Screwing Up the Ninth

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Given all the press that Congress gets, it’s easy to overlook the impact that state legislatures have on our everyday lives; I’ll cop to being guilty of this. Just when you’re not paying attention, though, years like this one come along and wake you up as to what’s going on in your state capital. Although the efforts of Wisconsin’s governor and state legislature to kneecap state unions generated more press earlier this year, in Ohio newly-elected governor John Kasich (he whose offices, when he was part of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, several of my fellow Antiochians were unjustly arrested in front of in 1995 — in a move highly prescient of what Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy Movement protesters are going through now — earning Kasich my eternal scorn in the process), with the help of Republican majorities in the Ohio House and Senate, passed much tougher legislation, even barring Ohio police, firefighters, and nurses from negotiating for staffing levels. Fortunately the legislation is on the ballot this November, and all polls indicate that Ohio citizens will vote it down.  (I’ll likely be writing about that for the Toledo Free Press soon; if you don’t follow me on Twitter or elsewhere, I’ve started writing irregularly for them. Follow my Twitter to get links to my stories as they’re published.)

For now, though, something else Ohio’s state legislature has done has made me unhappy here. Following the most recent census Ohio has had to redraw its congressional boundaries, eliminating two districts because of population shifts away from this part of the country. Because Republicans dominate both state houses, they were able to pass a redistricting very favourable to Republicans. This is all part and parcel of state and national politics, but some of these redistrictings are more asinine than others, and this one’s hitting, literally, close to home.

All of my life I’ve lived in Ohio’s ninth Congressional district, and except for my earliest years I’ve been represented by Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat. Like many Democrats in the “auto corridor” stretching from Detroit down to Toledo and through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, she’s conservative on some social issues but fiscally more liberal because of the strong influence unions had on the growth of the auto industry last century. This is reflected in her district, which encompasses most of the greater Toledo area as well as areas stretching eastward along Lake Erie into the centre of the state.

After this most recent redistricting, though, Kaptur’s congressional area will extend even further eastward, encroaching into parts of Cleveland. While most of the other new districts are fairly regular in size, the new ninth district looks so blatantly gerrymandered you have to wonder just what Republicans were thinking. The answer to that question comes readily, though, when you discover, as many Clevelanders did, that the part of Cleveland that the new ninth district has swallowed up includes Dennis Kucinich’s house. That’s right, Ohio Republicans have put Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich in the same district.

As Ohio Democratic primaries go, Marcy Kaptur facing Dennis Kucinich would be as close to a blockbuster as the state’s had in decades. As national Republicans are learning right now, prolonged primaries only serve to weaken all the candidates because they’re attacking each other instead of their November opponents, and if Kaptur and Kucinich knock each other senseless in a primary then Republicans have a good chance of retaking the district for the first time since the 1980 election. It’s no surprise, then, that Samuel Joseph “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher has announced his attention to run for the seat as a Republican. Next to Kaptur he’s as close to a “political celebrity” as the area has, and his national celebrity (and right-wing media pushing him as a “blue-collar hero” for the past three years) might make him a viable candidate to a traditionally working-class voting base in the ninth.

Let’s back up a bit here. Those of you who’ve read me for a while know that Kucinich is one of the few Democrats I admire, and you’re probably wondering why I’m not thrilled at the prospect of voting for Kucinich. (Despite earlier posts, I’m not moving to Cleveland; more on that next month.) Well, even though Republicans redistricted the ninth eastward to include Kucinich’s territory, they decided to trim the western part of it, including where I live. In a bitter piece of irony, the road I used to take to that accursed private school I went to is part of the new boundary. In the upcoming election I will now be voting in Ohio’s fifth congressional district, represented by Republican Bob Latta. As the fifth is mostly made up of the farmlands west of Toledo, it’s a solid red district, and I doubt state Democrats can ever come up with a viable candidate for the seat.

What gets me is that Wurzelbacher has announced that he’s running for the ninth, but he lives in a suburb of Toledo called Holland, a suburb I’m very familiar with because Dad used to take me there a lot when I was little. Holland is even further west than I am, so he’s in the fifth district as well. Maybe he’s going to move before the election, but I can’t help remembering twelve years ago when Republicans were going after Hillary Rodham Clinton for “carpetbagging” when she first ran for the Senate from New York. As always in politics, it’s only bad if someone from another party is doing it.

Ideally I’d like to see Kaptur move to the fifth and cede the ninth to Kucinich in the hope that both of them will still be in Congress after the next election; Kucinich has the pedigree for the ninth, and Kaptur is the only Democrat I can think of who could win the new fifth. I knew someone once who worked at a Rite Aid literally on the other side of that street I talked about earlier, and she said Kaptur used to visit that Rite Aid a lot when she was in Toledo, so she wouldn’t have to move all that far. Even with Ohioans apparently having the sense to vote down Republicans’ attempts to handcuff public unions, though, I can’t help but fear that come 2012 we’ll be hearing the right wing triumph “Joe the Congressman” from the ninth. Even if I’m no longer a part of the ninth, that would still be a huge blow to me.

Then again, if the Democrats can’t come up with a viable candidate for the fifth, maybe they need a good Green Party candidate to shake things up and give voters a real alternative to politics as usual. I wonder where the Green Party could recruit someone to run in the fifth?

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