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New maps of districts largely favor Republicans

Special to the Journal

New maps of state legislative districts place the Mahoning Valley largely in Republican hands, with two House district exceptions.

The powerful new redistricting panel in Ohio failed on Wednesday to reach the bipartisan consensus necessary to pass a 10-year map of state legislative districts based on 2020 census totals.

After hours of negotiations ahead of a midnight deadline, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new district boundaries purely along party lines. That means the map will last for only four years.

VALLEY IMPACT

The Republican bill largely keeps the existing 58th Ohio House District intact. The strong Democratic district includes all of Youngstown, Austintown, Struthers, Lowellville, Campbell and Coitsville.

The new 59th District is a solid Republican one and includes the rest of Mahoning County along with the Columbiana County townships of Knox, Butler and West.

The 33rd Senate District includes all of Mahoning, Columbiana and Carroll counties and is Republican. The current district includes just the first two counties, but had to grow because of population declines. The current district is represented by state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who will seek re-election next year if he doesn’t run for Congress.

One Trumbull County House District, a new 64th, is a Democratic district including the cities of Warren, Niles, Girard and Hubbard, as well as the townships of Liberty, Weathersfield, Howland and Vienna. The initial Republican map had Warren in a red district with rural communities in Trumbull and Portage counties, but that was changed to give Democrats a safe district in Trumbull.

The other House district, a new 65th, will be a solid Republican district including the rest of Trumbull County along with more than half of Portage County.

Trumbull’s 32nd Senate District, which would lean Republican, includes all of that county and Portage County. The district currently is represented by state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Lenox, who isn’t up for re-election until 2024. She lives in Ashtabula County, but will represent Trumbull and Portage counties for the next two years.

CRITICISM

The two Democrats on the redistricting panel — state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes, his daughter — maligned the GOP-drawn map as an unfair and arrogant thwarting of Ohio voters’ wishes.

“I call it offensive and plain wrong to move forward this map after we heard hundreds of people come before us, hours of testimony in cities across this great state, and to put forth something that so arrogantly flies in the face of what people, our voters, asked to do,” Rep. Sykes said.

Ohio is using a new redistricting process for the first time this year that was approved by voters through state ballot issues in 2015 and 2018.

The new system, which is meant to fight partisan gerrymandering, required the independent commission — which includes two Republicans and two Democrats from the Legislature, as well as three statewide officals — to finish redrawing legislative districts by Wednesday. It sets an initial Sept. 30 deadline for the General Assembly to complete a new map of the state’s congressional districts.

An Associated Press analysis found that Ohio’s maps are among the nation’s most gerrymandered, during a period when Republicans won more seats than would have been expected based on the percentage of votes they received.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose voted for the final map, but he expressed deep disappointment that bipartisan compromise yielding a 10-year map couldn’t be achieved.

“We’ve fallen short,” he said. “Not enough members of this commission wanted to come along with that effort.” He accused unnamed fellow Republicans on the panel of not working in good faith to reach a compromise that could satisfy both parties.

GOP Auditor Keith Faber said he, LaRose and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine spent hours trying to find a map that would draw a unanimous vote. He voted “yes with some apprehension.”

DeWine, likewise, said he was “very, very sorry” at where things landed, yet supported the final boundaries. He suggested both sides — not just majority Republicans — were to blame.

“It’s clear in talking to both sides that there’s not going to be an agreement, and that we could go tomorrow and the next day and the next day and it simply is not going to occur,” he said

Legal challenges are anticipated.

“Fair Districts Ohio is still reviewing the Ohio House and Senate maps and considering next steps, including possible litigation and ballot initiatives in the future,” the coalition said in a statement.

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman said the final map will have 62 of 99 Ohio House seats that favor Republicans and 23 of 33 Ohio Senate seats that favor the GOP — down from some earlier maps.

“It takes us much closer to the Democratic plan that was presented,” he said.

The vote followed eight crowded public hearings around the state, where members were pilloried by critics who said the state’s existing legislative and congressional districts aren’t representative. A few witnesses defended the current Republican advantage as fair, given GOP is the state’s dominant party, but they were in a distinct minority.

Ohio’s partisan breakdown is roughly 54 percent Republicans, 46 percent Democrats.

The separate process for redrawing congressional districts is running concurrently to the legislative map-making process. Ohio lost one congressional seat due to lagging population growth recorded in the 2020 Census, which will give the state 15 rather than 16 seats for the next 10 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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