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Rulli, others consider a run for 6th District seat in House to fill US rep’s seat

YOUNGSTOWN — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson said he will resign his elected post in the first quarter of next year, before he is scheduled to take over on March 15 as incoming president of Youngstown State University.

Johnson, R-Marietta, was hired for the new post Tuesday by an 8-1 vote of the YSU Board of Trustees.

His resignation likely will result in several Republican candidates seeking to succeed him in the 6th Congressional District seat. The 6th is considered a safe Republican district that takes in all or part of 11 counties including Mahoning and Columbiana. Mahoning is the district’s most-populous county.

Dec. 20 is the election filing deadline for candidates wanting to run in the March 19, 2024, primary for the full two-year term.

With Johnson’s resignation occurring after the Dec. 20 deadline, the state likely would be unable to schedule a special primary in March and then a special election in August 2024 for the seat.

A Republican and Democratic primary is first needed before a general election for the unexpired term.

That would mean the seat wouldn’t be filled until the November 2024 election.

It would leave the 6th Congressional District without a representative for most of 2024. And even if an August 2024 special general election were held, the district still would be without a representative for about six to seven months.

James A. Traficant Jr., who represented Mahoning and most of Trumbull counties in the U.S. House, was expelled July 24, 2002, after being convicted of 10 felonies, including bribery and racketeering. That left that district without a representative for five months.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who has eyed higher office, said he is “strongly considering” attempting to succeed Johnson in the district. Rulli’s state Senate district includes all of Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Rulli said he was planning to run last year for Congress if he were in a district that didn’t include a Republican incumbent. But Johnson, who has represented Columbiana County since he was first elected in 2010, kept that county in his district.

“We thought we were two or three years away from this decision, and now it’s only a couple of weeks,” Rulli said. “I’m trying to work through things. Just that it’s an idea and a possibility is beautiful.”

He plans to announce his decision shortly.

Other potential candidates are state Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville; Christina Hagan of Marlboro, a former state House member who lost a congressional election in 2020 to Democrat Tim Ryan; and Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, who lost a congressional district race in 2022 and serves as a national spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee. Hagan and Gesiotto Gilbert live outside the 6th District, but a congressional candidate only needs to live in Ohio to run.

Sources say Christian Palich, who lives in the Columbus area and is vice president of public affairs for Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a law firm, was interested, but has since changed his mind. Palich is a former president of the Ohio Coal Association, worked in Donald Trump’s presidential administration at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as for Johnson.

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