Gov. Bob Taft has earned the Mahoning Valley's appreciation for deciding that a special election to fill the vacancy created by the expulsion of James A. Traficant Jr. from the U.S. House of Representatives would be a waste of money given the brief time a replacement would serve.
There was no conceivable way Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, which make up the current 17th Congressional District, could have paid the $800,000 -- or even a lesser amount -- it would have taken to hold a special election. Even the governor's suggestion to hold the special general election on Nov. 5, the same day as this year's regular election, would have been costly. All three counties are having to deal with declining or stagnant revenues and none had made provisions for a special election.
Indeed, the state of Ohio is in the midst of a budget crunch, and the governor and legislature have had to make deep cuts in the operating funds of various departments and agencies. In addition, they have sought to boost revenue by increasing the tax on cigarettes, closing some tax loopholes and just about emptying the state's rainy day fund.
That is why Taft was urged by the commissioners in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and by this newspaper not to call a special election, if he had that authority, or to call a special election but not to hold it.
The race for the new 17th District Congressional seat features four candidates, Democratic and Republican nominees and two independents, including Traficant, who was expelled from the House on Wednesday. The winner will take office Jan. 2.
Clerk of the House
Having the congressional seat vacated by the Poland Democrat unfilled for the rest of the year will not cause undue hardship for the Mahoning Valley. Traficant's staff will remain on the job in Washington and in the district under the supervision of the clerk of the House of Representatives. In addition, the governor has been assured by Rep. Robert Ney, R-St. Clairsville, chairman of the Administration Committee, and others that the 17th District will not be ignored just because it doesn't have a congressman.
As we noted earlier this week, the 17th District hasn't had proper representation for more than a year and, in fact, has been without a congressman in Washington since about January. That's because Traficant was involved in defending himself in federal court against 10 criminal charges and was advised by the leadership in the House not to show up in his office in Washington or on the floor of the House after a jury found him guilty in April of all charges.
The trial and the verdict were the basis of Traficant's expulsion from Congress. The ethics committee concluded that he had committed 10 violations of the rules of official conduct. In a nutshell, he was expelled for using his public position for personal gain.
The governor should not be faulted for conducting an in-depth analysis of the constitutional and statutory requirements pertaining to vacancies in the U.S. House. He had the duty to ensure that his decision was legal and that it was in the best interest of the Mahoning Valley.
It is now up to local government officials to contact Congressman Ney and the clerk of the House and familiarize themselves with the process of dealing with the federal government through such a roundabout way.