Former Ohio House leader defends congressional map in court
CINCINNATI (AP) — A former Republican speaker of the Ohio House insisted Monday there was Democratic input during the redrawing of the state’s congressional map.
Retired Rep. William Batchelder, of Medina, testified Monday, as a federal trial entered its second week in a lawsuit by voter rights groups that say the current seats resulted from “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.” The redrawn districts have held steady at 12 Republicans and four Democrats, with few competitive elections since the remap ahead of 2012 elections.
Batchelder said there were negotiations with Democrats including black caucus members, and he disagreed with the plaintiffs’ accusations that the Republican-controlled process focused on building the GOP advantage over objections.
“That was not my premise,” he said. He acknowledged that then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, kept in touch with him during the Ohio remapping. Boehner is listed as potential witness in the trial.
Batchelder said legislators on both sides agreed early on with each party losing one seat after population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census caused Ohio to lose two congressional seats.
He said some predominantly black Democratic precincts in the Akron area were added to the House 11 district to make sure it would remain a black-represented district. Democrat Marcia Fudge has easily won re-election repeatedly under the new map, getting 82 percent of the November 2018 votes.
Those suing say Republicans packed more black voters into her district to make neighboring districts more Republican, among several examples they cite of manipulation of the new map for partisan advantage.
A three-judge panel in U.S. district court is hearing the case, which could impact districts for the 2020 congressional elections. The losing side likely will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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