Friday, February 26, 2016

Who Is Fred K. And Why Is He In Our Yard?

Dear George,
Like many voters I’ve watched a majority of the presidential primary debates in recent months.  The Republican events are the most appealing because of their fireworks and reality-show flavor.  I skipped the first two Democratic debates because of lack of suspense, but that’s definitely changed.  The latest Ohio polls show a tie in the state between Clinton and Sanders, while Donald Trump is leading Governor Kasich by five points.  

The Ohio primary is on March 15th, too far away to generate much attention.   Aside from the presidential race, I haven’t even been aware of who else was running.  However, when I walked out of our front door the other day, I noticed that there were two political signs in our yard promoting the candidacy of Fred K. in the U.S. congressional primacy.  Not having any idea who Fred K. was or what party he belonged to, I called Katja on my iPhone to see if she’d given permission for someone to put signs in our yard.  She’d never heard of Fred K. either and was mildly outraged.  “Take them down,” she said.  “They have no right to leave signs on our lawn without our permission.”  I said I probably would, but I thought I’d check first to see whether we want to support Fred K. 

When I looked him up on the Internet, it turns out we had actually voted for Fred K. two years ago.  So much for my political attention span.  Fred had run on the Democratic ticket for the Ohio District 1 congressional seat held by Republican incumbent Steve Chabot.  Recently reconfigured, District 1 now includes Cincinnati’s west side, various suburbs, and nearby Warren County.  It wasn’t much of a contest.  Cabot had $860,000 in campaign funds available; Fred K., $16,000.  Chabot won a one-sided race, 63% to 37%.  Chabot is a local fixture.  He was recently identified by a nonpartisan group as the most conservative member of the U.S. House.  In response to this accolade, he tweeted, “There aren’t many to my right.”  Aside from 2008 when Obama led to a Democratic sweep, Chabot has been a House member representing Cincinnati area residents since 1995.    According to Balletopedia, he’s anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, anti-Obamacare, anti-gay marriage, anti-clean energy, and anti-higher taxes on the wealthy.   On the other hand, he favors charter and religious schools, absolute gun rights, and keeping God present in the public sphere.  

Fred K. is hardly a Bernie Sanders liberal.  He ran in the congressional primary four years ago on the Republican ticket, but switched parties when he judged that the Tea Party had drawn Republicanism too far to the right.  He describes himself as a moderate Democrat.  He’s running in the Democratic primary against Jim B., a former two-time Libertarian candidate, and Michele Y., a local lawyer and author.  Jim B. garnered 2-3% of the vote in past elections.  Michele Y. is a first-time candidate but is endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party. 

Geographical Boundaries of Ohio District 1   

Actually it doesn’t matter who wins the Democratic primary because, in effect, whoever the candidate is they have already lost November’s general election.  District 1 was reasonably competitive a decade ago.  However, as a consequence of gerrymandering by Republican legislators after the 2010 census, the boundaries of Ohio District 1 have been manipulated to guarantee victory for Republican candidates.  The map above shows how preposterous the geographical arrangement is.   Ohio is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation.  For example, in the 2012 election Democratic candidates for the Ohio house received 55,000 more votes than Republican candidates, but, due to gerrymandering, Republicans won a supermajority of 60 out of 99 House seats.  Consequently we have an extremely right-wing state legislature.  Because election outcomes are preordained in our district, there isn’t much incentive for local Democrats to vote at all, at least in the congressional race.  

Katja thinks we are obligated to vote for Fred K. because we are promoting him in our front yard.  After looking over the primary candidates I will probably vote for Michele Y.  She doesn’t have any record in public office, but at  least she hasn’t yet been decimated by Steve Chabot.  If Michele Y. wants to add a sign or two in our yard, she’s more than welcome.  We’ll go faithfully to the polls as we have in the past.  However, it’s grating and pitiful to realize that Ohio’s congressional election outcomes have already been decided in Columbus.
P.S.  There is a ray of hope.  In November 2015 Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan anti-gerrymandering bill which will go into operation in 2021 and provide for fairer rules for drawing districts for state legislature elections.  Supporters hope that a similar plan will be approved this year for congressional districts in Ohio.   

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