Sunday, March 18, 2001


In census years, state officials rule

        Most of the time, members of a state delegation of the U.S. Congress have little use for their counterparts in the state legislature.

        State legislators are often seen by members of Congress as lesser beings, even though many of them were once state legislators themselves. They see them as slack-jawed yokels puttering around with minutiae like refurbishing highway rest stops while, on Capitol Hill, statesmen such as themselves think global.

        Except in years ending in the numeral “one.”

        In years like this — years when the new census numbers come out — members of the U.S. House need to treat state officials with respect, or pretend to anyway.

        State legislators hold the pencils that will draw the new congressional maps, thus holding the power of political life or death over their brothers and sisters in Washington.

        This may explain why, when Ohio state legislative leaders went to Washington for a meeting recently to make their pitches for feder
al dollars, all but one of Ohio's 19 House members showed up for the meeting.

        They were suddenly really, really interested in what the state legislators had to say.

        In this round of census numbers, Ohio loses one of its 19 congressional districts. It is up to the state legislature to draw new congressional district lines. Because the Ohio Senate and Ohio House are solidly in Republican control, one need not spend much time wondering whether the House member losing his or her seat will be a Republican or Democrat.

        Some Republicans would like to see the 6th Congressional District, held by Democrat Ted Strickland of Lucasville, vaporized.

        But when it gets down to drawing the map, it would be hard, if not impossible, to do, because Mr. Strickland's district is a huge piece of real estate, stretching over 200 miles from Lebanon in the west to Marietta in the east.

        It would be easier, then, to eliminate one of the more compact northeast Ohio districts held by Democrats — either the 13th District, held by Sherrod Brown, or the 10th District, occupied by Dennis Kucinich. The adjacent districts could be melded into one.

        But Ohio's Republican governor, Bob Taft, might not like the idea, since Mr. Brown has made it clear he'll run for governor next year if his district is blown to bits.

        Meanwhile, in the southwestern end of the state, the Republicans in Columbus have another decision to make.

        Steve Chabot, the 1st District congressman from Cincinnati, needs more Republicans in his district. He has never been elected with more than 53 percent of the vote in a district that includes most of heavily Democratic Cincinnati.

        So the choice will be whether population will be peeled away from his neighbor to the east, U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, who never has to worry about re-election, or from Butler County, the home of U.S. Rep. John Boehner of West Chester.

        Both congressmen should probably send flowers and candy to their state legislators. Now.

       Howard Wilkinson can be reached at 768-8396 or at


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