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Why Changing the Culture of Government Requires More Than Changing the Candidates

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Polls show voters are upset with Congress over the federal government shutdown, but before it even started, polling was being conducted on which party would face a greater wrath from voters. And now each party is pointing at the other in their spins on the shutdown. But Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports all of this political in-fighting might not matter anyway. In the first of her two part series, Ingles explains why if voters want real change, they might have to do more than vote candidates out of office.

Monday, October 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm

It seems many people are unhappy with politicians these days. A new CNN poll shows congress only has a ten percent approval rating right now. That's a new historical low. Many Ohioans say they are fed up and want to vote incumbent lawmakers out in the next election.

But Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio says she's heard that talk before and notes historically, that hasn't happened. But even if it did, she says it wouldn't really solve the problem unless there is meaningful reform in the process for determining the lines for the areas lawmakers represent.

"These district lines are manipulated in such a way that it nearly predetermines which political party is elected," she says.

And because of that, she says "It's hard to get rid of the bums unless you get rid of them during the primary and you might get exactly the same thing at the end of the day because you are just changing the guard."

Democratic State Representative Mike Curtin agrees, but thinks just changing the officials in office may not make a difference. "If everyone got kicked out of office, it would be a major wake up call for everyone because that doesn't happen."

He says voters who go to the polls in November elections don't often choose the candidates. He says voters who go to the party driven primaries in May have often already determined the winner because the district lines are drawn in ways to favor a candidate of one political party over another when it comes to the general election in the fall.

"That breeds a type of candidate who is only concerned about a partisan primary and not the general and that breeds extremism in my view," Curtin says.

Curtin wants to change the process for drawing the lines for congressional and legislative districts - and so do nearly all Statehouse Democrats. But it might come as a surprise that some Republicans also agree the process should be changed - even some who helped draw the lines to create the districts many have criticized.

GOP State Senator Frank LaRose, who voted for the current district map, says the current lines often help make sure the most partisan candidates are actually elected to office. LaRose is supports legislation that would change the process for drawing district lines. His bill passed the Ohio Senate late last year but died before the Ohio House could tackle it.

LaRose wants state lawmakers to once again reconsider his legislation to make sure any redistricting plan has bipartisan support before it could be adopted.

"If you recognize it's a political process and force compromise between the parties by setting things in place that require that kind of meeting in the middle, then you can get districts that abide by the compactness requirements and abide by communities of interest requirements, uphold all of the requirements of the federal voting rights act law which are very important, but also ones that are not so one sided - the ones that are not drawn specifically for political outcomes."

But both sides agree the fight for redistricting reform is never easy. And in my next report, I'll explain why both lawmakers and voters are to blame.

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