Cleveland Plain Dealer. September 10, 2023.
Editorial: Redistricting Commission’s choice: Restore some public confidence with fairly drawn districts or fuel rancor over blatant bipartisanship
The calendar and Ohio’s constitution will give seven officeholders an opportunity, starting Wednesday, to demonstrate real statesmanship rather than rank partisanship.
That’s when the Ohio Redistricting Commission will meet to begin drawing new districts for the Ohio House and Representatives (99) and for the Ohio Senate (33). What the commission does, and how, will determine whether its members are aiming to act as fair referees or political operatives.
Three Ohio House districts compose one state Senate district. Ideally, given Ohio’s population, each House district should have just under 119,000 residents. The districts the commission draws would be used in November 2024′s general election.
There can be no dispute that the districts the commission drew for the November 2022 election -- last year’s -- were gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates. Result: An Ohio House with 67 Republican to 32 Democratic seats (i.e., a 67% Republican House) and an Ohio Senate with 26 Republicans to seven Democrats (a 79% Republican Senate). That’s in an Ohio that gave Donald Trump 53% of its presidential vote in 2020, which last year elected Republican Sen. J.D. Vance with 53% of the statewide vote, and re-elected Republican Gov. Mike DeWine with a 62% margin.
The seven-member commission is composed of five Republicans and two Democrats. The Republicans are DeWine; State Auditor Keith Faber; Secretary of State Frank LaRose; Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon; and Rep. Jeff LaRe of Canal Winchester. The commission’s two Democrats are state Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, and Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo of Upper Arlington.
Four of the seven commissioners are new to this round of redistricting, stoking hope that the panel will be more inclined to consider compromise rather than head-butting partisanship. And DeWine, to his credit, has expressed concerns about how the Redistricting Commission is set up although he voted for the current districts, which the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly struck down. (They were ordered used anyway in a 2-1 ruling by a panel of three federal judges. The decision’s two-judge majority is composed of Trump appointees.)
Another variable in the mix is that the Ohio Senate elected in November 2024 will elect a new Senate president in 2025, and that House Speaker Jason Stephens, of Lawrence County’s Kitts Hill, may face a speakership challenge, also in 2025, in a House also elected in November 2024. That adds another if unspoken political factor as the Redistricting Commission redraws districts that may favor or disfavor legislative candidates who support one potential chamber leadership slate or another slate.
Additional difficulty: The Republican-ruled Ohio Supreme Court may be inclined to approve whatever districts the Redistricting Commission’s GOP majority proposes, which, de facto, would hand GOP commissioners a blank check.
Finally, looming over the commission’s deliberations is the probability that petitioners will have gathered enough voter signatures to place, also on 2024′s ballot, a proposed state constitutional amendment reforming redistricting in Ohio. Voters have twice signaled in earlier -- but it turned out, ineffectual -- statewide ballot issues that they want General Assembly and congressional districts fairly drawn.
Meanwhile, the congressional districts that will be reused in 2024, not redrawn, are at best of questionable constitutionality. Democrats and allied plaintiffs withdrew a challenge to the congressional districts last week, likely because the state Supreme Court, with the Dec. 31 retirement of Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, made the court less amenable to a challenge. True, 2022 “process” for redrawing congressional districts was more or less open compared to 2011′s, whose districts were ordered like takeout, by GOP operatives in Washington, from a Columbus hotel-room redistricting “bunker” a block from the Statehouse.
In 2022, O’Connor sided with Democratic justices in rejecting the current congressional districts. Republicans appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June sent the Ohio case back to the Ohio Supreme Court for further proceedings. That’s where things stood when district-challengers withdrew their lawsuit from the post-O’Connor court.
Improbable though it may seem, this year’s iteration of the Redistricting Commission, by turning away from last year’s partisanship, could contribute to voter confidence in what the panel decides, and how. On the other hand, the blatant partisanship that prevailed in 2022′s effort would surely stoke support for the likely 2024 anti-gerrymandering ballot issue. Only fair districts, fairly drawn, might ward that off.
Toledo Blade. September 4, 2023.
Editorial: New pension chairman
When the Ohio House created a pensions committee in January it looked like a wise decision.
There are multiple issues regarding the pensions state lawmakers should address with legislation.
Both the State Teachers Retirement System and the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund sought big increases from employers (taxpayers) in the last legislative session and are trying again this year. The General Assembly sets the rates.
On Dec. 29 Auditor of State Keith Faber released a special investigation of STRS, questioning the wisdom of large bonuses for state investment managers and indicating that transparency requirements in alternative investment contracts could be mandated by retirement boards (“No illegal activity in 90B Ohio teacher retirement fund, special audit finds,” Dec. 29). Lawmakers could also make those recommendations a legal mandate.
In May, Gov. Mike DeWine dismissed his own STRS Board appointee Wade Steen, in a move that tests the governor’s legal authority regarding pension board appointments. The issue is now in court but the General Assembly could clarify the governor’s pension appointment power so this doesn’t happen again.
More than $200 billion, ostensibly overseen by state government through the Ohio Retirement Study Council, went years beyond the legal deadline for performing the rudimentary duty of actuarial and fiduciary audits of the pensions. Legislators have done nothing. Clearly the need for legislative oversight is compelling and has gone unmet for many years. The House Pensions Committee has a chance to get it right under new leadership. The chairman, Rep. Bob Young, has been replaced by Rep. Adam Mathews (R., Lebanon).
Mr. Young is currently most notable for the GPS monitor he must wear so police can track his whereabouts at all times. Rep. Young (R., North Canton) was arrested and jailed last week for telephoning a family member with a protection order barring contact.
In July the former Pensions Committee chairman was charged with two counts of domestic violence following an altercation with his wife and his brother. The latest charge is “recklessly violating a restraining order.”
Mr. Young loses the $9,000 additional pay a committee gavel adds to his $69,876 legislative salary.
Mr. Young has not shown the temperament expected in an important oversight position for billions of dollars securing the retirement of well over a million Ohioans. The House Pension Committee hasn’t touched any of the big policy questions confronting the five state funds, focusing on minor administrative issues instead. Chairman Mathews can change that trajectory of failure if he puts the big pension problems on the legislative agenda. Unless he does, the Pensions Committee is just a waste of time.
Youngstown Vindicator. September 8, 2023.
Editorial: Low jobless stats don’t always mean all good news
In August, Ohio officials were thrilled to announce a record-low unemployment figure for July. The 3.3% also was the third month in a row Ohio’s rate was better than that of the country as a whole (3.5%). In fact, the figure was so wonderful that many couldn’t help but toot their own horns.
“We are making history — our formula in Ohio is working, and (the) jobs news is proof of that,” Gov. Mike DeWine said.
Easy enough to say, but the reality is even a number that low places Ohio 30th for state unemployment rates, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And, according to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Buckeye State’s labor force still has not recovered to its pre-pandemic numbers.
Labor force is those workers who are employed AND those actively seeking work. Here, the Enquirer suggests, there may be approximately 100,000 potential workers who simply quit looking — maybe because of age, maybe because they have become “discouraged.”
And even if low unemployment figures are considered a rebound from the horrors of the pandemic, the Enquirer’s analysis also found the average worker in our state took a 4.2% pay cut between 2020 and 2022. Given the impact of inflation, the average Ohioan makes what amounts to approximately $2,663 less per year at the end of 2022 than at the end of 2020.
In other words, being employed doesn’t quite mean what it used to.
Ohio’s economic growth has slowed, development comes in regional (one region, in particular) bursts, workers aren’t able to stretch their income as far as they could even just a couple of years ago, and 100,000 potential workers have simply dropped off the radar. The folks in Columbus can celebrate low unemployment numbers all they want. But the average Ohio family is going to hope they keep their celebration short, and then get back to work to make a REAL difference for all of us.
Sandusky Register. September 9, 2023.
Editorial: In-schools debates return
Even in the best of times, democracy is difficult and messy. It is an endeavor undertaken by imperfect beings trying to join with other imperfect people to develop a sense of group, a consensus of direction, a way to govern. A wise man we know spoke of three truths about life:
1. Nothing is easy.
2. Practice beats talent when talent doesn’t practice.
3. And, well ... it concerns how just about everybody can be disagreeable at times.
We are at the launch of campaign season this fall, and we’re so grateful for all the candidates running in city government races, township and school board races. You are indeed the fabric of our democracy.
We also are grateful to be able to cover these important races and provide readers clear and concise reporting to assist them in evaluating the options and affirming their decisions. For us, the best races are the ones with the most candidates because it means people care and are willing to serve.
We also are pleased this year to bring back the Register’s in-schools debates program with a lot of help from BGSU Firelands and area high schools. The Sandusky city commission candidates, eight in total, will debate at Sandusky High School in the weeks ahead. Other races include the Milan mayor’s race and the Norwalk mayor’s race.
The pandemic changed our programming in 2020 and eventually upended it. But now it’s back, and we’re grateful to everyone who is helping make that possible.
The in-school debates, sponsored by BGSU Firelands, will be shown on the Register’s YouTube channel from the date of the debate through Election Day. We’re starting a little earlier this year since a large number of residents opt to vote early.
A final debate schedule will be announced soon, but we know we could not do this as well as we can with the support of BGSU Firelands and the support from our area schools. The time that teachers and students spend preparing for their local debate, we believe, is useful. It supports the delicate balance that is democracy; it helps build a more informed electorate.