THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
BY JIM SIEGEL
If someone had told U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers a few weeks ago that his new congressional district would include Athens but not Grandview Heights, “I would not have believed it,” the Upper Arlington Republican said.
“I didn’t draw the lines, but I’m going to work hard to represent them,” he said yesterday of the new congressional map, which could pass the legislature as soon as this afternoon. “It’s not any more diverse than my current district, and you could argue it’s somewhat less diverse, but it’s certainly more geography, which will create challenges of its own.”
Some critics of the new GOP-drawn congressional map have called Stivers’ new 15th district the worst of a batch of gerrymandered seats that set up a potential 12-4 Republican majority in the state’s delegation.
Stivers admits he was surprised by the new lines — 933 miles in circumference across 13 counties, shaped like the open jaws of an alligator.
“I would love to represent a more compact district, but frankly, my car works pretty well so I’m not scared to get in it and drive,” Stivers said.
“Even though a lot has been written about how weirdly shaped the district is, it would be a very extraordinary circumstance where you’re going from Richwood in northern Union County to Athens."
Stivers is losing Ohio State and picking up Ohio University. His new seat stretches across some of the state’s most rural counties and reaches into the heart of Downtown, grabbing a lightly populated but business-heavy area. The edges of his sprawling district are no more than two counties away from Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, said he doesn’t anticipate changing any lines on the map. However, Republicans are likely to add a budget appropriation to the legislation that, if crafted properly, would cause it to take effect immediately and possibly kill any plans Democrats may have of trying to overturn the map through a ballot referendum.
U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, added three counties to his 12th district, though his portion of Franklin County, stretching across the northern strip from Dublin to Gahanna, still has the largest population base.
Tiberi said he remembers working as a staffer for then-Rep. John Kasich in 1992 when his district changed significantly. “I realized then, and understand completely now, that there’s nothing you can do about it,” Tiberi said. “It just doesn’t matter what you think or what you want. I’m blessed that it turned out good this time.”
Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, said, “There are a number of congressmen who were less than thrilled with their districts.”
The GOP map creates more than 60 county splits. Ralph Regula, a former 36-year Republican congressman, told IndeOnline.com in Massillon this week that splitting Stark County into three districts is “outrageous.”
“One of the key elements of a congressional district is that people have to know where to go when they need help,” he said.
Richard Gunther, an Ohio State University political science professor, called Stivers’ new district and the 9th district, which snakes along Lake Erie, “the stuff of legend” that will be discussed in political science classes for decades.
“This plan is the most grotesque partisan gerrymander that I, as a political scientist, had ever seen,” he said.