Unions Seek Control of Ohio’s Redistricting Process


An ongoing Media Trackers Ohio investigation of the Voters First Ohio campaign to change the state’s redistricting process reveals that every Voters First petition office is managed by the Ohio Education Association (OEA), AFL-CIO, or ProgressOhio.  While the group presents itself as a citizen-driven effort to remove politics from redistricting, the facts suggest Voters First has become another union campaign.

The Voters First website lists 31 locations where individuals can pick up petitions.  Of those 31 locations, 19 are AFL-CIO offices, 11 are OEA offices, and one is the headquarters of union-funded ProgressOhio.

When asked about the group’s leadership during a March 20, 2012 meeting of the Upper Arlington Progressive Action Fund, Ohio State University professor and Voters First spokesman Richard Gunther was quite candid.

“Myself, Dan Tokaji from the law school, a number of other people [are on the board],” he said. “When the Ohio Educational Association [OEA]  jumped on board, we got George Hicks. Our redistricting campaign will be run by the Melamed Group, which ran the successful ‘No on 5’ campaign.  We hope Tim Burga of the AFL-CIO will join us next Monday.”

In 2011, OEA gave more than $6.5 million to We Are Ohio, the union front that officially endorsed Voters First last week.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics less than 15 percent of Ohio workers are represented by a labor union, but 100 percent of Voters First petition centers are run by unions. Like We Are Ohio, Voters First is a union group using populist rhetoric to pass itself off as something broader.

Redistricting is an inherently political process that has historically been taken advantage of by both Democrats and Republicans and which most recently benefited Republicans. Claiming to seek “fair” maps, Gunther (a generous donor to Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Democrats) and Prof. Dan Tokaji (also a Democrat donor) have designed a complex system that would exclude many politically active Ohioans while further empowering OEA, AFL-CIO, and other labor unions.

The Voters First ballot language restricts who would be permitted to serve on the redistricting commission created by the group’s proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution. Politicians, lobbyists, political party staff, and anyone recently employed by a legislator, state official, or political campaign would be ineligible. There would be no such restrictions on union bosses or union staff, although OEA alone spent more than $1.6 million on the 2010 elections.

At the Upper Arlington Progressive Action meeting mentioned above, Gunther claimed the Voters First plan is fairer than the California process rigged by unions in 2011. However, the depth of their dedication to the Voters First campaign indicates union bosses see the proposed system as a way to increase their power.

Hiding behind the League of Women Voters of Ohio, liberal unions have co-opted the Voters First campaign to change redistricting. Media Trackers Ohio will continue to monitor Voters First as the July 4 petition deadline approaches.

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