Just about a month after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio decided that the Mahoning Valley was undeserving of its presence to discuss the commission's new plan to deregulate the telephone industry, Gov. Bob Taft and the other Republican members of the state's Apportionment Board have shown similar disregard for the region by refusing to schedule a crucial hearing in the region.
The five-member board -- four Republicans and one Democrat -- is responsible for redrawing Ohio's legislative district lines and will travel around the state to hear what the people of Ohio have to say about the new legislative map. But despite an appeal from Democrat Leigh Herington, the Senate minority leader, that one of the hearings be held in the Valley, Taft and his fellow Republicans decided the residents of this area could travel to Akron or Canton to be heard.
While we were upset with the PUCO for having such a blindspot when it comes to hearing from telephone users in the Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area, we are surprised and disappointed to find two supposed friends of this region, Gov. Taft and Ohio Auditor Jim Petro, not taking Sen. Herington's suggestion seriously.
"I just couldn't believe they weren't going to cover the metropolitan Youngstown and Warren area," the senator said.
We can't believe it, either.
Assumption: What is even more galling about both the Apportionment Board and PUCO hearings is the underlying assumption that we, the residents of the Mahoning Valley, are too dumb to recognize when we're being dissed by state government officials.
If Toledo, Findlay, Cleveland, Akron, North Canton, Cincinnati, Dayton, New Concord, Newark and Columbus are important, why not the city of Youngstown? Like several of those communities, Youngstown has a full blown university. Youngstown State is certainly more significant than the University of Findlay, Walsh College, Muskingum College or Columbus State Community College.
We have no doubt that the level of discourse regarding the politics of apportionment and the need to keep regions like the Mahoning Valley intact would certainly be more impressive than what Gov. Taft, Auditor Petro, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and House Speaker Larry Householder, the Republicans, and Democratic Sen. Herington would hear in some other parts of the state.
Reward: Politics is a passion in the Valley and while a majority of the residents tend to vote Democratic, Republicans who pay attention to the needs of the region are rewarded at the polls. Just look at how former Gov. George V. Voinovich, now a U.S. senator, fared in the tri-county area.
The Mahoning Valley has a geographic and economic identity that must be recognized by the people who will be drawing the legislative district lines. The Apportionment Board needs to hear from us -- in our home setting.