How John Boehner Engineered An Ohio Gerrymander To Save His Speakership


During the last redistricting cycle, then-Ohio state Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) pledged to deliver a redrawn map of Ohio’s congressional districts “that Speaker Boehner fully supports.” Indeed, at the height of the map drawing process, Boehner’s political aide Tom Whatman averaged a request a day to Ohio’s mapmakers — often micromanaging the slightest geographic changes in the district lines. In one case, for example, the line-drawers added a peninsula with no residents at all to Rep. Jim Renacci’s (R-OH) district because the peninsula included the headquarters of a company whose leaders donated generously to Renacci.

A full election cycle later, Team Boehner’s micromanagement paid off. President Obama won the state of Ohio by nearly two points in 2012, but 12 members of Ohio’s 16 member Congressional delegation are Republicans. In the nation as a whole, nearly 1.4 million more Americans voted for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.

The districts Boehner helped draw in Ohio played into a much larger Republican Party strategy to secure the House by rigging the legislative maps. Indeed, last January, the Republican State Leadership Committee released a report entitled “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013.” The report bragged that gerrymandering “paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.”

Lest there be any doubt, Ohio was hardly the only state where Republicans achieved lopsided control over a state’s congressional delegation despite the fact that the state’s voters preferred President Obama to Governor Romney. To the contrary, Republicans made big gains in six key swing states thanks to GOP-friendly maps:

gerrymander GOP

As Josh Israel explained this morning, gerrymandering explains much of the Republican Party’s willingness to hold the federal government hostage for a policy agenda that was defeated at the polls last November. Not only did gerrymandering play a major role in delivering a majority to House Republicans, but it placed most of these Republicans in overwhelmingly red districts — the average House Republican was elected by a district where President Obama received less than 40 percent of the vote. In other words, the people holding our government hostage right now have little to fear from non-Republican voters and a great deal to fear from the highly conservative set that dominates GOP primaries — and they can thank gerrymandering for the job security they now enjoy.