COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – State lawmakers and political leaders have a small window to complete a complicated task: redrawing Ohio’s district maps, which will determine who represents who in the Ohio House and Senate.
The first steps in that process were supposed to begin on Wednesday morning, but the seven-person commission could not move forward after more than an hour delay.
“Because we don’t have co-chairs, we couldn’t go forward to do anything else,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said.
The commission is made up of five Republican state lawmakers and two Democratic state lawmakers. Of those on the commission, two co-chairs are selected, one Democrat and one Republican. The co-chairs can determine things like when the group will meet.
Leader Antonio and Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), who are both on the commission, said they agree about who they will appoint as co-chair.
They said they have a decision made up, no matter who the Republicans choose. But Speaker of The House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) have yet to agree on who will chair the Republican side.
“We’ll get it worked out,” Huffman said. “There have been considerable conversations, as I understand it, regarding the map which is the real product. Not who’s banging the gavel and all that.”
Huffman said since the Republican co-chair was a state representative last time the commission convened; he thinks it is only fair it is a senator this time. He said he had one discussion with Stephens two weeks ago making that suggestion.
It is likely that both Stephens and Huffman will run for Speaker of the House after the 2024 election.
The Republican co-chair from the Senate would be Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), who Huffman said will likely be Senate President next year.
In a statement, Representative Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township), who is the Republican state representative on the commission said, “It is imperative members of the commission operate in good faith with the shared goal of delivering strong representation for the people of Ohio. Our work is ongoing, and we look forward to our continued collaboration together.”
The maps are due in mid-October, but Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, who is also on the commission, said he would like to see them done by Sept. 22 “to comply with the statutory requirements of election administration.”
Russo said with the September deadline, she worries about what the co-chair delay will mean for the process.
“What I don’t want to see happen is that opportunity for public hearing and public input to be shortchanged because now we’re on this artificial, hurried deadline,” Russo said.
McColley said he’d like to keep the calendar moving.
“I think it’s important that we meet, I think it’s important we get together and start this work,” McColley said.
Huffman said at the end of the day, he doesn’t think whoever is co-chair will carry much weight.
“Apparently it does, because if it didn’t, we would’ve had them already,” Antonio said.
NBC4 asked Huffman if it does not carry much weight, why there is no agreement, and he said, “Well, I’ve got 26 members of the Ohio Republican Senate and what they would like for me to do is advocate for the Ohio Republican Senate.”
DeWine said the commission will reconvene on Friday morning if Stephens and Huffman agree on a co-chair by Thursday evening.