Thursday, February 05, 2009

Yes, the Apportionment Board Matters. A Lot.

A Jill post from yesterday points to a Mark Naymik column about the looming primary fight to go after Sen. George Voinovich's soon-to-be vacant seat 2010. The column focuses primarily on the possible battle between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner for the nomination. One objection to Brunner's nomination is the fact that leaving her position makes it harder for the Democrats to hold on to the office, also up in 2010, and that she sits on the apportionment board. This is, for example, why I don't want her to run, even though the prospect of listening to Lee Fisher stump speeches for an election cycle is horrifying.

In response to the apportionment board argument, Naymik notes the following:

    [Brunner] and others correctly argue that the power of the Apportionment Board may be overstated - as evidenced by Democrats' success last year in House districts last drawn by Republicans. (Democrats, though, performed badly in Ohio Senate districts.)

    Also, if Democrats deliver on their promise to pass election reforms, those reforms are likely to include changing the apportionment process. Computers can redraw the lines without partisan politics, eliminating the need for board seats.
OK, let's take these one at a time. First, while it is correct to say that the Democrats did well in the Ohio House the last cycle, it isn't correct to say that the power of the Board is therefore overstated. Yes, in the year of a Democratic tsunami, in which a popular Democratic Presidential nominee poured a gazillion dollars into state organizing and turnout efforts, Dems did well in Republican districts. That's not the same as saying the districts don't matter, just that they matter less in an outlier year. Unless those factors will be repeated every two years, this one cycle doesn't alter the power of the Board.

Since 2000 Ohio has been close to 50/50 in Presidential elections. In that same time span, until this past election, the Ohio House and Senate have each been split around one-third Dem to two-thirds R. That's in large part thanks to the very effective map drawing the Apportionment Board did when it was composed of one Dem and four Republicans.

Moreover, the just-wait-till-last-year argument ignores how the Republicans draw districts -- they concentrate Dems in a few very strongly Dem districts, then draw Republican districts with relatively small but fairly stable margins. Sitting at home I don't have access to PVIs for the Ohio House districts, but a look at the Congressional districts (just scroll down to Ohio. There you go) illustrates the principle. Of the six districts drawn blue only one -- the Sixth, Strickland's old district -- has a PVI under D+6. One is at six, the rest are eight or above. In contrast, only four Republican districts are above +8, two more are R+6 and the six are +4 or lower. Those relatively low R+ PVI districts are the ones in which Dems did well last year, but before that they provided a strong enough margin to maintain Republican hegemony in the Statehouse.

As for the second argument regarding redistricting reform. First off, no one hold their breath. At this point we haven't heard a serious reform proposal since Dems started looking strong again. Moreover, any proposal has to get past the Republican dominated State Senate. At this point Republicans have an incentive to agree to real reform. If they think they will retake the Apportionment Board by winning a vacant Secretary of State position, there is that much less incentive.

Jennifer Brunner needs to honor the promise she made to serve out her term as Secretary of State, plus a second, assuming she is reelected. She needs to do so, not only because she is an effective Secretary during a time when election adminstration is seeing significant upheaval. She also needs to stay because her party needs her to hold onto the seat for reapportionment.


Village Green said...

I would like more female representation at all levels of Ohio's branches of government. It is sad that Brunner is the only woman Democrat spoken of for the senate seat.

Jill said...

Thanks for following up that point Naymik made - I thought it was a strongly made assertion that didn't exactly have a lot of strength behind it, but I'd never really heard anyone suggest that the apportionment board wasn't so important so...I didn't really know what to make of it.

And always nice to see a new Pho post. :)

redhorse said...

First, Naymik's phrasing is terrible. Brunner and others correctly argue that the power of the Apportionment board may be overstated"?

They correct asserted "hey, maybe!!"? WTF? How does one correctly argue a maybe?

Next, you're right, the AB board is important precisely b/c of the elected imbalance. The OH House is blue only after consecutive wave cycles, but the Senate is still 2-1 R.

Further evidence in support of your small yet stable margins theory - Coughlin beat a fairly strong candidate and one from the lunatic fringe by the same exact margin under the current lines. Think about that for a moment.

Daniel Jack Williamson said...

A partisan hack like Brunner ought to be running for a legislative seat, like the U.S. Senate. Persons with agendas are suited for legislative positions because that's where the debate over issues takes place--in the legislatures. Brunner is not well suited for judgeships and SoS positions where some degree of impartiality is needed. Does the Democrat party require that Brunner get permission to run for a U.S. Senate seat?

I agree wholeheartedly with what you said here:

"As for the second argument regarding redistricting reform. First off, no one hold their breath. At this point we haven't heard a serious reform proposal since Dems started looking strong again."

An Interested Observer said...

Redhorse - take it easy on the "Lunatic Fringe." :)

Rich in Medina said...

We need new blood and fresh ideas. Portman, Fisher and perhaps even Brunner would result in much of the same. Strickland's school financing program is a good example.

saggitarius said...

"promise to serve out her term"? Hello, who said she would resign before 2010, in fact it might be right for her to do so, so that she isn't counting the votes on her own election. That gives me a great idea why not make SOS a 1 term, 4 year office, that way no candidate is presiding over their own election. Might add some impartiality, granted not in regards to helping ones party, but at least one's self.