Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Red District/Blue District

It turns out Ohio is a lot more like America than I realized.

An archived article entitled 'Ohio's Stacked Districts Yield Few Competitive Races' from Sunday's Columbus Dispatch made it clear that Ohio is becoming more and more deeply divided between red and blue districts within the state, and it's elected officials are becoming more extreme as a result.

In the 2004 U.S. House races, the 12 Republican incumbants won by an average of 29% and the 6 Democratic incumbants won by an average of 59%.

The same thing was true for the Ohio House and Senate as well. Senate Republicans won by an average of 39% and their House counterparts' margin averaged 34%. At the same time, Ohio Senate Democrats won by 32% and House Democrats won by 57%.

Under these circumstances, the primaries tend to be won by those who play to their party base without fear of offending moderates = who they don't really need in the general election. This tends to produce candidates that are more extreme on both sides.

Outgoing Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, conceded that only eight or 10 House districts were competitive in the Nov. 2 election. As a result, he said, the number of moderate Republican and Democratic House members has shrunk, making compromise and cooperation between the parties more difficult.

"It always seems like the best members are the ones from competitive districts,'' Householder said. "They've had to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats, to listen to both sides, and they know their districts better because they constantly have to be out talking with constituents.''

Rosenfield agreed: "We're losing the middle in Ohio. There are a few moderates around, but they keep being challenged in their own party and they continually lose because we all know that it's the true believers who turn out in primaries.''

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, who was unopposed for re-election, said more lawmakers have become ideologically beholden to hard-core partisans rather than their districts' general populace.

This is disheartening and disappointing. We often look to Washington and decry the partisan posturing that goes on, but the same thing is starting to happen in our own backyard.

And Householder, who is leaving due to term limits, was one of the key partisans who was difficult to work with - even with his fellow Republicans.

Hopefully the new legislative leadership, Republicans Bill Harris and John Husted, and Democrats CJ Prentiss and Chris Redfern will resist the temptation to play to the extremes.

The election and recount have shown that at the local level, Republicans and Democrats often work together in a bipartisan effort for the good of everyone. It would be nice if Ohio could show the nation that we can do the same in the Statehouse.