Republicans reveal new congressional map: lots of bullshit and some good news

Last spring, I asked Betty Sutton at the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus luncheon if she would consider moving if they put her house in Tim Ryan's district. She lives in a little finger of Summit County that is currently wedged between Ryan's district on the east and Jim Renacci's district in Medina to the west. They could have gone either way, but I figured they'd be nasty and pit her against the popular Democrat Ryan.

Today many pundits are saying that by placing her in Renacci's district instead, she's a goner. I am not so sure. It's entirely possible that without the Tea Party wave that swept him to victory in 2010, Renacci could be the goner. They've given him a swath of southwest Cuyahoga that has a lot of active Democrats — and a lot of public-sector workers and union people who may be looking for Republicans to blame without Kasich on the ballot. I think they did Betty Sutton a favor.

My read is different. I think the GOPs partisan plotting in Northeast Ohio goes a lot deeper than this one or that one being out of a seat, or being safer. While I see they have conceded that Columbus is a community of interest and created a district there, they have gone 200 mph in the opposite direction in Cuyahoga. Cuyahoga currently contains two districts entirely in the county — Marcia Fudge's and Dennis Kucinich's. It also contains slivers of two others — Sutton's and Steve LaTourette's to the east. Given the population loss, there is no reason for those slivers to remain in Cuyahoga — or for the county to contain any more than two districts.

Instead, this map gives it big swaths of FOUR districts, effectively breaking up the county into small pieces and severing communities that have always worked together, shared organizations and projects, and have close-knit common interests.

I think the Republicans are willing to potentially sacrifice Renacci (although they undoubtedly believe that will enough special-interest money he can hang in there) to try to undermine and weaken the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, the source of much of the Ohio Democratic Party's muscle. With four separate congressional districts to keep tabs on and allocate resources to — all of which have significant parts or a majority lying outside the county — they figure the Cuyahoga Democratic party will be run ragged in four directions and be spending most of its resources far and wide over a wide sweep of territory not even in the county. The idea of a district that includes Lakewood, ten minutes from downtown Cleveland, and Toledo, nearly two hours away, is insulting. For a rural district with vast terrain and small population, it might make sense. For a densely populated urban area, there is nothing that can justify it — nothing ethically or morally justifiable anyway.

I really can't speak much about the rest of the state. I know there are always issues beyond the percentages and number-crunching self-appointed experts like to do, and I am not an on-the-ground expert on Columbus or CIncinnati. But I can say a few things about Northeast Ohio. Although Sutton has only a small piece of it now, she has maintained a relatively high profile in the county, attending county events regularly. I first met her at the opening of a Democratic headquarters in Parma in 2006. She's not a stranger here — Renacci is. And the auto industry is a big driver in the portions on southwest Cuyahoga this map would give her. She wrote "Cash for Clunkers" and saved a lot of jobs there.

Most people think LaTourette is as safe as ever despite being given a big chunk of Cuyahoga's eastern suburbs, where he is unknown. We'll see. He might actually have to campaign, might have to set foot in Ohio more often than three or four times a year. He's been coasting on his Lake County reputation for years. If a strong challenger emerges, he might have to break a sweat. As for Marcia Fudge, there's almost no way to threaten her seat so instead they added to her driving time and logistical juggling by removing eastern suburbs and meandering the district down to Akron. Considering that the easter suburbs often function as a bloc, that's offensive too.

As I expected, in terms of partisan division, it's not really better or worse than the current map in terms of the likely divide of our congressional delegation. Things can change in a flash with the mood of the electorate, as we've seen in the last several elections. But the damage the map does to communities is irrational and destructive. Kasich has talked a lot about consolidation and governments and school systems sharing services and functions. By splitting the congressional districts of communities most likely to have interests in common, the map creates roadblocks to that, as it stirs up suspicions and rivalries.

I'm wondering what others think. Is this illogical breakup of Cuyahoga an attempt to hurt the Democratic Party here and make it infinitely more difficult for it to function as a organization? Or am I missing something?

Personally, I think it's time to stop all this — NOW. We put the Reform Ohio Now measures on the ballot in 2005 and they failed, in part thanks to the anchor of former Cuyahoga Party chief Jimmy Dimora refusing to endorse them and refusing to put party muscle behind them, apparently thinking Democrats would draw the map in 2010 and could gerrymander Republicans out of power. Bad call, Jimmy, like many of your others.

It's time to revisit some of the ideas behind Reform Ohio Now, clarify them and put them on the ballot. A nonpartisan redistricting commission should be at the top of the list — a commission strictly mandated to create a map with logical, compact districts that keeps communities together, not blows them apart. And that commission should redistrict the state immediately, not wait for 2020 (Thanks, Texas Republicans!) I would like to see discussion of this launched and a task force formed to explore how best to get this done. Ohio has been ripped to shreds by partisan warfare long enough.

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