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Government/Politics

Democrats on panel that approved GOP-drawn Ohio legislative maps want their own lawyers

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Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
On January 18, 2022, the Ohio Redistricting Commission met for the first time after the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the panel's legislative maps.

The two Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission say they’re being silenced by the Republican attorney general, who says no commission member gets their own lawyers.

The fight over Ohio’s new Republican-drawn House and Senate maps has a behind the scenes battle going on over how the split views on the panel that drew the maps will be represented in court.

The groups suing over the maps - which were approved last weekend on a party-line vote of 5-2 - say they give an unconstitutional advantage to Republicans. The new maps create 57 Republican to 42 Democratic districts in the Ohio House and 20 Republican districts to 13 Democratic districts in the Ohio Senate.

That's the same argument they made over the first set of maps, which gave 67 House seats to Republicans and 32 to Democrats, and 23 Republican seats in the Senate to the Democrats' 10.

The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the maps as unconstitutionally gerrymandered earlier this month. And the Court also ruled the maps must be redrawn to reflect the state's partisan breakdown, which is about 54% Republican and 46% Democratic, according to an average of statewide race results over 10 years.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) voted against the maps. And Russo said Republican AG Dave Yost’s office is blocking her and Sykes from hiring outside counsel in that challenge.

“The Attorney General's office, their counsel, represents the Commission, but we felt that we were being muzzled in our capacity as minority commissioners," Russo said. "We felt that there was conflict there."

But Yost says neither the Commission's two Democrats nor the five Republicans will be responding individually in the challenge.

He said no one will have outside counsel because the commission, even while not unanimous, speaks with its vote. He says when the state is sued over a law, legislators who voted against it don’t get their own counsel.

“Pretty soon you're at that absurd place where any legislator who wants to be represented has to be. That's a horrible way to run a railroad," Yost said. "It's duplicative, it wastes court time and it's profoundly unfair to the taxpayers.”

Yost said the Democrats weren’t denied a voice because they had a chance to vote and to submit a statement that’s part of the record.

But Russo and Sykes did file a response to the latest challenge in the Ohio Supreme Court separate from the response filed by lawyers for the Ohio Redistricting Commission, and represented themselves in that filing.

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