COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. John Kasich is calling on state lawmakers to consider changing how Ohio draws its congressional districts, emphasizing that gerrymandering should be in “the dustbin of history.”
Kasich’s fellow Republicans, who control the Legislature and subsequently the location of district lines, weren’t exactly swept up by Kasich’s call for action in his State of the State address Wednesday.
Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger told reporters after the speech in Marietta that they were open to discussing changes to the line-drawing process but preferred it to remain in the Legislature’s authority.
Ohio alters the congressional districts once per decade to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. The process is called redistricting. State lawmakers approve the lines for the U.S. House districts. The GOP currently holds 12 of 16 congressional seats.
Ohio voters approved a bipartisan plan last year to overhaul how the state draws its legislative boundaries with the goal of making them more competitive and fair.
Kasich praised the effort and urged the General Assembly to consider similar reforms to congressional mapmaking.
“Ideas and merits should be what wins elections, not gerrymandering,” Kasich said. “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of it.”
The plea from the former congressman was in line with the tone Kasich has tried to strike in his longshot bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Kasich did not endorse any specific redistricting plan for Ohio. Separate resolutions were introduced last year in the state House and Senate.
The Senate proposal would turn the congressional line-drawing over to a seven-member redistricting commission.
Faber, a Celina Republican, indicated he wasn’t particularly sold on that idea.
“When you’re asking the Legislature to stop doing congressional restricting, that’s a major change in legislative authority,” he told reporters.
Faber said he’s open to discussing different standards for congressional mapmaking and believes there’s some room for improvement. But he acknowledged the issue is not among his top priorities.
Rosenberger, of Clarksville, also said he would be willing to talk about changes, but was “protective” of the Legislature’s authority.
Sen. Frank LaRose, a Copley Republican who co-sponsored the Senate’s congressional redistricting proposal, said he’s working on an amendment that could alleviate some of the leaders’ concerns. It would give the Legislature a deadline to complete the boundaries and require bipartisan backing to approve them. Otherwise, a commission would set the lines.
Democratic leaders were more welcoming to Kasich’s call for change.
“I was actually shocked by that,” House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, of Dayton, told reporters. “And I’m happy to see a prominent Republican talk about the need to make sure that people are picking their representatives, not their representatives picking their voters.”
Still, Strahorn said, “We will see where that goes, but I thought that was a bold statement.”
Senate Democratic Leader Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, had a succinct response: “Let’s do it immediately.”
The state’s Republican elections chief, who has long advocated for overhauling how the congressional boundaries are drawn, viewed Kasich’s comments as “the most significant endorsement yet” for the cause.
“To fix the broken system in Washington, we must start by fixing the broken system at home,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a written statement. “Congressional redistricting reform’s time has come.”
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