Opinion: In the Ohio 4th, as in gerrymandered districts all over the country, democracy is at stake

By Anne Trubek

Jim Jordan, as most of us are now well aware, is one of the most outspoken and aggressive right-wing members of the House of Representatives. John Boehner once called Jordan, the founder of the far-right Freedom Caucus, an “asshole” and “a legislative terrorist.” Jordan came to politics from wrestling, where he was an assistant coach at Ohio State during the tenure of Richard Strauss, who has been accused of sexually abusing more than fifty men, and of which Jordan was reportedly aware.

As the representative of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, Jordan represents Oberlin, one of Ohio’s most liberal cities and home to Oberlin College. This did not used to be the case: when Jordan was elected, in 2007, the district looked different. It was gerrymandered in 2011, along with the rest of Ohio’s congressional map, morphing into its current duck-like shape. The Ohio 4th is about ninety percent white and 5.5 percent Black. There are fewer than 5.5 percent Black voters in the district, however, because the largest population of Black people in the 4th live in a prison in Grafton, Ohio, and cannot vote. The new district hits Lake Erie in such a way that Marci Kaptur, the representative of Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, which used to include Oberlin, has to drive through the 4th if she takes the highway to drive from one end of her district to another (see map here.)

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The Ohio 4th is the most egregious result of a heavily gerrymandered Ohio congressional map. In May, the courts declared this map unconstitutional, and ordered it redrawn. This redistricting has not yet happened in the 4th, as the Supreme Court ruled in June that lower courts cannot intervene in the matter. Current projections suggest the districts will be redrawn again in 2022, based on 2020 census data. Meanwhile, in a few short months, on March 17, 2020, there will be a primary in this unconstitutional district.

So we have an unconstitutional district, headed by a man another staunch conservative called a “legislative terrorist,” which includes a town known for radical activism. Looks rife for a primary challenger, right? And yet, looking to see who has put their hat in the ring, I could find almost nothing reported. The best piece I read about the upcoming Ohio 4th race was published in a college student newspaper. One of the larger newspapers in the district is the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, which has a circulation of about twenty-four thousand. Cleveland, a large city near (part of) the district, has seen a ninety percent decrease in its daily paper’s workforce over the past fifteen years, and will be unlikely to cover the race in much depth; Columbus, another larger city near (part of) the district, will similarly be distracted, covering its own races. (Of course, with a district that spans more than a hundred miles north to south, it’s hard to know what a “local” paper means, anyway.)

From what I can find, there are three Democratic challengers to Jordan. Mike Larsen has a great logo, an interesting biography, and no elected experience. Shannon Freshour outlines what she calls Ohio’s core values and has been involved with campaigns before. The third, Jeffrey Sites, does not have a website. As of September 30, neither Larsen nor Sites had raised any money, according to OpenSecrets.org. Freshour had raised $7,053, with $3,928 on hand. Jordan had raised $2,397,805, with $1,449,493 on hand.

It is easy, writing in the middle of December, with local journalism in this region decimated worse than it has been nationally, to simply decide to not pay attention to this March primary election, to write it off as a done deal. It is easy to ignore the citizens who have decided, without deep pockets or electoral experience, to run against the incumbent. It is easy to take gerrymandering as a fact of politics, even though it has become demonstrably clear that every congressional election is important.

In gerrymandered districts all over the country, as in the Ohio 4th, democracy is at stake. Maybe spending the next four months attending to these districts and elections—reporting on them, informing ourselves about their races—would not be so hard after all. Small papers and media outfits all over the country are already doing exactly that. In the Ohio 4th, we have an opportunity to better cover Jordan and his challengers, as well as the district itself, with repercussions on the national level. In an imperfect political system like ours, down-ballot races—and their constitutionality—still matter. ■



Anne Trubek is the founder and publisher of Belt Publishing, and was the founding editor of Belt Magazine.

Cover image of Ohio’s 4th district. Public domain image via Wikimedia.

*Opinion and commentary columns are the work of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Belt Magazine or its parent organization, Belt Media Collaborative.

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