Ohio gerrymandering costs Congress a liberal

Ohio gerrymandering costs Congress a liberal
Ohio gerrymandering costs Congress a liberal
The Plain Dealer

It didn’t look good for Dennis Kucinich, and Larry Flynt knew as much in February. Speaking to Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call, Flynt (yes, that one) said this about the longtime Democratic congressman’s chances to stay in Congress – but in a brand-new district:

“I’ve supported him ever since he was mayor of Cleveland … I hope he does [win], but you have to call them as you see them, and it doesn’t look too good for him.”

Kucinich’s calamitous two-year term as the “boy mayor” of my native Cleveland put the city into default in the late seventies, but he rebounded to win election to Congress in 1996, then easily re-elected six times, and as a staunch liberal. So why was he in trouble in this Democratic primary? Because Kucinich was representing the 10th congressional district, and this primary was for the brand-new 9th district. And there was the rub.

Larry Flynt was correct. Kucinich conceded his first loss in 16 years last night, but woke up still spitting hot fire. But rather than directing that fire against the Republicans who were the reason he was having to run at all, he was directing it at the winner of the primary – his Democratic rival and current 9th district Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, whom Kucinich blamed for a very heated campaign:

“That’s not who I am …Our politics have to be lifted up. They don’t belong in the gutter.”

Ohio gerrymandering costs Congress a liberal

Kucinich may have had beef, but he was missing the point. There was dirt on both sides, but Kaptur and Kucinich were forced to slop like pigs for the 9th district because, after the 2010 Census revealed a mass population exodus – over 17% of the population in Cleveland alone – a newly drawn 9th was born. As you can see, it is an overcooked noodle of a district laid along Lake Erie, encompassing 47% of Kaptur’s current territory, and 40% of that represented by Kucinich.

This was not an accident.

Gerrymandering is a big reason why Republicans wanted to win control of the Ohio statehouse, which they did in a big way in November 2010. This is not a district rich with Republican genius: Rich Iott, Kaptur’s last opponent, loved to dress up like a Nazi for fun, and they nominated Samuel the Un-Plumber last night. John Nichols reminds us all of what happened in The Nation today:

Had his district remained intact, Kucinich would have won Tuesday’s primary. But the 2010 election put Republican Governor John Kasich and his conservative allies in charge of the Ohio redistricting process. With encouragement from House Speaker John Boehner, they targeted Kucinich from the start. Everyone knew Kucinich was threatened, and the congressman even entertained the prospect of moving to Washington state, where he has long been a favorite of progressive activists and where population shifts had created an open seat that might be friendly to his ambitions.

I’m not here to lionize Dennis Kucinich, as some have been doing today. Frankly, I remain disgusted about how his mayoralty set Cleveland back, and his flirtation with running in Washington State was is off-putting. But during last night’s msnbc coverage, Rachel Maddow made the important observation about this primary: no matter who won the race, electorates that generally vote Democratic would have one fewer representative, all because Republicans changed the rules to target one man. Whether you like or dislike him, that’s unfortunate.