Happy 2012. I've got a few big hopes for this year, and with a nod to a good friend who tells me that if you name what you want to see, you stand a much better chance of actually seeing it, I'm going to go ahead and share them with you. 

Let's start with the congressional races. Because I'm focusing on the future and am in an optimistic frame of mind, I won't talk about how galling the redistricting process was and how this truncated primary calendar appears to heavily favor incumbents.
What the new districts actually do, though, is force candidates to reconnect themselves to their communities, and in some cases, to new communities. Until now, we hadn't seen a district that connects Cleveland's west side with Toledo (9th), Cleveland's East Side with Akron (11th), Westlake with Wooster (seriously! in the 16th), Peninsula with Poland (that's near Youngstown, in the 13th), and Avon and New Philadelphia (7th). Whether you've seen the map or not, you should spend some time with this Google maps mash up (and then thank the Plain Dealer's Rich Exner for putting it together).

So what good could possibly come from this? Well, if I was running in a congressional primary, I'd be thinking a lot about what makes these paces similar, besides the number of Ds and Rs packed between the borders. Chances are, a lot of the candidates will spend a lot of time talking about the same things congressional candidates often talk about, but imagine if conversations in the 11th district were about how Akron and Cleveland are actually connected--would that involve conversations about federal support for biomedical innovation and STEM education? Or in the 9th--what you might call the North Coast industrial corridor--you could really talk about Lake Erie ports, about shipping and fisheries and the reason we should care about Asian carp. And though you wouldn't necessarily think of the 16th district as a place concerned with poverty, it might be worth it for Avon residents to consider the fact that around 50 percent of students at Wooster City schools qualify for free or reduced price lunches.  By the way, you can see a list of registered candidates here.

But speaking of districts, I'm optimistic that we'll get a chance as an electorate to weigh in on this embarrassing process by which we draw these maps. It's just crazy that this beautiful experiment called democracy gets totally undermined by parochialism and self-interest every ten years. There's got to be a better way. The bill that created the compromise that created the map--H.B 369--also created a task force to make recommendations to fix our broken process. We've been through this before. In 2006, we were presented with Reform Ohio Now. Then the House Speaker, Secretary of State John Husted led the campaign against it, and then later adopted some of its stances as his own. Such is politics. So maybe, just maybe, the four dems and four republicans on the Redistricting Reform Task Force will invite the public and the most vociferous of the current map's opponents to the table. They've got an open invitation to use the Civic Commons as a place to collect ideas and allow the community to engage with them on the future of redistricting. 

 And while I'm on this thread of Really Big State Issues, can I just put my vote in for a constitutional convention? The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission has already met for the first time. Modernization is a worthy goal. Maybe then we can get the margarine out of the constitution.

To get really issue specific for a moment, I've got big hopes about fracking* and natural gas. The governor, a man I tend to assume is going to be very pro-industry, surprised me the last couple of weeks. In his year-end press conference, he promised "tough and clear" regulations on the natural gas drilling industry.  Then, last week, he put a halt to certain injection well activity in the Mahoning Valley. What this says to me is that this administration is interested in navigating a responsible middle way, one that balances economic growth with environmental stewardship. I very much hope that's the case. It strikes me as very sensible, and gives me hope that before we sign the mineral rights to the whole state away, we might have some time to think through how it's done, where jobs and revenue go and, more importantly, where the injection brine winds up and how it's handled. 

Lastly, I've got a feeling this year might be the moment when we see the pendulum of civic discourse swing back towards more civility. Some very good people at the University of Akron, Mount Union, and Cleveland State have launched the Ohio Civility Project. I'm hopeful they can do for civility what Politifact has done for truthiness, and perhaps even begin to get all of us behaving a bit more civilly towards each other throughout the community.

Those are my hopes, and if my friend is right, we've got a better chance of seeing them realized now that we're discussing them. Want to share yours? Start the conversation, or, if you like, email me about it, and maybe we can get you to tell us about it on our weekly podcast.

(*another friend of mine tells me fracking is now a pejorative term and that we're supposed to talk about shale development or exploration. It wasn't that long ago fracking was a term of art in the geological world, and miners and engineers would snicker when civilians mispronounced it as "fraking." Funny how quickly things change.)

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