How Others See Our Politicians
You could say, sadly, that they don’t make many Republicans like the late Bill Clinger anymore. William F. Clinger represented a north-central Pennsylvania district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 until he retired in 1997.
Clinger, who died last year at 92, was a lawyer who was born in Warren, PA, spent most of his life there, and served a term as chair of the venerable Chautauqua Institution’s Board of Trustees after he retired from Congress. He was a proud conservative who pushed to investigate Clinton Administration scandals and fought for regulatory reform and against unfunded mandates.
But in 2016, he was one of 30 former Republican congressmen who signed a public letter condemning GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as ‘manifestly unqualified to be President’ saying he makes ‘a mockery’ of their principles. Former Toledo Congressman Ed Weber was also among the signers.
And although Clinger was a proud Republican, he was also an incessant and intense critic of gerrymandering. In a 2019 speech in his former district, he called for a “we the people” uprising against state legislatures’ use of the centuries-old tactic. Gerrymandering involves electoral redistricting designed to give one party or the other an unfair advantage. Congressional and state legislative districts must be redrawn every 10 years, after each national census, and are supposed to be continuous and must be of equal population -- or as nearly equal as possible.
But too often legislators try to pack as many voters from the other party into as few districts as possible. Often, this has resulted in convoluted, winding maps.
None in recent years has been more ridiculous than that drawn by Republicans in 2011 which put the Sandusky Bridge in Marcy Kaptur’s 9th congressional district. I’m not sure how much time Marcy spent campaigning on the bridge because no one lives on it, but I do know that the district, which stretched through Democratic neighborhoods from Toledo to Cleveland, was rightly known as “the snake.”
States completely controlled by one party, such as Democrats in Illinois or Republicans in Ohio, are in a position to gerrymander district boundaries to monopolize state legislatures and congressional representations for decades.
I say decades because there’s a vicious circle here. They draw districts that are rigged to give their party a permanent majority, which mean they will keep creating districts that are more and more safe for one party, decade after decade.
What that means is the only real elections are the primaries, and too often, turnout is low and extremists get nominated and then elected in the fall. As the late Mr. Clinger once observed, those elected too often “fall outside the polar outskirts of the political spectrum and represent fringes, not the will of the people.” That could be happening on Ohio.
Michigan managed to end gerrymandering with a state constitutional amendment in 2018. But in Ohio, even though the people passed a constitutional amendment that was meant to insist on fairer representation on committees handling redistricting, the Republican majorities have continued to thwart popular will by submitting districts that even Republican members of the Supreme Court won’t accept. And they have done this repeatedly trying to run out the clock, hoping to unseat at least one naysayer on the court and get their way next year.
Well, it seems to me we ought to issue a challenge to the GOP: If Republicans want to run everything, let them show us they are worthy and make Ohio, or at least its universities great. The fact is that no universities in the Ohio university system are as great as the state universities in California, Kansas, Michigan or New York. Consider: How many Nobel Prize winners in the sciences have called Ohio universities their home? Answer: Zero.
Yes, we invest a lot of money in football, which, if you haven’t noticed, doesn’t produce any cures for cancer.
My guess is that, unfortunately, our lawmakers won’t take or live up to the challenge. In which case, my fantasy is that we write another constitutional amendment to flush the tanks, as ocean vessels do when they reach fresh water.
Then, we go the late Bill Klinger one step better: Given that our legislative tanks are apparently on empty, let us flush them all out with a state constitutional amendment declaring all occupants out of office as of January 1 the year after the amendment is ratified. And then we the citizens start all over again.
Sound simplistic? Certainly. But it just might be worth a try.
Douglas Neckers is an organic chemist, the McMaster distinguished professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University, and a former board chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y.