Officials hope Valley returns to one congressional district

By Don Shilling

Next year’s state elections will help determine who will draw new congressional lines.

Congressional lines in Ohio are going to be redrawn, which gives area political officials hope that all the Mahoning Valley can once again be restored to a single district.

Both Dave Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, and Dave Johnson, Columbiana County Republican Party chairman, said they intend to push for their two counties to be joined with Trumbull County in a single district.

Both Betras and Johnson said they think the Valley’s interests would be better served if it were placed into one district. That way, it could have the undivided attention of a lawmaker, they said.

That’s the way it was before lines were redrawn after the 2000 U.S. census.

A Republican-controlled state Legislature put Columbiana County and part of Mahoning County in the new 6th District, which is a long, 12-county district that runs down to Portsmouth. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat from Lisbon, was elected to that seat.

The rest of Mahoning County and Trumbull County were combined with some areas near Akron to create a new 17th District. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Niles, was elected to that seat.

The Plain Dealer newspaper reported this week that estimates from the Census Bureau indicate that Ohio will lose two congressional seats after 2010. State delegations are set by population, and Ohio’s population gain since the 2000 census has been smaller than in other states.

Betras said, however, that he is concerned that Republicans, if they control the Legislature in 2011, would further divide the Valley as they redraw congressional lines. “We would take it on the chin,” he said.

He said that he thinks that’s what happened after the last census. The 6th District was created to be an area that would be more friendly to a Republican candidate, he said.

Johnson said he isn’t concerned that new district lines will be more harmful to the Valley than the current split.

“How much worse could they be?” he said.

Betras said he has been trying to convince the Democratic party faithful that the 2010 state elections will be more important to Ohio and the Mahoning Valley than last year’s presidential election. State legislators will redraw the congressional lines.

“It’s going to be a real political fight. Whose seats do you go after?” Betras said.

He added that political strength is important to the process. During the last redistricting, former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant was facing legal trouble, so it was easier for his district to be split into two new districts, Betras said.

William Binning, interim chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University, said he expects districts to be combined in some way in Northeast Ohio because of the population loss in the region.

“It’s going to be an interesting [congressional] election in 2012. We’re going to have incumbents pitted against each other,” he said.

John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said it’s hard to predict what will happen to the seats that represent the Valley.

“There could be complicated politics when it comes to drawing the lines of the new districts, and it is difficult to predict how that will go,” he said.

If two seats are to be lost, it could be one seat from the southern part of the state and one from the northern, with one being a Democrat and one a Republican, he said. But if one party controls both chambers of the Legislature, that could change, he said.

Democrats now control the House, and Republicans control the Senate.

No matter what happens, Ohio will lose political clout as its congressional seats fall from 18, Green said.

“Ohio will have less opportunity to influence national politics,” he said.

Ohio lost one seat in the 2000 census. The state had 24 U.S. representatives in the 1960s.

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