Local Politics: Approval of gerrymandered maps the latest in an anti-democratic agenda
Thanks to Statehouse Republicans, Ohio is not, in any way that really matters, a functioning democracy
Last Friday, two Trump-appointed federal judges implemented a map for Ohio state Senate and House districts that had already been rejected twice by the Ohio Supreme Court as illegal partisan gerrymanders. This was inevitable as, back in April, the same federal panel said that if the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission could not come up with a better map than the one that was twice-declared illegal, it would implement the illegally gerrymandered ones. This was a clear invitation for the commission to do nothing, and the commission happily took the court up on that invitation.
The kicker was the comically disingenuous comment in the Trump-appointed panel's opinion stating that if the people of Ohio take issue with the manner in which it and Ohio Republicans have usurped democratic authority that "it is up to the voters to punish them if they so choose" — voters who will now be thrown into ever-more gerrymandered districts which, by definition, severely limits their ability to exercise their will and prevents those public officials from being punished in any way.
Thanks to Friday's ruling and the transparently gamed-out scheme to get to it, Republicans have now completed: an end-run around the will of Ohio citizens who, in 2015, voted overwhelmingly for a redistricting regime that was supposed to end gerrymandering; an end-run around the Ohio Supreme Court, which was attempting to enforce the will of those citizens; and thus, an end-run around the rule of law itself. Given that, just hours after the federal court’s April opinion, Ohio House Majority Leader and Redistricting Commission member Bill Seitz tweeted "Too bad so sad. We win again," the rule of law is obviously the least of Republicans' concerns.
Sadly, none of this was hard to foresee. Indeed, I predicted this outcome back in February when Republicans, smarting from the Ohio Supreme Court's rejection of its initial legislative map, first ran to the Trump appointee-dominated federal court:
"The suit is an attempted end-run around the Ohio Supreme Court, and the commission's failure to submit a new map for consideration is a necessary condition for it to work, insofar as it would simply not do to have anything approaching a fair map floating around that a court might choose to end this standoff. To the contrary, it allows for the possibility that federal judges — four of the eight on the bench in the Southern District of Ohio are Trump appointees — will impose the last, egregious GOP gerrymander and end the messy business of ensuring fair elections."
To be sure, such a prediction is in no way a testament to my insight or savvy, as Republicans made no effort to hide what they were doing, nor did they even pretend that they were approaching the redistricting process in good faith. It was open and obvious from the get-go.
Indeed, it was every bit as open and obvious as the rest of the Ohio Republican agenda — an agenda that they have steadfastly pursued over the past several years, which will now be made all the easier by their being even more insulated from the political will of Ohioans than they already were.
And make no mistake, it's an odious agenda. One which includes:
- A plethora of irresponsible pro-gun laws that fly in the face of both good sense and the will of the majority of Ohioans;
- Dangerous, anti-democratic threats to the rule of law;
- Aggressive opposition to prudent public health practices and the prevention of public health experts from doing their jobs for purely ideological reasons, thereby making Ohioans sicker and Ohio a less-safe place to live;
- The elevation of empty, performative political gestures above the work of basic governance;
- The allowing of extremists to dictate what our children learn and do not learn in school;
- The regressive political agenda of those extremists, which is alienating our young people and compelling them to leave Ohio, exacerbating an already alarming brain drain from the state;
- Not only the resistance to calls for racial equality, but the prevention of those calls from even being made in the first place;
- Cruel, hypocritical state budgets that punish and demonize the poor simply for being poor;
- Ever-increased efforts at voter suppression; and
- The continued enabling and rewarding of those who espouse fascist and extremist ideologies.
It's an agenda at which I've raged and which I have lamented since I began writing this column over a year and a half ago. It's an agenda which, in a functioning democracy, would be met with righteous and potent opposition. Thanks to gerrymandering, however, there is no way for that opposition, however righteous, to ever become truly potent, as it is structurally prevented from doing so. Which is to say that Ohio is not, in any way that really matters, a functioning democracy.
In light of that, what else is there to do other than rage and lament?