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Ohio Redistricting Compromise Looks Dead

Ohio Republicans are likely to move forward with the redistricting plan that became law last month — and risk a Democratic effort to overturn the lines via referendum — after an attempt to forge a compromise stalled.

“I think it’s dead,” freshman Rep. Steve Stivers (R), a former state senator, said Friday about a revised map that the state Legislature was expected to take up.

He said the compromise unveiled this week is “pretty unimportant at this point because it didn’t have the votes in the House and the Senate is not going to take it up. I think that the map as proposed yesterday is not going to happen.”

After the map failed to garner any Democratic support for a procedural vote in the state House Thursday, Ohio Republicans said they would make changes to it in committee and try again next week. But by Friday afternoon, GOP House Members and Ohio sources said they were probably sticking to the original version of the new Congressional map passed in September.

Sources warned the situation is fluid, but using the original map ensures Democrats will try to challenge it via a ballot initiative. It also solidifies that Senate and Congressional primaries will remain scheduled on separate dates in March and June, respectively.

“We are going with Plan A,” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) said Friday. “My understanding is we’re going to try to see if they can get 240,000 signatures [to have a ballot referendum] and if they don’t, we’re going to have a primary in June based on the map that’s already passed.”

The revised map included no sweeping changes to the original version passed in September. The GOP-drawn map was expected to produce a delegation made up of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, and it forced at least one Member-vs.-Member race in each party.

But there were significant changes to two districts. The revised map shifted population around Toledo to help Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) in a primary against Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D). It also moved more of Rep. Steve Austria’s (R) current district into Stivers’s redrawn district, instead of into the same district with Rep. Michael Turner (R).

Democrats “made these demands in Toledo for Ms. Kaptur, they made demands in other parts of the state, we exceeded them all. … And they don’t deliver any votes,” LaTourette said. “So why we should negotiate with them so they don’t vote for it again? No, we’re going to have an referendum. And good luck to them. I hope they can collected the 240,000 signatures, but enough already.”

At least a couple of Members of the delegation were not on board with the revisions.

Austria stopped in at the state Capitol in Columbus Thursday to speak with lawmakers about the map. The former state Senator urged his old colleagues not to carve up his base in Fairfield County in the revised map, according to one well-placed Ohio source.

Austria’s office denied that he lobbied for his district during his day-long trip to Columbus, where he was attending a funeral. Instead, an aide characterized Austria’s mission as “trying to get information.”

In the revised map, much of Austria’s territory, including Fairfield County, was moved into Stivers’ 15th district. The shift fuled speculation that Austria could challenge Stivers instead of Turner.

But the two Ohio Republicans are friends. Stivers encouraged Austria to run for 2010 freshman class president, and they share an entire consulting team.

The Austria aide insisted the Congressman is “just keeping his options open,” but Stivers expressed confidence he would never face Austria in a primary.

“He’s a friend,” Stivers said. “I don’t expect we’ll ever be running against each other. That’s something that doesn’t keep me awake at night at all.”

Proposed population shifts in northwest Ohio sparked controversy among Democrats. The revised map would have moved 90,000 additional voters from Kaptur’s Toledo base into the new 9th district, which would stretch east along the lakeshore to Kucinich’s west Cleveland territory.

Kucinich lobbied against the revised map in automated calls around Cleveland, urging voters to ask state lawmakers to vote against it. He called three state lawmakers personally to make his case, and sent out a fundraising email about the situation.

His position put him at odds with Democrats, including Kaptur, who continue to hold out for another compromise map.

“That was probably an ill-advised move,” Kaptur said of her future primary opponent. “I am working for a plan in Ohio that’s fair to all Democrats, those that are seated and those that might serve here in the future.”

On Tuesday, when Ohio voters head to the polls for the 2011 election, Democrats will begin their big push to collect signatures to challenge the map on the 2012 ballot. If they are successful in collecting enough signatures by the late December deadline, it’s likely that courts will decide which Congressional map will be used for next year’s elections.

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