Canton Repository

July 25, 2002

Democrats’ leaving won’t cost Ohio clout 

Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — The departures of Ohio Reps. James Traficant, Tony Hall and Tom Sawyer aren’t expected to greatly diminish Ohio’s influence in Congress because none of the three Democrats was in the majority party or held a leadership position.

But the loss of Hall will cost the House one of its crusaders on hunger issues, and Sawyer’s departure will deprive the House of one of its census experts.

Hall, a 12-term lawmaker from Dayton, is retiring in anticipation of an ambassadorial appointment. Sawyer, an eight-term lawmaker from Akron, lost his primary race after the boundaries of his district changed.

“Hall was able to develop the whole issue of hunger in this country and abroad,” said John C. Green, a University of Akron political analyst. “He’s one of two or three members of Congress who know most about hunger and nutrition issues.”

Sawyer chaired a House panel on the census before Republicans took control of the chamber in 1994. Even after the GOP takeover, lawmakers from both parties looked to him as an expert on the census, Green said.

One reason Hall and Sawyer lack great influence is that Republicans have controlled the House since 1995.

“Their significance would have been far greater if they had been in the majority,” said William Binning, a political science professor at  Youngstown State University.

Traficant, a nine-term lawmaker who lives in Poland, has been in even worse shape since his renegade vote in favor of Republican Dennis Hastert as House speaker last year. His fellow Democrats barred him from serving on any committees.

The former Mahoning County sheriff has vowed to seek re-election as an independent despite his conviction for accepting bribes and kickbacks. Analysts say he has little chance of winning in his re-drawn district.

Ohio Republicans are the ones holding clout in the House.

“Our clout comes from the positions that we hold,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, whose congressional district is next door to Sawyer’s and Traficant’s.

Regula, for instance, is chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that shapes federal spending on health, education and labor programs.

Rep. Bob Ney of St. Clairsville chairs the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Michael Oxley of Findlay heads the Financial Services Committee.

Other Ohio Republicans who hold influential posts include Reps. David Hobson of Springfield, chairman of a military construction panel of Appropriations; Rob Portman of Terrace Park, liaison between the House and the administration; and Deborah Pryce of Dublin, vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference.

If, however, Democrats are able to recapture control of the House, Ohio Republicans would lose their chairmanships and experienced Democrats would be in line to assume leadership posts.

In that scenario, the departures of Sawyer and Hall could be potentially costly for Ohio, Green said.