Ohio House Approves Redistricting Plan

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The House voted 71-28 Tuesday for a remapping of the state's congressional districts.

The proposal now goes to the Senate, where President Richard Finan has said he hopes it will be approved Wednesday or Thursday.

Several Democrats in the GOP-controlled House voted against the plan, saying it unfairly divides communities and diminishes the influence of minority voters.

Rep. Gary Cates of West Chester, the second-ranking Republican, said the plan is a fair and balanced map for all of Ohio.

A new map had to be drawn because shifting populations shown by the 2000 census means Ohio is losing a congressional seat.

The House vote was delayed after some northeast Ohio Republican party chairmen raised last-minute concerns. Bob Bennett, Ohio's GOP chairman, said before the vote that he wanted more competitive districts in northeast Ohio than the plan provides.

Party chairmen in Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Stark and Summit counties also opposed the plan, Bennett said.

He said he was upset by a last-minute change to the bill Thursday in the House State Government Committee.

That change put more of Democrat-rich inner-city Akron's voters into a district where Democrat Tom Sawyer likely will run.

In return, that district lost parts of northern Summit County, including Cuyahoga Falls, to districts that would be sought by Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Steven LaTourette.

The changes would make Sawyer stronger in a primary challenge from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, now represented by Democrat James Traficant.

Traficant, who faces trial on federal bribery and corruption charges next month, was moved into a district expected to be sought by Democrat Ted Strickland.

Bennett said state Democratic leaders are blackmailing Republicans by threatening to withhold needed votes for the plan. Without Democratic votes, the bill won't take effect in time for a May primary, and the state might have to resort to the costly alternative of two primaries.

"This is a bunch of the Democratic House and Senate leadership blackmailing Republicans, holding a gun to their heads," Bennett said.

Rep. Dean DePiero of Parma, the top House Democrat, said his party was doing the best it can to draw a fair map.

The GOP holds a 59-40 majority in the House and a 21-12 edge in the Senate. However, 66 votes are needed in the House and 22 in the Senate to pass the redistricting legislation as an emergency.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)