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Published: Friday, 7/15/2011

Redrawing congressional districts is hearing topic


COLUMBUS -- With lawmakers expected to begin redrawing congressional district boundaries this fall, a state panel will hit the road next week to seek public input into what is otherwise an inherently political process.

By the time the rubber dust from the erasers is brushed away, Ohio will have two fewer congressional districts -- 16 instead of 18 -- because of its sluggish population growth over the last decade. With Republicans holding the pencil, there's little doubt that at least one of the disappearing districts is now represented by a Democrat.

"Ensuring an opportunity for public input is an important part of the congressional redistricting process," said Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Redistricting. A similar committee in the Senate, chaired by Sen. Keith Faber (R., Celina), also will participate in the hearings.

Five hearings will be held, and one of them will be in Mr. Huffman's backyard in Lima. That's as close to Toledo as the hearings will get.

The Lima hearing will be in the life and physical sciences building at the Ohio State University at Lima and Rhodes State College, 4240 Campus Drive from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 2. The other hearings will be at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus and in Zanesville on Wednesday and in Cleveland on Thursday.

Following the Lima hearing on Aug. 2, the committee will move on to Cincinnati later that afternoon.

Congressional maps are passed by state lawmakers and the governor after each U.S. Census as they would any other bill. A final map following the 2000 Census was not enacted until January of 2002.

With that in mind, a recently passed elections reform bill would delay the 2012 presidential primary election from March to May. But the rush for new maps still could be on this fall now that a left-leaning group has announced plans to seek signatures to subject the elections reform bill to a voter referendum next year.

That could place the law on hold, leaving the presidential primary date in March. The filing deadline for congressional candidates for the early election is December.

The sacrificed Democrat is largely expected to be Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland. Democrats currently represent just five of Ohio's 18 congressional districts after the drubbing voters delivered to them last fall.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans could target a second Democratic-held district without weakening the electability of their own incumbents.

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