MARIETTA - Following the defeat of a statewide ballot issue that would have remade the way the state draws its legislative and Congressional district lines, lawmakers representing the area agree the process needs changed.
Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, points to the district he was just elected to represent, which includes only a quarter of the city in which he lives. It encompasses three counties and parts of two more, giving him a lot of ground to cover.
"My preference would be not to have a two-hour-long district (to drive across)," Thompson said. "But I've won this district; I'm going to do my best for this district."
State Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, uses Ohio's Congressional delegation to make his case.
"Twelve (Republicans) to four (Democrats) does not accurately reflect this state. This state is a 50-50 state. Certainly we saw that in the presidential election," he said.
State Issue 2 would have established a 12-member commission split evenly among Democrats, Republicans and individuals not affiliated with either party to redraw legislative district maps every 10 years following the completion of the U.S. Census. Currently, whichever party is in power at the state level has the final say on the map, and members of both parties agree that over the years that power has been abused. The result has been oddly shaped districts that usually favor one party or another.
A compromise solution could not be reached prior to the latest redrawing of lines, but Andy Thompson said he thinks another attempted overhaul won't be delayed until the next Census.
"I suspect there'll be an attempt to head off any future conflicts," he said.
Critics raised several issues with the proposed constitutional amendment, including that voters would have no recourse against the unelected commission. Involving the judiciary by having judges appoint members to the commission was another feature many found troublesome.
While more than 63 percent of voters opposed the issue, a statement on the website of Voters First, the coalition that backed it, says the election nevertheless demonstrated the need for reform. Only two of the 133 Congressional and General Assembly races decided on Election Day were won by candidates in districts where their party wasn't favored, according to the statement from Voters First Chairwoman Catherine Turcer.
"Opponents to Issue 2 picked apart our proposal, but no one defended the current system," Turcer said. "Now we need to reach out to policy-makers and organizations that opposed Issue 2 and work together on developing a consensus on reform."
The statement says the Constitutional Modernization Committee is one possible avenue, but there is a chance the General Assembly may take action without a recommendation from that group.
Republican Secretary of State John Husted introduced redistricting reform measures when he was in the Ohio Senate and has indicated in published reports he still supports making changes to the system.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, whose new district covers a larger portion of Washington County than her previous one, including the rest of Marietta, said she's optimistic the matter will be taken up in the 2013 legislative session. But she added that whether lawmakers would be able to agree on a measure to put before voters is another story.
It's a complicated, politically loaded issue, and even with Issue 2 supported by groups like the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, "it was still controversial," she said.
Thompson attributes some of the problem to population loss in Cuyahoga County, forcing district shifts to the south.
"There's an unfair burden borne in some of the new districts, especially the one I'm in," he said. "Almost all of the competitive districts have been on this side of the state."
Phillips said the result of reform should be better government.
"I think when districts are competitive, people end up with more responsive lawmakers, whether they're Democrat or Republican," she said. "If the real fight in the election happens in the primary, then people tend to run to the extremes of their party."
Phillips and Gentile also expressed a desire to see more strength given to existing provisions against dividing existing political subdivisions when possible.
"It's spelled out for us, but it's all open to interpretation," Gentile said, adding that it's very difficult to legally challenge the districts once they're drawn.
Thompson said the argument could be made that his district is at least unified demographically, even if the geography is problematic. He agreed it makes sense to not divide counties and cities, but said that will be a part of the overall discussion.
"I don't get to make that decision myself," he said.