If a state redistricting proposal this week to place Canton and Jackson Township in one Ohio House district for the next 10 years becomes reality, a Jackson Township Democrat predicts it’s possible that all four state representatives representing Stark County will be Republicans.
Jackson Township Fiscal Officer Randy Gonzalez on Friday lambasted the proposed map released by Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“I just see it as gerrymandering in a different direction. … They were supposed to make (the districts) better and they made it far worse,” said Gonzalez, the former Stark County Democratic chairman. “We would have a difficult time winning the one (Canton) seat. .. We went from having one to possibly a better chance at zero than the one.”
What does the map show for Stark County?
Under the current map, which has been in place since 2013, Canton is in the same district, the 49th, as nearly all of Massillon, Perry Township, Pike Township and Bethlehem Township. Rep. Thomas West, a Democrat from Canton, represents the district.
Jackson Township, North Canton and part of Plain Township are in the 48th District. Rep. Scott Oelslager, a Republican from North Canton, represents the 48th.
The 50th District, represented by Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, a Republican of Paris Township, covers Louisville, Lake Township, Hartville, Marlboro Township, Lexington Township, Alliance, Washington Township, Nimishillen Township, Louisville, Paris Township, much of Minerva, Sandy Township, Osnaburg Township and East Canton.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Township, Sugar Creek Township, Tuscarawas Township and Massillon Ward 6 is part of the 38th District, which is mostly in Summit County and represented by Rep. Bill Roemer, a Republican from Richfield.
The proposed map would dramatically change this. Besides pairing up Canton and Jackson Township in a new 49th District, it would place North Canton, Plain Township, Lake Township, Hartville, Marlboro Township, Alliance, Lexington Township, Nimishillen Township and Louisville in a new 48th District. A new 47th District would include Massillon, Lawrence Township, Canal Fulton, Perry Township, Canton Township, Osnaburg Township, East Canton, Sandy Township, Waynesburg, Paris Township and part of Minerva.
The rest of the county — Pike Township, East Sparta, Magnolia, Bethlehem Township, Sugar Creek Township and Tuscarawas Township — would be attached to a new 50th District, which includes all of Tuscarawas County.
As far as Ohio Senate Districts, the new 47th, 48th and 49th House Districts would make up a new Ohio 29th Senate District. Southwestern Stark County would be part of a new Ohio 31st Senate District. That district would also include Tuscarawas County, Coshocton County, Licking County and southern Holmes County.
Who’s likely to win elections?
Given the voting histories of people in the proposed new districts, Republicans would likely win three of the four House seats and possibly all four House seats. And they would win both Senate seats.
Canton has been represented by a Democratic state representative since at least the 1980s.
Republican candidates in partisan races tend to win Jackson Township. Democratic candidates almost always win the city of Canton.
In a high-turnout presidential election every four years, Democratic voters in Canton tend to turn out to vote for president. In a hypothetical Canton-Jackson Township district last year, Democratic President Joe Biden would have barely beaten then-Republican President Donald Trump 25,282 to 25,022.
But Gonzalez said Democratic voters in Canton turn out in far fewer numbers in gubernatorial elections. With Republican-leaning Jackson Township voters tending to turn out at higher percentages those years, that would give a Republican state representative candidate the advantage, he said. That would make it more difficult for West to hold the seat in the 2022 election.
West, Oelslager and Stoltzfus could not be reached for comment. Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei, a Democrat, said he did not want to comment until he had a chance to study the proposal.
Gonzalez said Jackson Township and Canton, while they adjoin each other, are very different communities that are not best served by sharing a state representative.
“It’s very unfair to the people of Jackson Township and the people of Canton,” he said of the proposed map. “It’s two different worlds.”
Gonzalez said both communities, one suburban and one urban, have different concerns. Jackson Township is concerned with how to best use and preserve green space and promote the creation of retail jobs, while Canton is more concerned about redeveloping industrial land for other industrial purposes. He said it made more sense to pair Canton with Massillon as both are communities with similar urban issues.
Southern Stark and Tuscarawas County?
Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, who lives in Bethlehem Township, said he hasn’t yet seen the proposed map so it was premature for him to comment on it.
But he said under the current map, it didn’t make sense for rural Bethlehem Township to be in the same district as urban Canton and Massillon.
While he said he would prefer to be represented in the Ohio House by someone from Stark County, Regula said, “I’m five miles from the Tuscarawas County line and we have a lot of the same values with Strasburg and Bolivar (in Tuscarawas County).”
Regula said he wants Stark County, rather than now being split into three congressional districts, to again be intact in one congressional district, like the one represented by his father and longtime Congressman Ralph Regula.
“It’s very important Stark County have one congressman so we know who to go to when we have problems and issues with the federal government,” Regula said.
State Sen. Kirk Schuring, a Republican from Jackson Township, wrote that it was good that the Redistricting Commission now had proposed maps from Republicans and Democrats to compare. And it would be interesting to see if Republicans and Democrats on the commission could reach a compromise.
What is the redistricting process?
States redraw their state legislative and congressional district lines every 10 years in response to updated Census population statistics as people are born, die and move. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that legislative districts to elect representatives to one legislative chamber must have roughly the same population.
Ohio last redrew district lines in 2011. However, voters have since approved amendments to the Ohio Constitution that seek through an Ohio Redistricting Commission, the successor to the prior Ohio Apportionment Board, to eliminate the common practice of gerrymandering district lines to maximize the chances candidates of a particular party will win.
Under the amendments, if enough Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on redistricting maps, then the approved maps are good for only four years. And the redistricting process has to take place again in four years.
Ohio Republicans have not yet released a proposed congressional district map. Under a complex process, the Ohio General Assembly can approve a new map but only if a sufficient number of minority Democrats approve it. If that doesn’t happen, the redistricting commission would have a chance. Ultimately, if not enough Democrats approve it, a four-year congressional district map would take effect. Because Ohio’s population growth as a percentage was less than the nation’s, it will lose a congressional seat, dropping from 16 to 15.
Gonzalez said he expects Republicans and Democrats to deadlock without reaching a compromise on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“The bottom line of this thing is we’re going to have a four-year map,” he said.
Reach Robert at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @rwangREP