U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Poland, R-6th
By David Skolnick
U.S. Rep.-elect Bill Johnson wants to sell his house in Poland after the holidays and likely relocate to the Marietta area, the central part of the 6th Congressional District.
Johnson’s house on Hunters Hill in Poland is not in the 6th Congressional District — it’s in the 17th, about two miles from that 12-county district that includes about half of Mahoning County and all of Columbiana County.
Marietta, in Washington County, is in the heart of the district. It was the only area specifically named as a potential new home for Johnson, a Republican, and his family in a statement from Christian Palich, Johnson’s transition director, about a move.
Johnson’s decision to relocate is a “politically shrewd move” as it relates to the 2012 congressional redistricting plan, said Bill Binning, former chairman of the Youngstown State University’s political science department.
“It serves a dual purpose by putting him in the heart of the district, and when that district is redrawn, it might position him better being in the middle because that district isn’t moving north” into more of Mahoning County, said Paul Sracic, YSU political science department chairman.
With Ohio losing two congressional seats because its population grew considerably slower than the rest of the nation, the 16 districts to be redrawn for the 2012 election in the state each will grow by about 100,000 people.
With Johnson leaving Mahoning County, most or all of it could be added to the district of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, Binning and Sracic said. Ryan’s district also could be expanded west, possibly putting him in a race with another incumbent Democrat, they said.
If Johnson moves to Marietta, about 160 miles from his Poland home, his fellow Republicans, who control the redistricting process, could draw him a “stronger Republican district” to keep him in office, Binning said.
“While there’s little doubt that the borders of the 6th District will be drawn very differently in two years, Bill is making his choice of a new neighborhood based principally on what’s best for him to connect with voters in every corner of this sprawling district,” Palich said.
Johnson has lived in Poland since June 2006. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Johnson has family in the Marietta area.
Outgoing U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat from St. Clairsville who lost to Johnson in last month’s election, doesn’t live in the district he represented for the past four years. He’s a few miles west of it.
When the 6th was redrawn in the 2002 election, then-U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, now the outgoing governor, moved from Lucasville, the farthest point south in the district, to Lisbon in Columbiana County, the largest county in the 6th. Strickland also had a condominium in Columbus at the same time.
Johnson’s decision to leave Mahoning County drew sharp criticism from David Betras, the county Democratic Party chairman.
“It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to see that Mr. Johnson is trying to tell us that Mahoning County and the Valley are not priorities to him,” he said.
Palich said, however, “No matter which part of the district he hangs his hat, Bill Johnson’s heart will always be inclined toward fighting for the working families that live here, and that includes those in the Mahoning Valley.”
Mahoning County Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said he has no concerns that Johnson is leaving his county.
“He’s moving into the district he represents,” said Munroe, who added that he didn’t think there was a connection between the planned move and redistricting.
Johnson wrote in his candidate questionnaire for The Vindicator in September that “when the opportunity to locate to the Mahoning Valley came along we jumped at it. And, we chose the Mahoning Valley because we couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family. We love it here. We’re here because we want to be here. While many others are leaving due to economics and other factors, we choose to live here, get involved, and make a difference.”