Senate OKs New Map For Congressional Districts

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Senate voted 22-11 Wednesday for a bill remapping Ohio's congressional districts.

The bill now goes to Gov. Bob Taft, who is expected to sign it.

Sen. C.J. Prentiss, a Democrat from Cleveland, joined majority Republicans in approving the bill, which ensures that the new map goes into effect as soon as Taft signs it.

The new map reduces Ohio's congressional delegation from 19 to 18, reflecting population shifts recorded in the 2000 census.

Greater growth in other states cost Ohio one congressional seat.

Without enough Democratic support, the map would not go into effect in time to hold a congressional primary in May. That could have forced the state to hold two primaries this year, at a cost of about $7 million.

The House approved the bill 71-28 Tuesday. House Republicans had needed at least 66 votes to pass the redistricting legislation as an emergency.

At least nine Democratic votes were needed. Democrats provided 15, but not without using their rare clout to win concessions to ease the GOP influence on the map.

"We pushed it as far as we could, and then we had to cut the deal," said Rep. Dean DePiero of Parma, the top House Democrat.

Both Senate President Richard Finan and House Speaker Larry Householder said they expected immediate legal challenges to the map, but said the result was fair to Ohioans.

"You're not going to draw a map that's going to make everybody happy," said Householder, a Glenford Republican. "The fact of the matter is this map is what's in the best interest of the state of Ohio regardless of what political party you're part of."

Several Democrats in the House refused to vote for the bill, saying it split communities -- such as the Mahoning Valley -- and diminished the influence of minorities.

"I really feel harmed by this, harmed as an Ohioan and harmed as an American," said Rep. Fred Strahorn, a Dayton Democrat who is black.

In testimony before the Senate Rules Committee immediately after the House approved the bill, the chief legal counsel of the House Republicans said he believed the map will withstand legal challenges related to minority voters.

"We are convinced this map does not dilute minority strength," said Jonathon McGee.

Bob Bennett, Ohio's GOP chairman, said he was unhappy with the result and wanted more competitive districts in northeast Ohio than the plan provides.

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

He said he was upset by a last-minute change to the bill last 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 votes needed to put the map into effect in time for the May primary. Holding two primaries would cost an estimated $7 million.

DePiero said his party did the best it could to draw a fair map.

Householder said he respected Bennett's concerns, but had to work with Democrats.

"The chairman's looking out for a very partisan map that's a Republican-only map, and we deal in a bipartisan fashion here in the Legislature," Householder said.

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