Gerrymandering is anti-democratic and encroaches on some of the most fundamental and basic principles of democracy, 2018 Ohio Auditor candidate Zack Space told The Athens NEWS in a sit-down interview late last month following a meet-and-greet with local Democrats.
Space represented Ohio’s 18th U.S. Congressional District for two terms from 2007 to 2011, including Trimble, Dover, York and Waterloo townships in Athens County.
The Ohio Auditor is one of three statewide officers who sit at the redistricting table following the U.S. Census every 10 years. The others are the Ohio secretary of state and Ohio governor. Whoever wins these seats in 2018 will get to help decide how the lines are drawn after the 2020 Census.
Gerrymandering is what happens when members of political parties draw legislative districts to their electoral advantage. Speaking to The NEWS, Space maintained that gerrymandering robs voters of their political power.
“Gerrymandering’s immediate and most obvious effect is to disenfranchise voters,” he said. “You allow legislators to select voters as opposed to voters selecting legislators.”
He said that gerrymandering also creates apathy in voters.
“When people know that their vote doesn’t matter, they’re much less likely to go to the polls to vote,” he said. “And people do know. There is a growing social awareness of gerrymandering and the impact that it has on elections.”
Finally, he said, gerrymandering has pushed politicians to take more and more extreme stances.
“It has created this polarization effect where your only political vulnerability is to your right in a primary if you’re a Republican and to the left in a primary if you’re a Democrat,” he said. “It forces politicians to the extremes and it renders the ability to compromise, to negotiate, or moderate impossible.”
This has birthed a new era of division in American politics where government has become an active participant in the very divisiveness hurting society, he said.
“At a moment in time where we so desperately need to come together in unity, government – at least the structure of government – is actively conspiring to divide us even further,” he said. “It needs to stop.”
Space said that if he is elected auditor, when he’s sitting at the redistricting table he’s going to help draw lines that best represent the people of the district, not for political advantage.
“A lot of different factors should go into how these lines are drawn: Geographic consistency, cultural consistency, economic consistency,” he said. “Political gain is not one of the factors that will be considered.”
In addition to taking on gerrymandering, Space has based his campaign on fighting the “dark money” that finances political campaigns in America, leaving politicians in thrall to special interests and in an endless state of fundraising.
“It’s shocking and objectionable, and it really does represent the institutionalization of corruption,” Space said of America’s current free-for-all system of funding political campaigns.
To be successful in American politics, unless a candidate is independently wealthy, money must be raised to get the candidate’s message out, he said.
“I wish I could communicate my message without money. It’s not possible,” he said. “And the rules of the game when it comes to money are so broad and open, it’s like the Wild West. Corporations can now give to political action committees with no revelation as to who’s giving.”
He pointed to tens of millions of dollars spent against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in 2016 when he challenged Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman – dark money that nobody knows from where it came except that it came from out of state.
“Tens of millions of dollars before Labor Day almost exclusively spent on negative ads designed to destroy the reputation of a good man, and it worked,” Space said. “It’s wrong on so many levels.”
Space ticked off the ways he said this is wrong: the waste of a legislator’s time that could be better spent working on policy; the improper influence of money on policy and regulation; and the way campaign finance has compromised the faith that people have in the process of elections.
“The system is rigged,” he said. “It is clearly rigged. And if you feel the system is rigged, you have every right to feel that way, but let’s think about how we can fix this process.”
Space readily admits that as a congressman, he participated in the fundraising process and wasn’t above it. So he knows the power and influence of these forces.
“It’s time that politicians or leaders on both sides of the aisle start being honest with the people they represent or want to represent,” he said.
He cited both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tapping into a growing public understanding of the influence of money in politics and frustration about that in 2016 – two people from the opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.
“I think this is something that we can come together over,” he said. “It’s a mistrust of government that is well-placed. So let’s fix the process.”
Former Ohio Senate President and current state Rep. Keith Faber is currently the only Republican running for Ohio Auditor in 2018.
A Cleveland.com article last week on gerrymandering of Ohio districts in 2011 revealed an email in which Faber’s predecessor as Ohio Senate president, Tom Neihaus, emailed Republican operatives working on district maps and apologized for “last minute tweaks” Faber and another legislator had made to the maps.
The NEWS emailed Faber’s campaign last week seeking comment on the nature of those “tweaks” and his opinion on gerrymandering but has not received a response.
A petition drive is under way to place a proposal before Ohio voters in 2018 for Ohio’s U.S. congressional districts be drawn in the same fashion as voters approved for state General Assembly districts with 71 percent support in 2015.
The Athens County League of Women Voters has made an aggressive push for redistricting in this effort, with Athens County reportedly at the top in the number of signatures collected so far.
More information can be found at www.fairdistrictsohio.org.