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Fight to keep united Valley House district

As a region, Trumbull and Mahoning counties share a regional airport operated by a port authority with an effective economic development arm. The Mahoning Valley shares a military base that generates millions of dollars of economic impact for the region.

Efforts to improve transportation, water and air quality, land-use planning and local infrastructure for decades have been handled regionally. An increasing number of local governments has been sharing services and creating mutual-aid agreements with neighboring communities.

Culturally, the three-county area often unites as one common venue for arts, entertainment, sports and other social engagement. Local universities and institutions of higher learning largely educate students in both counties and beyond.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber provides excellent economic development efforts and serves business and industry in both counties every day. Local business incubators and facilities offering opportunities for experimentation in developing advanced technologies like electric vehicle batteries or additive manufacturing exist in both counties, and they have worked together as a team on many occasions.

Likewise, members of the Mahoning Valley’s labor force share a strong blue-collar work ethic. Geographically, this region benefits from its location and excellent highway and rail transportation systems that link it easily to the rest of the nation.

Sadly, significant challenges face the residents of both our counties. Those include things like high unemployment, need for job training, the ongoing opioid epidemic, high rates of infant mortality, obesity and other health issues.

And for the most part, the two counties overall have shared similar political views.

For these reasons and many more, it’s only logical to keep the two counties united in one congressional district.

Sources, however, now indicate that’s unlikely to happen. The new congressional map being drawn will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Until 2002, Trumbull, Mahoning and even Columbiana counties were united in one district. During that year’s redistricting, Columbiana and a southern portion of Mahoning were put into a district stretching 300 miles along the state’s eastern and southern borders. A few northern townships in Trumbull were put in a district with northeast counties.

Still, most of Trumbull and Mahoning were kept together, united with parts of Portage and Summit counties. Redistricting in 2012 cut other small pieces of the Valley from the district U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, continues to represent.

Now, however, sources say splitting the two counties is probable, as the state again loses a seat, coupled by a new law limiting how counties can be divided.

The 2020 U.S. Census data shows Ohio’s population grew only 2.3 percent since 2010, far less than the 7.4 percent average growth in the U.S., so the state will lose one of 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each congressional district must be redrawn to accommodate 787,000 residents, or about 66,226 more than a typical district today.

Congressman Ryan’s recent announcement that he’ll seek a U.S. Senate seat next year, frankly, will make it even easier for district map drawers to cut up the district, dividing Mahoning and Trumbull counties. But easy doesn’t make it right, especially for constituents of a region like ours.

There is little dispute districts that work best for constituents are geographically compact and include whole communities with shared interests. Not only should counties be kept whole within a congressional district, so, too, should regions like our Valley because of shared interests, economic conditions and development efforts, facilities and organizations representing the Mahoning Valley as a whole.

Splitting our region threatens not only preservation of the state’s 13th Congressional District in which Mahoning and Trumbull counties are dominant forces, it also threatens cohesive representation of the Valley — typically viewed as Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Together our region has power that can be represented more effectively in Washington. If divided, our region, already struggling with issues like unemployment, high poverty rates and comparatively low household income, stands to suffer. The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks first in Ohio for extreme poverty.

If fragmented into two or more districts, the Valley’s collective voice would be even more severely muted. Lawmakers must not lose sight of the shared struggles and common interests of communities large and small throughout the Valley.

That’s why members of the Ohio General Assembly from both political parties, particularly those representing the Valley, must make it a priority to keep that collective voice and regional identity as strong and cohesive as possible as decennial congressional redistricting begins.

It would be illogical to do anything else.

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