In September, State Rep. Kirk Schuring voted against a congressional redistricting map that would divide Stark County into three districts. On Thursday, he declined to rule out voting for another bill that does the same thing if it helps avoid court battles and “chaos” on the redistricting map in 2012.
State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township voted Thursday to bring up for immediate consideration a new congressional redistricting bill that still would divide Stark County among three congressional districts.
Ohio House Republicans fell eight votes short of the two-thirds vote majority needed to advance the bill to the floor without committee review. The 58-34 vote was along party lines with State Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Marlboro Township, voting “yes,” and Democratic state representatives Stephen Slesnick of Canton and Mark Okey of Carrollton voting “no.” (Information was changed to fix an error. See the correction at the end of story. Nov. 4, 11 a.m.)
Schuring indicated that to avoid electoral chaos in 2012, he’s open to voting for the bill if it comes to the floor even though it sets the same congressional district lines for Stark County as another bill Schuring opposed in September that the legislature approved.
“Stark County’s portion of the map was not up for consideration,” Schuring said, explaining his vote Thursday. “Stark County’s fate was sealed when the General Assembly enacted the legislation back in September. .... so that’s not a question any longer. Now the question is, ‘how can the House speaker get the votes he needs from the Democrats to prevent a court crisis where there’s going to be a referendum ... that are going to throw the congressional races in 2012 into chaos and may ultimately go to court?’ That’s what we’re trying to avoid of course.”
Hagan, who voted for the first redistricting bill in September, and Slesnick, who voted against it, could not be reached for comment.
Okey, who also voted against that bill, said he didn’t understand why House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, with only a day’s notice, summoned House members to Columbus Thursday for a mere procedural vote without being sure whether he had enough votes to advance the second redistricting bill, which would have modified the district boundaries set by the first one.
“We wasted a lot of time and gas and mileage today for no reason,” said Okey.
The first redistricting bill and the second bill introduced Thursday divide Stark County into three districts for the first time in its history. They assign Lawrence and Jackson Townships, North Canton, slivers of Canton, Canton Township and Massillon and part of Lake, Plain and Perry townships to the 16th Congressional District. Alliance, Lexington Township and a piece of Washington Township surrounded by Alliance would be in the 13th District. The rest of Stark County would be in the 7th District.
The second bill does not change the district lines in Stark set by the first bill passed in September, but it alters several districts throughout the state including the shape of the 7th and 16th districts in Medina County and the 7th District in Lorain County.
Page 2 of 3 - According to House Republicans, the new map slightly increases the percentage of black voters in the 3rd District around Columbus, the 9th District in Lucas County, the 1st District in Hamilton County and the 10th District in Montgomery County. Toledo would be split into two districts rather than three, and Dayton iwould be in one district instead of two
The second bill also would undo the move by Republicans last month to schedule two primaries in 2012, where the second primary would be in June for congressional races, at a cost of $15 million.
Schuring was the only Republican in the Ohio General Assembly who voted against final approval of the Republicans’ first redistricting bill because he believed it would result in reduced clout for Stark County in Congress. The state legislature resets congressional district lines every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Ohio will have 16 congressmen after having 18 because its population growth failed to keep pace with the rest of the nation.
Under the state referendum process, Democrats have started collecting petition signatures to block the first bill from taking effect and to place it on the November 2012 ballot.
Fearful that this would result in a federal court mandating an interim congressional district map, Republicans have been negotiating with the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which has 10 active House members, for the past three weeks. If Schuring and at least seven black Democratic state representatives support a new district map, House Republicans would have the 66 votes needed to pass a redistricting bill as an emergency that under the state constitution would not be subject to the referendum.
State Rep. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, the president of the Black Caucus, said that the caucus Wednesday night proposed that at least six of Ohio’s 16 districts would be swing districts rather than Republican-dominated districts. She said the district lines in Stark County were never part of the discussion because no one raised the issue.
Republicans, who were represented in the talks by former Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, insisted on keeping the 12 Republican-leaning districts as approved in September, and stuck to mainly adding more black voters to certain districts, according to The Plain Dealer.
Though Republicans and the Black Caucus couldn’t reach a deal, Batchelder called an apparent procedural test vote Thursday on the Republicans’ last offer, which was the second redistricting bill. However, no Democrats defected.
Batchelder’s spokesman Mike Dittoe said the speaker sought to fast-track the bill to the floor due to the urgent need to settle the congressional map dispute as soon as possible to prevent court battles and confusion next year. Referring the bill to a committee, which is normally done, would have delayed the floor vote by at least two days. He said the map gave many Democrats what they wanted: more black voters in some districts and less divided communities. The speaker thought that might be enough to get enough Democrats to support emergency passage of the bill though the Black Caucus hadn’t agreed to a deal.
Page 3 of 3 - Dittoe said a committee will hold hearings on the second redistricting bill next week.
Williams was one of seven representatives not present for the vote Thursday. She said she was running late and didn’t get to the House floor until after the vote. While five of those who missed the vote were black Democratic representatives, Williams said there was no concerted plan by members of the Black Caucus not to attend.
Williams said she had originally intended to vote for Batchelder’s bill due to a conversation she had with U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Warrensville Heights. Williams said Fudge expressed support for the Republicans' congressional district map because both redistricting bills preserved and expanded her majority-black district so it would stretch south into Akron.
"She believed it protected the minority/majority district in the state of Ohio, and she did not want to compromise that district at all," said Williams. "She was supportive of it going to Summit County."
Fudge's spokeswoman, Laura Allen, said Friday that Fudge did not tell Williams or anyone else in the Black Caucus how to vote on the Republicans' second redistricting bill, which she said Fudge has no public position on. Allen said Fudge told Williams that she had no problem with the lines of the new majority-black district in Cuyahoga and Summit counties as drawn by Republicans. She said Fudge wasn't expressing her opinion about the boundaries of the other districts in Ohio.
“The congressional people want to see an end to this,” Williams said. “People want this thing settled.”
However, Williams said that because the Ohio House Democratic Caucus voted to oppose the bill, she would have eventually voted “no” on the second redistricting bill.
Williams said that several Democrats outside of Ohio tried to contact her during the past few weeks, apparently to urge her not to support the Republicans’ plan at the expense of Democrats. That included U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She said besides Fudge, she spoke with congressmen Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland, and Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo.
She said the Black Caucus, while negotiating with Republicans, is seeking to protect as many Democratic incumbents as possible.
“I think the speaker has been a complete gentleman in his dealings with us,” said Williams. “He has worked to include all the changes we have asked for. .... I am supportive of the changes he made (to the original map). ... we will if the speaker would like, continue to work with him to make sure we get this thing through.”
Correction: Ohio House Republicans fell eight votes short of the 2/3rds vote majority needed to immediately advance a redistricting bill to the House floor. The incorrect number of votes required to bring the bill to the floor was incorrect when this story was first published Thursday.