Every 10 years, the Ohio Legislature gets to redraw congressional boundaries. It's essentially a legal way to fix elections: Slice up the power bases of your enemies, concentrate your own, and -- bingo! -- you've got a rigged path to reelection. Bonus round: Since Ohio will lose a congressional seat this year, the Republican majority gets to whack a Democratic congressman. It's all so beautiful, only those holding a black belt in the moronic arts could screw it up.
Unfortunately, just such morons control the Legislature. Though they've had since early summer to fashion a map, they still don't have one, which has created a minor problem.
Ohio has a candidate filing deadline of February 21. The primary is set for May 7. But by law, a bill needs 90 days to take effect. Another 60 days is required to allow candidates to run for the primary, says Senator Bob Spada (R-Parma Heights). Which means that, even if they came up with a map today, they couldn't have a filing date till April, and a primary would have to wait till June. All of which has Republicans floating the idea of two primaries -- one for state races, one for congressional contests.
Additional cost to you, the schmuck picking up the tab: $7 million.
Republicans claim they've been too busy to deal with redistricting. They spent the year on matters of greater import, like patching up a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, naming the Reverend Dr. Sam Wells Jr. Viaduct, and protecting Ohio from long-term, committed relationships (see: same-sex marriages).
Representative Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) has another explanation: "It's just total incompetence. With 59 Republicans [in the House], I'm sure they can do more than one thing at a time. Is it a ploy? Of course it's a ploy. But it's a ploy on top of being totally incompetent."
The ploy she speaks of is the theory that Republicans delayed redistricting so that a congressman who loses his seat won't have time to run for state office. "They want to use taxpayer money for their own agenda," says Representative Dean DePiero (D-Parma).
Spada has a less conspiratorial rationale: Republicans just can't agree on a map. "The folks who have been working on it have 18 or 20 plans." Adds one legislative aide: "Every Republican legislator is a potential congressman, and everyone's looking out for their own interests."
Irrespective of the argument one buys, the bottom line is this: Republicans had a sweet chance to rig elections, yet through cunning "stupidity," in the words of Smith, managed to create a public relations nightmare.
This, after all, is the supposed Party of Fiscal Prudence. Though its ranks are largely filled with hayseeds, religious nuts, term life salesmen, and daddy's boys, it's masterfully created an image as a band of tough guys willing to make the hard decisions. Which it did by filling the $1.5 billion budget hole.
Yet nobility is an essential part of the tough-guy persona, according to the handbook. And though Republicans are willing to come up with $7 million for an unnecessary election, notes Smith, they won't fork over 90 grand for a basic nutrition program for women and children -- which would in turn bring a $330,000 match from the feds. They've also sliced funding for health care and elderly food programs, and have yet to deal with school funding. "Is that not incompetent, to starve women and children to have another election?" she asks.
Actually, no. The technical term is "being a scumbag."
Representative Jim Trakas (R-Independence) doesn't believe an extra primary will happen. "It probably shouldn't have been introduced." And the Legislature can still pass an emergency measure that precludes the 90-day waiting period.
Yet it never should have come to this. We expect so little from legislators, but as creatures of unbridled self-absorption, they should at least know how to fix an election properly.