The state has to eliminate one congressional district because Ohio's population did not grow as much as the nation's.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A plan to eliminate the 17th Congressional District and place its remains in four other districts is gaining momentum among state Republican officials, who have the power to make the final redistricting decision.
The proposal to get rid of the 17th District has picked up steam during the past two weeks, according to two prominent Republicans with intimate knowledge of the redistricting effort, who spoke on the condition on anonymity.
Also, state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th, said he has obtained information that confirms the Republican plan.
The 17th District consists of Mahoning County, all but 300 voters in Columbiana County, and Trumbull County minus its western portion. The district is represented by U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., a nine-term Poland Democrat whose federal indictment makes his political future uncertain.
What plan involves: The Republican proposal severely alters the 17th District's makeup.
Under that plan:
U The western portion of Mahoning County would go into the 16th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, a Navarre Republican.
U The eastern portion of Mahoning County as well as the lower 60 percent of Trumbull County to either districts represented by U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Lorain Democrat who represents the western portion of Trumbull; or U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat; depending on how changes are made to those districts. This is the area of the Mahoning Valley with the largest concentration of Democratic voters.
U The upper 40 percent of Trumbull would go to the 19th District represented by U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican.
U Columbiana County would either be split between the 16th District, which would get the eastern portion of the county, and the 18th District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, a St. Clairsville Republican, getting the western portion; or it would be kept in one piece and put in either of the two districts.
"Republicans are playing political games and it may cost us our district," said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, who is considering a run for Congress this year.
It's an obligation: The state Legislature, controlled by Republicans, 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 19 congressional districts because the state's population did not keep pace with the rest of the country.
Republican leaders want to eliminate one congressional district that is held by a Democrat and make the Republican-controlled districts stronger. Some Republicans want to get rid of Brown's district, but are somewhat concerned that if he lost his district, he would run for statewide office.
Traficant's district is seen by Republicans as an ideal one to eliminate. Not only is it one of the most Democratic in the state, but if Traficant is convicted on federal charges and forced to resign, Republicans would not have to deal with the sticky situation of ousting an officeholder, GOP sources say. Also, Republicans see Brown or Sawyer as more of a potential political threat than Traficant.
"The Republican plan is just to carve the district up," Boccieri said.
A matter of money: It is vital to the Mahoning Valley and its ability to obtain federal funding not to lose its congressional district and be split into four districts, Boccieri said.
"This plan could very well splinter the 17th Congressional District between several neighboring districts, thus diminishing our identity," he said. "If our district is broken apart, we stand to lose millions in federal funding."
State Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-3rd, said Republican legislatures have not finalized a plan and any talk of breaking up the Valley is premature.
But Blasdel did say it is a foregone conclusion that Columbiana County will be separated from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and northern Trumbull would go to LaTourette's district. Also, Blasdel said Republicans have talked for months about possibly eliminating Traficant's district.
Republicans have been unable to finalize redistricting plans, which could force the delay of the congressional primary, set for May 7. A Republican bill, introduced last week, calls for the congressional primary to be postponed until Aug. 6, which could cost the state $6 million to $7 million to hold. Blasdel said he is hopeful a deal can be worked out to have the primary date remain May 7.