Jack Shaner, September 24, 2015
Attention Ohio voters: Nov. 3 is your opportunity to cast a vote for cleaner air, land, and water for our beloved Buckeye State. How? By voting YES on State Issue 1.
Issue 1 will amend the Ohio Constitution to reform how district lines are drawn for the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate. Right about now you may be wondering, what possible connection is there between clean air and water and how politicians draw the lines for their Statehouse districts? The connection is actually quite stark.
Way too often, we at the OEC find ourselves fighting against bad legislation instead of fighting for good legislation. This anti-environment legislation directly conflicts with what Ohioans want for our air, our water, and our public lands. Here are a few examples:
A comprehensive poll from 2013 of likely Ohio voters confirmed strong support across the state for getting more energy from clean, renewable sources, like the sun and the wind. Even stronger support was registered for energy efficiency technologies, especially by Republican voters. Despite that strong support, the state legislature voted last summer to put Ohio’s clean energy standards on ice.
We Buckeyes love our state parks. Hiking at Old Man’s Cave. Camping at Mohican Forest. Swimming at East Harbor State Park. For countless Ohioans, our state parks are popular, get-away-from-it-all escapes. Despite this, the legislature actually voted a few years ago to open our parks to oil and gas drilling.
For a decade, toxic algae has plagued Lake Erie and many inland lakes, like Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the phosphorus pollution from farmland runoff and the annual summer bloom of toxic algae. Yet it took half a half a million citizens in greater Toledo losing their tap water for a weekend before state lawmakers made action a priority.
So why are so many lawmakers casting votes that are out of step with what the majority of their constituents want? A big part of the reason is Ohio’s winner-take-all system of drawing Statehouse district lines.
In Ohio, following each 10-year census, the political party that controls two out of three of the offices of governor, auditor, and secretary of state gets to draw the district lines for the legislature for the next 10 years. Whichever party is in control – Democrat or Republican – naturally draws the lines to their advantage. They strive to draw as many winnable House and Senate district boundaries that will help them build a big majority for their party in the legislature. No surprise there.
This encourages the drawing of hyper-partisan districts which are so top-heavy for the party in control that the November election for State Representative or State Senator is actually foretold in the spring primary election. Because your average district is so heavily packed with D or R voters, whomever emerges from the Democrat or Republican spring primary election is virtually guaranteed to win the fall general election.
State Issue 1 takes a big swing at reforming this mess by fostering way more competitive Statehouse races.
Here’s how: Issue 1 will expand the state board that draws the lines to include more state lawmakers. Then, it requires the votes of at least two lawmakers from the minority party to approve the new Statehouse district maps. No more winner-take-all system where the party in control gets to decide all by itself what the new maps will look like. Issue 1 also dangles a huge incentive for lawmakers to come to the table and reach a compromise map: If the plan is approved by both majority and minority party representatives, the map and its legislative district lines will be in place for 10 years.
If, however, the minority party representatives do not agree to the new map, then the map will be in place only for four years. That means a State Representative might hold only two, two-year terms and a State Senator for only one, four-year term. After the four years are up, a brand new map must be drawn…and the lawmaker may have to move to a brand new district!
Imagine a Statehouse where more lawmakers feel the tug and pull of more equal numbers of voters from both major political parties. That sort of Statehouse would strive to approve legislation that enjoys the broad support of many interested parties and the public, rather than allowing single-issue legislation that curries the favor of a few narrow ideological interests and hyper-partisan voters.
But that kind of Statehouse won’t exist without some key reforms, starting with cleaning up the way that legislative district maps are drawn.
Issue 1 is a major step forward for democracy in Ohio, and I’m happy to say that the Ohio Environmental Council strongly supports it. Issue 1 will encourage more competitive elections. More competitive elections will lead to a more representative government and policies that actually reflect the will of the people.
So this fall, send a message to the party leaders of Ohio. Let them know you’ve had a belly full of pandering to the partisan voters with narrow, divisive issues. Send them a message to get on with the critical business of making Ohio a cleaner, safer, more sustainable place to raise a family, grow a business, and enjoy the Beautiful Ohio.
Please join me in voting YES on Issue 1.