New Census figures mean less political clout for Ohio, Valley
By David Skolnick
With Ohio losing two congressional districts in 2012 because its population grew significantly slower than the nation’s, major changes to the Mahoning Valley’s districts are likely.
In addition to the loss of two seats, each of the 16 remaining congressional districts will grow by about 91,112 people.
Ohio has 18 congressional districts, but its population grew by only 1.6 percent in the last decade, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau of each state. The United States saw its population increase by 9.7 percent during that same time.
The U.S. Census will provide a population breakdown by communities and counties next February or March.
Because the 435 members of the U.S. House are determined by population with every 10-year census, states with major growth, such as Texas and Florida, will add House members at the expense of states such as Ohio, Michigan and New York.
“Ohio is losing a little bit of its luster and clout, and that’s not good,” said David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman.
The loss of two House seats means Ohio loses two votes in the 2012 presidential electoral college. The number will go from 20 to 18. The electoral college for each state comes from the number of House members plus each state’s two U.S. senators.
With the elimination of two seats, each of the remaining 16 districts will grow from areas with an average population of 631,919 in 2000 to 723,031 this year.
Republicans picked up five House seats in last month’s election.
Come January, there will be 13 Republicans in the U.S. House and only five Democrats, the lowest number for that party since 1967.
With Republican elected officials in control of redistricting, they may decide to pit incumbent Democrats against one another in two congressional races.
“I don’t know how many less Democrats we can have,” Betras said.
U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Copley, D-13th, seems to be the most likely target for Republicans in redistricting, said Paul Sracic, chairman of the Youngstown State University political science department.
That could pit her against three of the four other remaining Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, in the 2012 election.
“I am confident that my work in Washington and proven record of support for economic development, job creation, and innovation in Northeastern Ohio will continue to be supported by the residents of my district — no matter where the boundaries are eventually drawn,” he said. “I view the expansion of my district as an opportunity to showcase a broader spectrum of Northeastern Ohio’s assets and influence in Washington.”
Whether or not Ryan is pitted against Sutton, his district will likely expand farther west into Summit and Stark counties and possibly farther south into Mahoning County.
The 17th District now consists of most of Trumbull and Portage counties, half of Mahoning and a small piece of Stark.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights, D-11th, is considered safe because Republicans want to maintain a black-dominated district to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, Sracic said.
“I think Republicans will put incumbent Democrats running against each other in two districts,” said state Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th. “They won’t have any mercy. [Democrats] wouldn’t be any different” if that party controlled redistricting.
Republicans could get rid of one seat if U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Mansfield, R-4th, decides to run in 2012 against U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon.
Doing so well in last month’s election created an “insurmountable problem for Republicans,” Sracic said.
If the party wants to keep all of its 13 incumbents, it’s going to have to add Democrat portions to most of those districts.
“You can tinker with one seat, but not two,” Sracic said. “The [new congressional] map will look very different than it does now. I don’t think Republicans know what to do.”
If Republicans end up pitting their own against one another, U.S. Rep.-elect Bill Johnson of Poland, R-6th, is “the least likely politically secure because he’s brand new,” Sracic said.
Of the four other incoming House Republicans in Ohio, only Johnson has never held elected office.
Republicans may break up the sprawling 350-mile, 12-county 6th District that includes all of Columbiana County and a portion of Mahoning County.
Columbiana County Republican Chairman Dave Johnson said he likes having two House members represent the Mahoning Valley, and he’ll “lobby hard” to keep Columbiana in Bill Johnson’s district.
But Dave Johnson wants some of the lower counties in the district — Scioto, Lawrence, Gallia, Meigs and Athens — taken out and replaced by counties closer to Columbiana such as Stark, Carroll and Guernsey.
“I would also prefer not to be thrown in with Youngstown,” Dave Johnson said.
“No offense, but it’s too Democrat of an area and would dilute the power of Columbiana County.”