Thursday, December 28, 2000

Census will revise legislative map

Counting on a drawn-out political fight

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Keep in mind the next time you write your congressman that he may not be your congressman much longer.

        When the preliminary 2000 U.S. Census numbers come out today, it will be the first round in a yearlong political battle that takes place every 10 years — the redraw ing of district lines for the U.S. House and state legislatures.

        For tens of thousands of Tristate voters, it could mean a trip to the polls in 2002 to find they are in a new congressional district, without selling the house or moving a stick of furniture.

        Because congressional districts are based on census numbers and Ohio is expected to continue its decades- long drop in population, Ohio is likely to drop from 19 congressional districts to 18; while Kentucky, with more stable population numbers, will keep its six.

        Every 10 years, the release of census numbers means that state legislative caucuses, political parties and other interest groups with a stake in the outcome hire numbers-crunchers, map-drawers and political scientists to come up with a new political map for both the state and federal legislatures.

        This process gets the attention, too, of the U.S. House members and state legislators who could find themselves out of a job if their district lines change too drastically.

        “It is the only time when members of Congress pay attention to a guy like me,” said Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, who, as an Ohio legislative leader, will have a lot to say about how Ohio's congressional and state legislative districts will be redrawn.

        The Ohio General Assembly — controlled by Republicans in both the House and Senate — will first take on the task of drawing new congressional district lines.

        When went through this process 10 years ago, it had to cut Ohio into 19 districts with about 570,000 people each. This time, it will have to create 18 districts, each with an estimated 610,000 people.

        In other words, something has to give.

        Then, the state apportionment board — made up of the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor and representatives of the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Ohio General Assembly — will create 99 Ohio House districts and 33 Ohio Senate districts, each containing three House districts.

        Because both the legislature and the apportionment board are controlled by Republicans this time around, the assumption in Ohio political circles is that the new districts will be drawn to favor the GOP.

        In Kentucky, where the state legislature draws both the congressional and the state legislative lines, the Republicans control the Senate, the Democrats control the House and the Democratic governor has veto power over whatever plan the legislature comes up with.

        An analysis by the Center for Voting and Democracy of congressional redistricting in Kentucky concludes that there are unlikely to be any dramatic changes in Kentucky's six districts.

        In Indiana, the redrawing of the state's 10 congressional districts will be up to a legislature in which the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate controlled by Republicans, with a Democratic governor, Frank O'Bannon, holding veto power.

        In Ohio, Republicans close to the process say certain things can be expected to happen:

        • One congressional district now held by a Democrat will be eliminated, probably in the Cleveland area and either Sherrod Brown's 13th District or Dennis Kucinich's 10th District. Those two Cleveland-area Democrats could end up running against each other in a Democratic primary in a new district two years from now.

        • In Hamilton County, the 1st Congressional District held since 1994 by Republican Steve Chabot will be made more Republican, most likely at the expense of his neighbor in the heavily Republican 2nd District, Rob Portman.

        Mr. Chabot, of Westwood, has never had an easy go of it in the 1st District, which includes most of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's western and northern suburbs. He has never won with more than 53 percent of the vote, and Republicans in Columbus are likely to try to find a way to make re-election easier for him.

        Mr. Portman's district is one of the most irregularly drawn in the country. It takes in Clermont, Brown and Adams counties, part of Warren, along with most of eastern Hamilton County, east-side Cincinnati neighborhoods such as Hyde Park and Mount Lookout, and then hops over to western Hamilton County via a narrow land bridge in the north.

        Making Mr. Chabot's district “more Republican” could mean grafting on some areas of the 2nd such as Harrison and Whitewater townships, along with some east-side communities — possibly Blue Ash and Sycamore Township or some eastern Cincinnati neighborhoods.

        Rick Bryan, president of the Blue Ash Republican Club, said he was “startled” by the thought that his community could end up switching congressmen.

        “I don't think we'd secede from the county or anything like that,” Mr. Bryan said. “But I think most people out here would be shocked at losing Rob Portman as a congressman.”

        Mr. Portman, who lives in Terrace Park and was re-elected in November with 76 percent of the vote, said he is not averse to having his district redrawn to help Mr. Chabot, but does not want a radical change.

        “I'd like to keep as much of Cincinnati as possible,” Mr. Portman said.

        Mr. Chabot said his district was drawn in the early 1990s when Democrat Charlie Luken held the seat “and it was done to bring in every Democratic vote possible.”

        “Yes, I'd like it to be more Republican, but it won't change the way I run or the way I represent the district,” Mr. Chabot said.

        Mr. Chabot said he believes his district has lost about 30,000 people since the last census. If his newly redrawn district is to have about 610,000 residents, the Republicans drawing the new congressional map will have to find Mr. Chabot about 70,000 more Hamilton Countians.

        Whatever the outcome, the new congressional district map and the new state legislative maps are likely to draw lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.

        Ten years ago, a group of African-American legislators, led by now-retired State Rep. William Mallory of Cincinnati, went to federal court to challenge the state legislative district plan under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They said it diluted the ability of blacks to elect black representatives by “packing” them into a limited number of districts.

        The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Mallory, saying race could not be the primary consideration when drawing district lines.


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