COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spectrum News 1 has exclusively obtained a version of an Ohio House map drawn by a Democrat who claimed Republicans offered their input in a bipartisan effort to move past a stalemate with the Ohio Redistricting Commission's efforts.
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, acknowledged to Spectrum News 1 that she drew and presented the map to her party's leadership after rank-and-file Republicans expressed their frustrations to her over being shut out of the redistricting process by their own leadership. Sweeney also said GOP members complained about the most recent map readopted by the commission.
Sweeney — serving her second term in the Ohio House— said she was afraid the Ohio Redistricting Commission would be dis-incentivized to do anything after a federal court said it would implement the third set of Ohio House and Senate maps if the state did not solve its legislative redistricting problem by May 28.
Sweeney, who has no ties to the redistricting commission, did not name Republicans she worked with to come up with the new drawing. Spectrum News 1 has not been able to independently confirm which Republicans with whom Sweeney worked. However, there appears to be four Republicans who could benefit most from Sweeney's map: Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield; Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova; Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville; and Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton. It should be noted Merrin and Plummer are running to be next speaker.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Cutrona, Merrin, Patton and Plummer. Only Patton responded, saying, "While I'm not happy with my map, I haven't had the opportunity to discuss it with anyone of relevance." Spectrum News asked directly if he spoke to Sweeney but he has not responded.
“From that, you know, instead of going from the top-down approach, it was, 'Can I find a way of the individuals on the other side of the aisle, who are also upset with this process, and find some kind of pathway forward?'” Sweeney said. “This comes from, you know, desperate times call for desperate measures."
Sweeney said she started changing the third House map that was adopted by the commission, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court and then, adopted again by the commission last week.
“I’m working on that,” Sweeney said. “And then, actually, I’m showing the map and that’s when I presented it to some Republicans and then showed it to Leader Russo.”
Despite the effort, Sweeney’s map has not received backing from commissioners on either side of the aisle.
Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, echoed Sweeney's bipartisan efforts, but told Spectrum News 1 she did not like the map when she first saw it. Russo claimed she tried to show it to commission co-chair Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Township, but she said LaRe had no interest.
LaRe explained the interaction, saying, "Basically, she said she had a map that one of her members had drafted that she didn't necessarily like. She thought it addressed concerns for some of our members and she didn't offer it up or offer to show it to me, but rather I said, you know, 'Our concern is the same thing that Secretary LaRose has raised at this point, that as we where we sit today under current law, there isn't an opportunity to consider another map.' And that was the gist of the conversation. It wasn't her offering to show it to me and me saying, 'Thanks, but don't want to see it.'"
LaRe denied claims that Republicans members were shut out of the mapmaking process. He said he stands by the comments he made last week that the commission’s only option are the maps they adopted for a second time.
“You heard the secretary of state. Under current law, we didn’t have any opportunity to consider another map. So, we really weren’t left with much choice. We’re kind of in a time lock,” LaRe said last Thursday immediately after the commission adopted the maps.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose, R-Ohio, argued there is not enough time to institute brand new maps for a potential Aug. 2 primary. The state legislature could have passed an emergency bill to shift the deadlines, but has not.
Meanwhile, Sweeney said her House map favors Republicans in at least 54% of districts, which is how Ohioans have voted statewide the last 10 years, but with less competitive districts than the map re-adopted by the commission.
Spectrum News 1 sent the map to Catherine Turcer, of Common Cause Ohio, to get her analysis. Turcer is a redistricting expert who was involved in getting the state’s constitution reformed in 2015 and 2018.
Turcer said she believes Sweeney’s map is better than “Map 3.”
“Oh, certainly, I think so,” Turcer said. “This is the challenge. The map is certainly better than (Map 3). But it’s part of the puzzle because part of the puzzle is you would need to have some public hearings. You need to have some exchange with the commissioners -- all of those kinds of things.
“The other reason I say that this map that was created by Bride Rose Sweeney and some others, that, in fact, you know, is part of the puzzle because it’s a House map. We still would need to go through a process of the Senate.”
Turcer also said Sweeney’s map is not the most competitive, but it is not a poor beginning to a conversation, something Sweeney said that was the whole point of the exercise.
“We still have to keep demanding for fair maps,” said Sweeney. “And this is not a map that I want to necessarily be instituted. I don’t think it’s a constitutional map. But what is going on in this state is truly a travesty, and we shouldn’t accept it.”
The third set of maps again adopted by the commission are currently before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Litigants in the case have asked for them to be struck down again.