State Republican leaders seek to punish the region

When the residents of an important region of Ohio aren't given the opportunity to make a direct appeal to the architects of the new state political boundaries, the question that immediately comes to mind is, "why?"
Why would the governor, the state auditor, the secretary of state and the speaker of the House not want to come to the Mahoning Valley and engage in a discussion about the new district map for the Ohio House and Senate?
Last month, in reaction to an announcement that there would not be a public hearing in the Valley on the redrawing of Ohio's legislative boundaries, we offered the following observation: "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."
The board is made up of Gov. Bob Taft, Auditor Jim Petro, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and House Speaker Larry Householder, all Republicans, and state Sen. Leigh Herington, a Democrat. Herington, the Senate minority leader, had urged the Republican members to hold one of the hearings in the Valley, but to no avail.
We were hard-pressed to understand why the Republican leaders would ignore this region, especially after the governor's repeated public pronouncements that his administration is fully committed to working with the Mahoning Valley in its job-creation efforts.
But now we know.
Support: Last week, the Apportionment Board made public its state redistricting plan and there is only one conclusion that can be drawn from it: The region is being punished for its Democratic leanings. It didn't seem to matter that one of the most prominent Republican politicians in Ohio, former governor and now U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, has always fared well in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, and that Taft and other statewide Republican officeholders have received strong financial support from prominent Democratic business leaders.
If relocating Democratic state Rep. John Boccieri's hometown of New Middletown from the 57th District to the district now represented by Sylvester Patton, D-64th, isn't punishment, what is?
Last year, Boccieri defeated Republican Ron Hood, who was seeking a fourth term in the House.
Hood had the support of several prominent Republicans in the region.
But by moving New Middletown into Patton's district, the GOP-dominated Apportionment Board also put the Mahoning Valley's only black state legislator in political jeopardy.
The irony of such a move isn't lost on local residents who recall the legal battle that was waged to create the 64th District so that a minority candidate in Mahoning County would have a chance of winning election.
Racial divide: Indeed, the Ohio Republican Party supported the creation of such a district. Now, however, the governor and his colleagues have redrawn the lines to include communities that have more white than black voters.
For example, not only would New Middletown be a part of the new district, but so would Poland Township and Youngstown's 4th Ward, which is predominantly white.
The word gerrymandering comes to mind not only with regard to what is being proposed for Mahoning County, but also for Trumbull County.
It would be naive to believe that the majority party would adopt a nonpartisan approach to this important political exercise that occurs every 10 years after the population census is official.
But when the partisanship is so extreme that good sense is ignored, thoughtful people, whether Republican or Democrat, need to be heard.
The Apportionment Board is set to adopt the state redistricting plan on Friday. Residents of the Mahoning Valley should express their opposition.

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