The plan endorsed by the Republican congressional caucus splits Mahoning and Columbiana counties in half.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's the end of the 17th Congressional District as we know it.
By all political accounts, the current makeup of the district -- which includes Mahoning County, all but 300 voters in Columbiana County and Trumbull County minus its western portion -- will change next year when the Republican-controlled state Legislature redraws the state's congressional districts.
Those given power over redistricting have not started drawing the congressional lines yet and have only "talked in concept" about what needs to be done, said Brett Buerck, chief of staff for Larry Householder, speaker of the Ohio House.
The state is obligated to redraw its congressional districts every 10 years based on population figures from the U.S. Census. Ohio is losing one of its 17 congressional districts because the state's population did not keep pace with the rest of the country.
Once the state budget is resolved, probably in early December, the next area of focus will be redistricting, Buerck said. The districts should be finalized by mid-February, just in time for the filing deadline for next year's congressional races, he said.
There are two proposals receiving the majority of consideration at the Statehouse now, and both carve up the 17th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., a Poland Democrat under federal indictment on charges including racketeering and bribery. Traficant favors keeping the 17th District as it is.
One plan: U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Madison, R-19th, said the proposal being promoted by the state's Republican congressional caucus calls for:
* Splitting Mahoning County into two districts, with the eastern portion remaining in the 17th District and the western portion going to the 16th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, a Navarre Republican.
* Removing the northernmost row of townships in Trumbull County -- Mesopotamia, Bloomfield, Greene, Gustavus and Kinsman -- from the 17th District and putting them in the 19th District. The rest of Trumbull would stay in the 17th District. The 19th District also would include Lake, Ashtabula and Geauga counties as well as the top of Portage County, a sliver of Summit County and the eastern portion of Cuyahoga County.
* Splitting Columbiana County into two districts; the eastern portion remaining in the 17th District and the western portion going to the 18th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, a St. Clairsville Republican.
* Splitting Portage County with the top half including Aurora and Hiram going to the 19th District and the rest moving to the 17th District. Portage is currently split between the 13th and 14th districts.
* Taking the northeast portion of Jefferson County from the 18th District and moving it to the 17th District.
Second proposal: The other proposal getting attention from Statehouse Republicans, says state Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-3rd, calls for the 17th District to include Mahoning County with lower portions of Portage and Summit counties, including Akron, and a southern portion of Trumbull County.
That would pit Traficant, a nine-term congressman, or a possible successor from this area against eight-term U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer of Akron, D-14th, next year.
Under that plan, much of Trumbull County would go to the 19th District, and Columbiana County would be moved into the 16th District or possibly the 18th District, Blasdel said.
"There's a very strong likelihood that Columbiana will be removed from the 17th District," he said. "If we moved to either the 16th or the 18th, we'd go from being the smallest county in a congressional district to one of the largest. That bodes well for us."
Want split from Mahoning: Trumbull political officials have sent letters to Gov. Bob Taft and other state leaders asking that their county be placed in a district separate from Mahoning.
Trumbull officials say the split would enable Warren to have largest-city status in a district and give the county a better shot at federal funding. Mahoning political leaders and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber oppose that plan while Columbiana County officials are either indifferent to remaining in the 17th District or favor leaving it.
State Rep. Sylvester D. Patton Jr. of Youngstown, D-64th, the ranking Democrat on the House State Government's 10-member elections and ethics committee, which will recommend the congressional lines, said he will do everything "short of selling my soul" to keep the 17th District intact.
Patton said he will be spending the next few weeks lobbying Republican state officials to keep Mahoning and Trumbull counties in the same district.
But Patton said there is serious talk at the Statehouse of enactment of the plan mentioned by Blasdel.
"I'd like to see us remain as a group," Patton added. "I'm a little surprised and appalled about some people being selfish. It's not in the best interests of the people of the Valley to separate Mahoning and Trumbull."