3 in Kentucky and 3 in Tennessee. Robert Aderholt's AL-04 have Trump 81.2%. And don't forget the 2 sociopaths in northern Georgia. Where Trump won 76.4% in Andrew Clyde's district and 73.4% in Marjorie Taylor Greene's.
In fact, the most populous part of Jordan's district is the part of Lorain County in OH-04 and it is overwhelmingly blue. Osmun-- and whomever his Bulwark editor is-- are correct that Jordan's in a safe seat... but not safer than Paul Gosar (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Ronny Jackson (TX), Greg Pence (IN), Virginia Foxx (NC), Steve Scalise (LA) or plenty of other insurrectionists, bigots and corporate whores.
Osmun wrote that OH-04 became the gerrymandered red hellhole it is today in 2011, "when the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed and Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law the most recent post-census redistricting. It created sixteen congressional districts: four in Democratic hands and twelve in Republican hands. In all of the five subsequent election cycles, from 2012 to 2020, not once did any of those sixteen seats change hands from one party to the other. In 2018, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, and other groups sued the state over the map of congressional districts. A federal district court reviewed districts like District 4 and ruled in May 2019 that their degree of gerrymandering was unconstitutional. But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appealed the decision, knowing that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering gerrymandering cases from other states-- and indeed, the Court’s June 2019 ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause had the effect of throwing out the district court’s decision entirely."
One of the happy byproducts of Ohio losing a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 census is that the districts will be redrawn under more bipartisan rules put in place in the years since the 2010 census, following a push from the same groups who filed suit in the state courts.
There are two sections of the Ohio constitution that govern redistricting: Article XI, which is about redrawing the state district map, and Article XIX, which deals with redrawing the congressional map. Amendments to the latter, enacted in 2018, created the new, more bipartisan process:
First, the general assembly attempts to redraw the map. Passage requires the support of three-fifths of each chamber and the support of at least half of each of the two main party caucuses in each chamber. If that bipartisan threshold can’t be reached, the whole process is automatically handed off to the state’s redistricting commission.
The redistricting commission-- whose seven members are the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, and four appointees made by leaders in the general assembly (two from each chamber and two from each party)-- then draws a proposed map. The commission may approve a map with four out of the seven votes, so long as two of the supporting votes are the two members sent from the minority party of the general assembly.
If the commission can’t get the votes, the general assembly gets another shot at drawing a map. In this round, a proposal will still need three-fifths support in each chamber to succeed, but only one third from each chamber’s party caucuses.
There is one last possible outcome: a decision of last resort. In this scenario, a simple majority in the general assembly can approve a redrawn map. However, this map will only be good for four years. The hope is that the incentives for having a consistent ten-year map-- such as politicians knowing where their voters and donors [donors are not in the districts; maybe someone should clue Bulwark editors in] are-- will encourage a bipartisan decision.
[Collin] Marozzi-- who, before joining the ACLU, was a staffer in Ohio’s general assembly and worked on the on the 2018 congressional redistricting amendment-- fears that Republicans will try go with this last process, after first allowing the bipartisan processes to play out. “If I’m a Republican mapmaker in Ohio trying to control as much as possible, I have no problem making a four-year map and ramming it through,” he said.
The amendments to the state constitution will also protect against duck-like districts by constraining majorities from slicing and dicing counties and cities. “There is a set number of counties”-- sixty-five of the state’s eighty-eight counties-- “that must remain whole to be a district,” Marozzi said. “Eighteen can only be cut once, and five can be split twice. This will get more compact districts with a reliable community of interest. You shouldn’t get the duck district again.”
...While the duck district may be dead, gerrymandering may yet turn out to be alive and well unless the current set of circumstances and concerned voters align to ensure the new map is fair. And while no map of congressional districts can promise Ohio the best politicians, a fairer map may give them a chance at removing the bad actors instead of re-electing them over and over.
“The goal of gerrymandering is not to keep folk like Jim Jordan from ever being elected, but gerrymandering allows Jim Jordan to be the most Jim Jordan he can be: the most bombastic, bomb throwing, partisan person in Congress,” said Marozzi. “He hasn’t passed a single piece of legislation in ten years. He has no real incentive to compromise because he only has to worry about a primary challenge.” If the changes work as intended the ride “safe-seats” provide legislators like Jim Jordan will be a bumpier one in the midterms.