By David Skolnick
State Sen. Jason Wilson, a Democrat set to lose his legislative seat because of redistricting, is resigning to join the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Wilson of Columbiana said Friday he will be director of the governor’s office of Appalachia. It is the state’s lead agency for job creation and economic development in the 32 Appalachian counties in Ohio, including Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana.
Wilson said he starts next week.
“This will allow me to focus on several of the counties I represent in the Senate,” he said. “It’s a great fit. It’s an excellent opportunity.”
State legislative redistricting — approved by a Republican-controlled committee that included Kasich — drew new lines that put Columbiana County in the same district as Mahoning County. Mahoning is represented by state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Canfield, elected to a four-year term last year.
Because of that, Wilson couldn’t challenge Schiavoni for the new Senate district seat until 2014. He could have moved south to run next year in the new 30th Senate District, which leans Democratic and is without an incumbent.
But Wilson said he wouldn’t move his family and would not seek re-election.
Wilson said Friday that shortly after the redistricting map was unveiled in late September, members of Kasich’s administration asked him about the Appalachia post.
Wilson’s office will be based in Columbus, but said he has to be there only once every two weeks. He’ll remain in Columbiana and travel the state’s Appalachian counties, many of them in and near the current 30th District.
Karen Fabiano, a holdover from the administration of former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, has served as the office’s interim director.
When asked about waiting more than 10 months into Kasich’s term to appoint a permanent director, Rob Nichols, the governor’s spokesman, said, “It’s an important office, particularly with the [Marcellus and Utica] shale. Jason has a strong business background. [Kasich] wanted to put the right person in that role. Jason shares many of the governor’s thoughts on job creation.”
The annual salary is $85,000, Nichols said. Fabiano earned about $87,000 annually. Wilson made about $68,000 as a senator.
Wilson was appointed to the Ohio Senate seat in December 2006, filling a vacancy left by his father, Charlie, who was elected to the U.S. House that year. The younger Wilson was elected to a four-year term in 2008.
When the new Senate map came out, Wilson said he was bothered that Republicans would target him — a self-described moderate Democrat — and create a large, unwieldy district. But he softened his stance shortly thereafter, saying, “It’s just the circumstances that happened.”
On Friday, Wilson said, “It is what it is.”
Wilson, the No. 4 Democrat in the Senate as its assistant minority whip, didn’t endear himself to fellow Democrats with some of his votes.
This year he was the only Democrat to vote for a resolution supporting a repeal of the federal health-care reform act, a bill to allow increased oil and gas drilling in state parks, a ban on late-term abortions and a bill that changes the process of judicial bypass for minors seeking abortions.
In a prepared statement, Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from Liberty, wrote Friday: “We respect Sen. Wilson’s decision and wish him the best. I hope that in his new position, Sen. Wilson will be able to advocate for counties, such as those in my district, which are designated as part of the Appalachian region.”
The nine remaining Democrats in the 33-member Ohio Senate will fill Wilson’s vacancy quickly. The term expires in January 2013.
The party chairs in Jefferson, Harrison and Belmont counties — the only areas that will continue to be part of the 30th Senate District when boundary lines change because of reapportionment — are asked to recommend candidates to the Senate Democrats by Wednesday with a screening of candidates Nov. 29.
Democrats say freshman state Rep. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, D-95th, who worked for Strickland when he was in Congress and as governor, is Wilson’s likely successor.
Also, Senate Democrats will elect a new assistant minority whip in a few weeks, Cafaro said.