LANCASTER EAGLE GAZETTE
BY CARL BURNETT JR.
The race for the newly aligned 15th Congressional District already has taken its toll on candidates, and there will be challengers in both party primaries.
U.S. Rep. Steve Austria announced on Friday he won't seek re-election to Congress in the wake of the latest district map.
That opened the door for incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Columbus, to run without opposition from a sitting congressman in the newly formed district's Republican primary.
He will be facing two Republican candidates who live in Columbus, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections.
The filing deadline for the congressional race was 4 p.m. Friday.
The other Republicans challenging Stivers will be Charles Chope and Ralph A. Applegate.
On the other side of the ballot, Democrats will have a choice between Pat Lang, the Athens city law director, and Scott Wharton, a farmer and pilot from Amanda.
"I think having a contested primary is a good thing for Democrats," said Fairfield County party chairman Mike Oatney. "Both are good candidates who will represent the party well."
Fairfield County Republican Party chairman Kyle Farmer said he was not familiar with either Chope or Applegate.
"Neither of them have reached out to the Fairfield County Republican Party and we don't know them," Farmer said. "Steve (Stivers) has reached out to us and is becoming familiar with our county. He's been here and introduced himself. I expect Steve will be endorsed by the Fairfield County Republican Party next week."
Stivers served in the Ohio Senate before running for Congress in 2010. Before that, he worked in the banking industry with the Ohio Co. and Bank One. He is a veteran, having served almost three decades in the Ohio Army National Guard.
He serves on the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the banking, insurance, real estate, public and assisted housing and securities industries.
Lang, in announcing his filing to run for office, said he grew up in Albany in Athens County and watched unemployment climb back when he was growing up and the coal fields closed down.
"Congress is doing nothing to create jobs, nothing to invest in middle class families or small business, nothing to reassure us that we have the right tools to get out of this economic mess," Lang said. "And then we see people like Congressman Stivers voting to protect the big banks and voting to end Medicare as we know it. We can do better. We can start by ensuring a strong middle class, protecting Medicare for seniors and creating jobs. That's why I'm running for Congress."
Austria, R-Beavercreek, whose district includes Fairfield County, noted his district was carved up into three different districts. He will share the 10th District with Republican Mike Turner, R-Dayton.
Fairfield County will move to the 15th District, now represented by Stivers. Another part of his district will be represented by House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester.
"I share the same anger and frustration as the residents and voters of our region about the loss of the 7th Congressional District, but I want to thank each and every one of the eight counties in the current district for the honor of representing them," Austria said in a statement. He will continue to serve the current district until his term ends at the beginning of 2013.
"I can't say enough good things about Steve (Austria)," Farmer said. "The last time we had a representative who spent as much time in Fairfield County was Clarence Miller, who lived here. Steve's been so much a part of our political landscape in Fairfield County that he's a member of our community and we are going to miss him."
Farmer said he hoped Austria would remain active in politics and run for office again.
In announcing his decision not to run, Austria said the redistricting process had been done "in secrecy and with closed-door deals."
"There have been multiple maps and multiple election dates, which have continued to change up until just 14 days ago," Austria said.
He said he tried to be a positive role model for his three sons, and thinks honesty and integrity still matter.
"My family was faced with a difficult decision that included possibly uprooting our family to run in another district -- which would not have been fair to them," Austria said. "In addition to losing a congressional seat, a multi-million dollar negative primary battle would have further divided the region and hurt Wright-Patterson Air Force Base."
"I have thoroughly enjoyed working on behalf of every one of my communities, both large and small, and regret that I will not be able to continue the work I have truly committed to, due to the redrawing of the maps," Austria said.
The primary election will be March 6.