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Published: Tuesday, 1/15/2002

Ohio House GOP wrangles over redistricting

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohio House Republicans struggled yesterday to balance sometimes conflicting goals of GOP congressional members and political aspirants within their own ranks as they continued work on a congressional district map.

With the decision made to eliminate a Democratic district in the northeast, attention has turned to how Republicans can draw a map strengthening their districts while making seats held by Democrats more GOP-friendly.

The 11 members of a Republican congressional delegation will review a proposed map tonight in hopes that a bill can be introduced in the state General Assembly this week.

Lawmakers are running out of time if their goal remains preserving the May 7 primary election, a move that would require Democratic help. Ohio's slower population growth will cost it one of its 19 U.S. representatives in Washington.

The plan is expected to carve up the Mahoning Valley district of U.S. Rep. James Traficant (D., Poland) and distribute its territory to surrounding districts.

The heavily Democratic 9th District, held by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), needs 69,000 more people to meet the new population goal of 637,730. The district consists of Fulton and Lucas counties, northeastern Wood, and western Ottawa.

The district can only turn to what is the heavily Republican and rural 5th District, held by U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort). The district encompasses all or part of 14 counties stretching from Williams to Lorain.

The invasion from the 9th would leave Mr. Gillmor about 117,000 people shy of the population target, thus continuing the chain reaction into neighboring districts, including the 4th represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley (R., Findlay). The 4th now encompasses all or part of 11 counties stretching from Allen to Knox.

Republicans have been looking at a map pushing Ms. Kaptur westward into rural Williams County and another that would have her district snake east along Lake Erie. State Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) has told House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) that he would prefer the westward scenario.

Mr. Olman, prevented by term limits from seeking re-election after 2003-04, hopes to keep his options open for a possible congressional run.

“This is something that is on my radar screen,” said Mr. Olman. “I've found in politics that sometimes the next move is not totally within your control.”

A narrow portion of Wood bridges the western and eastern halves of Mr. Gillmor's district. State Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), who lost to Mr. Gillmor by just 27 votes in 1988, lives about a mile from the line separating the 5th and 9th districts.

“I would hate to see anymore of Wood County go there [to the 9th],” he said. “I don't want us to have a situation in northwest Ohio where very rural areas far away and a large metropolitan area are combined. There needs to be some commonality there.”

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who sees no congressional run in his future, said he wants a map making the 5th and 9th more competitive.

“Legislators at the state or federal level are more accountable when districts are competitive,” he said. “Both parties should have a fair chance to win the seats.”



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