Two of the congressmen who would add the Valley to their districts vow to give this area their attention.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- State Rep. John Boccieri is shocked and disappointed that the Mahoning Valley's congressional district is being eliminated.
He might have spoken for many of those who feel the area will lose its identity with this move when he said, "We're getting screwed."
A congressional redistricting plan, expected to move quickly through the Ohio House and Senate and then signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft, eliminates the 17th Congressional District.
The 17th District, represented by indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, includes Mahoning County, all but 300 voters in Columbiana County, and Trumbull County except its western portion.
A Traficant spokesman put blame for the elimination of the district on the state's Democratic congressmen. Under the law, state residents can run for any congressional seat.
State Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, sees it differently. "It's about greed and the Republicans' controlling the state."
The Republican-controlled state Legislature, which developed the redistricting plan, is not releasing a map of the proposal until at least late today.
Here's the plan: But state representatives who saw the plan -- Timothy Grendell of Chesterland, R-68th; John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th, and Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-3rd -- describe the redistricting plan's impact on the Valley as:
U The district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, would get all of Columbiana County and most of Mahoning County, including the portion of Poland that Traficant calls home.
This district, which would also include Boardman and Canfield, includes all or portions of 11 counties along the Ohio River. Strickland lives more than 250 miles from Poland, but said if he were elected to represent this district, he would move to a community somewhere in the middle of the district.
U The rest of Mahoning County, including Youngstown, Austintown, Struthers and Campbell, would be in a district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat.
The district would also include most of the lower portion of Trumbull County, including Warren, as well as the eastern edge of Akron and nearly all of Portage County. "They made a super Democratic district," Hagan said of the Republican plan.
U The upper portion of Trumbull County would be in a district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican, that would also include Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties as well as a sliver of the eastern portion of Cuyahoga County, the very top of Portage County and the northeastern section of Summit County.
Poland is the only township in the Valley to be split under the redistricting plan.
Boccieri, of New Middletown, D-57th, said he thinks the Republican plan was designed to specifically eliminate Traficant as a congressman but, in the process, it seriously damages the Mahoning Valley as a region.
"We're going to lose our identity," he said. "We're going to be with representatives who don't know this area. It's tragic that this has happened."
What's behind this: The state Legislature must redraw Ohio's 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.
The 17th District became a target for extinction, state legislators said, because of Traficant's federal indictment that could force him out of office and because of a voting record of not siding with his own party. Those factors made it easier for Republicans to get rid of his district.
"We had to lose a district somewhere, and the feeling is when the Democrats and the Republicans got in the room to see how the state would be served, Traficant didn't have a representative in the room," Grendell said.
"He was the odd man out because he had no one in the room for him."
"He had no one down here to defend him," added Boccieri.
Response: Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman, said his boss was never asked to participate in the redistricting process.
"We would have had someone there if we were asked," he said. "This is the preferred choice of Ohio Democratic congressmen. They wanted to get rid of him."
The legislation on the congressional redistricting will get hearings Wednesday and Thursday from the Ohio House's State Government Committee and will be on the floor for a vote Tuesday, said Jennifer Detwiler, spokeswoman for Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder.
The legislation must be passed quickly so candidates can file nominating petitions by the Feb. 21 deadline for the May 7 primary.
The Republicans need Democratic help to pass the legislation as an emergency measure to ensure that it does not delay the May primary.
Comments: Strickland and LaTourette said they will do their best to represent the Mahoning Valley if the Republican plan is approved.
"The people [of the Valley] will get better representation because you have more representatives and they are members of both parties," LaTourette said.
"That enhances an area's representation. I'm really excited to represent Trumbull County."
Strickland said if the redistricting is approved and he is re-elected, he will move closer to the Valley, probably somewhere in the middle of his district, such as Marietta.
"I pledge to the people in Mahoning and Columbiana counties that I guarantee I will attend to their needs and be available to them," he said.
Dan Lucas, Sawyer's chief of staff, declined to comment on the redistricting, saying it was premature to discuss it.