For Issue One

The marijuana legalization-related initiatives on the Ohio ballot this year are getting all of the attention, while Issue One is getting almost no press.  That’s too bad, because it’s the issue that is most likely to have a positive long-term impact on Ohio and Ohio politics.

Issue One would change the way Ohio draws legislative districts.  Its goal is to make the drawing of districts more bipartisan and more inclusive of minority views and to specify criteria to be applied in creating new legislative maps.  The underlying concept is to prevent “gerrymandering” that produces bizarrely configured districts, creates “safe seats” that can be counted on to go to the candidate of one party or the other at all costs, and seeks to lock in long-term political control by one party or the other.

Restraining run-amok gerrymandering would be a good thing for everybody, for two simple reasons.  First, politicians who actually have to pay attention to getting elected are much more likely to be attuned to constituent service and listening to the voters.  Second, the existence of jigsaw puzzle-shaped districts where voters of one party have overwhelming majorities makes the only real election the primary for that majority party, and tends to produce candidates who are farther to one end or the other of the political spectrum than the Ohio body politic as a whole.  We don’t need more polarizing politicians, we need representatives who know that they will have to appeal to swing voters to attain office.  If Issue One can achieve that, it will have done future Ohioans an enormous service.

Voters often urge politicians to be bipartisan and to work together to solve problems, and Issue One demonstrates that that goal is achievable.  It’s supported by the Ohio Democratic Party and the Ohio Republican Party, business and labor, and voting groups.  I’m supporting it, too.  I want to reward the politicos who managed to get together on this issue, and also try to bring some reasonableness and common sense to redistricting.

Voters tend to vote against ballot issues.  The initiatives typically are long and hard to read, and busy people tend to reason that if things are OK now, whatever that agate type means just might make things worse.  I hope Ohioans resist that tendency in this instance and vote yes on One.

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Redistricted Rivals

The 2010 Census cost Ohio two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.  That loss of seats made drawing the new congressional map a challenge — and also produced one of the more intriguing primary elections that Ohio will see this year.

The primary pits two long-time Democratic Representatives, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, against each other in a new district that runs from Cleveland west along Lake Erie to Toledo.  Kucinich and Kaptur have been friends and colleagues with very similar voting records — but with their continued presence in Congress at stake, the gloves have come off.  Kucinich has criticized Kaptur for voting to fund the war in Iraq when he says that money should have been spent in Cleveland.  Kaptur, whose longevity has produced a senior position on the House Appropriations Committee, argues that she is better able to attract federal money to help the redrawn district.

The two long-time politicians, as well as a newcomer who argues that both Kucinich and Kaptur should be thrown out, are on the ballot on March 6.  The question is:  how will voters choose between two experienced, big government Democrats whose voting records are virtually indistinguishable?  And, given Kucinich’s well-publicized dental problems, has he locked up the important Democratic dentist vote?

The Gerrymander Game

Ohio Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a final, revised map for Ohio congressional districts.  It has been a contentious issue that might have produced yet another referendum vote.

From the hyperbolic e-mails sent by Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern, you’d think this was the greatest victory for representative democracy since the Revolutionary War.  Is it, really?  A Cleveland Plain Dealer article shows the new map and provides links that allow comparison to prior versions.  Are there material differences in terms of how the districts have been drawn?  Are those in the new map more soberly rectangular or geographically cohesive than those in the prior map?  Not so far as I can tell.  Both maps feature spidery and sprawling districts with notches and carve-outs than can be explained only by conscious decisions to move blocs of voters from one district to another in an effort to make a district more “safe” for the Democrats or the Republicans.

And that, at bottom, is what I find so galling about the redistricting process.  Our political classes view neighborhoods and communities like bricks to be moved from here to there, as if the voters who live in those areas will always mindlessly follow the same voting patterns.  Their goal is always to protect their parties and their incumbents.  Fortunately for everyone, voters aren’t robots.  They move from one area to another, and they change their minds about candidates and parties based on actual performance.  That’s why, despite the most carefully drawn redistricting plans, incumbents still can lose.

So forgive me if I don’t join in any hosannas about the changed Ohio map.  I’ll just trust the voters of Ohio, instead.  So long as they remain healthily skeptical of our political leaders and willing to evaluate their actual performance, the machinations of people like Chris Redfern and his Republican counterparts won’t irretrievably damage our state.

Have Tooth, Will Travel

Dennis Kucinich, currently a Democratic Representative from Ohio, is getting ready for his next congressional race — which may be in Washington state.  In Ohio, as in other states, redistricting is occurring on the basis of the 2010 Census population figures.  Ohio is going to lose two seats, and apparently one of the seats on the chopping blocks is Kucinich’s district.  As a result, he’s looking for a new place to get elected, and liberal Washington, which is adding a seat, caught his eye.

Kucinich has always been unconventional, from his disastrous days as Cleveland’s “Boy Mayor” in the 1970s to his recent, ill-advised decision to sue the House cafeteria when he purportedly suffered dental damage biting into a veggie wrap at a House cafeteria and then to reach a hasty settlement when he was inundated by bad publicity.  I suppose looking to run in another state is unusual, but in my view if Kucinich runs in Washington it actually exposes him as just another politician.  He’s not really looking to fight for the people of Cleveland, which has been his pitch to date; instead, he just desperately wants to get elected again, even if it is in some faraway state to which he has no meaningful connection.  Like many politicians, he’s convinced that it is crucial that his views are heard on the big stage in Washington, D.C.

It’s pathetic to see former crusaders like Kucinich exposed as office-hungry political hacks, but it is a familiar story.  If Kucinich does seek election in Washington, it will be interesting to see how his tired act is received by voters in the Pacific Northwest.