JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — The well-funded campaign behind the 2011 repeal of Ohio’s collective bargaining law is throwing its might behind a constitutional amendment that would take away elected officials’ power to draw legislative and congressional districts.
The labor-backed We Are Ohio coalition led the successful repeal of union limits for public workers. It said Monday it will join the nonpartisan Ohio Voters First organization. Its decision will mean additional money and volunteers helping to qualify the amendment for this fall’s ballot.
Izetta Thomas, a Columbus special-needs preschool teacher, said she sees the two issues as connected.
“When politicians pick their voters, they go against the will of the people and we end up with extreme legislation like Senate Bill 5 (on collective bargaining),” she said during a news conference.
The redistricting proposal calls for creating a non-partisan independent citizens’ commission responsible for drawing Ohio’s legislative and congressional boundaries in the state. No politicians or lobbyists would be permitted to be members of the commission.
Ohio League of Women Voters director Ann Henkener, whose organization is spearheading the ballot effort, said Monday’s announcement kicked off a week of signature-gathering and grassroots activity around the state.
Voters First must collect roughly 386,000 valid signatures to get the amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“We believe voters should choose their elected representatives,” she said. “Politicians should not pick their voters.”
The state alters legislative and U.S. House district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts. New maps were put in place for this year’s elections.
Democrats who hold minorities in both state legislative chambers and on the state apportionment board complained that their constituents were not represented in the final maps, which favor Republicans. The apportionment board is responsible for adopting new legislative districts and comprises the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.
Democrats filed a lawsuit over the state legislative boundaries in January on behalf of three dozen voters, arguing the lines were gerrymandered to favor the GOP.
Republican officials including Gov. John Kasich and Senate President Thomas Niehaus say nothing in the state constitution requires absolute neutrality when it comes to creating state House and Senate districts.
The redistricting coalition’s push to make November’s ballot would put their issue alongside the presidential election. The announcement comes six days after Kasich signed legislation to get rid of a contentious new election law that Democrats opposed and which was expected to drive turnout this fall among Democratic-leaning voters.
A spokesman for Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder said the issue is being masked as nonpartisan when it’s actually being led by top Democratic political operatives.
“The Voters First initiative is an extremely ill-drafted concept that involves the judiciary in an unprecedentedly political fashion, allows unelected individuals who are not accountable to the electorate to draw the lines, and perhaps most disturbing, the language is so restrictive that it appears more than 7 million Ohioans would be excluded to serve on the commission,” said spokesman Mike Dittoe. “This is inherently undemocratic.”
He said Batchelder believes ironing out the state’s map-drawing process should be handled in by a task force that is currently meeting.