BY LOREN GENSON
If the redistricting map for U.S. congressional districts in Ohio is approved by the Legislature, Ross County will have different representation in 2013.
That concept has its good and bad points, according to local and state officials.
The majority of the county is represented by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, who serves the sprawling 18th District. Fellow Republican Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, has a small portion of the county in its northwest corner.
But with Ohio's congressional districts contracting from 18 to 16, the proposal has Ross County almost split in half between Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, and Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Columbus.
Schmidt, who represents all of Pike County as part of the 2nd District, would get Scioto Township, including the city of Chillicothe, along with Union, Franklin, Huntington, Jefferson, Liberty and Paxton townships and the lower half of Twin and Springfield townships.
Meanwhile, Stivers could see his 15th District grow, serving suburban Franklin County along with Hocking, Athens, Vinton, Highland, the northern section of Ross and seven other counties.
Good with the bad
It's a plan with plenty of detractors. Democrats and voter advocacy groups criticized the map for splitting Ohio's 88 counties in as many as 63 places and creating oddly shaped districts.
Among them are a district snaking along Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland and the proposed 15th District's crescent shape that touches parts of 13 counties, ranging from the most rural parts of Highland and Vinton counties up to the more developed Union County in suburban Columbus.
While groups called for more time to review the maps, a state House committee advanced the bill to redraw Ohio's congressional lines Wednesday.
The proposal was passed along party lines, with unanimous opposition from Democrats who wanted more time for public review of the map.
The map is expected to be taken up on the House floor by the end of the week. It also would need to be passed by the state Senate.
State Sen. Keith Faber told The Associated Press that he's seen the maps, but it's too early to say whether the Senate will swiftly approve them. Faber chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.
State Rep. Bob Peterson, a Sabina Republican who represents Ross County in the Ohio House, said the congressional committee had many rules to follow when drafting the proposed map.
"They have to operate under some pretty strict constitutional law," he said.
Peterson noted most districts include 721,031 constituents while six include 721,032.
"In addition to shrinking the number of districts from 18 to 16, these were some of the other challenges they face," Peterson said.
Peterson and his colleagues in the House are scheduled to vote on the new map today. He said while the process is moving fast, they aren't leaving out input from residents.
"People in Dayton wanted to have to congressmen representing (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). We did that," he said. "People in Cleveland wanted to preserve the minority district, which is required by law, so we did that."
The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting said the new districts have been created to shift political power, not benefit Ohioans.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Jim Slagle, manager for the group, said the proposed map splits up nearly every major city.
He said the 15th District was especially puzzling as it "zig-zags" from Highland County east to Morgan County, and west again, ending at Stivers' home in Columbus.
"The districts create a new standard for gerrymandering," said Slagle. "The voters don't deserve a map which would be awarded the booby prize if it were entered in the Ohio Redistricting Competition."
While the redistricting proposal is drawing criticism, some local officials think it could benefit the county.
Not long ago, the county was represented by U.S. Rep. David Hobson, a Dayton-area Republican, and fellow Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, recalls Ross County Commissioner Jim Caldwell. The boundaries divided Chillicothe.
"One side of the street was Hobson and the other side was Strickland," Caldwell said. "No one ever said, 'Well, that's two blocks out of my district,' they both just worked together with Ross County."
Caldwell said it could be a benefit to have two voices representing the county.
"Naturally, it depends on the individuals, but I can't remember a time where our two congressman didn't work together," he said.
For their parts, both Stivers and Schmidt believe they can represent the area well.
"Whenever I represent a part of a county, I treat it as though I represent the whole county," said Stivers. "I grew up in Brown County, on the edge of Appalachia, so I'm looking forward to representing southern Ohio counties."
Stivers employed outreach to his current district through satellite office hours and telephone town halls, where people can choose to participate and listen from their homes.
If elected to the new 15th District, Stivers said he recognizes the need for new jobs and industry in many of the counties he would serve and is hoping to continue to develop the U.S. 23 corridor.
"That corridor is so important, and in Ross County, it's really growing and providing a lot of jobs to people in the region," he said.
In a statement, Schmidt said she was looking forward to serving the southern half of Ross County and Chillicothe.
"I'm confident I can represent their values and be their voice in Washington," she said.