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How Rep. Steve Austria Became a Sacrificial Republican

CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Steve Austria's seat was eliminated by Ohio's Legislature, which was tasked with cutting two seats as it redrew the state's lines.

When the Ohio Legislature was tasked with eliminating two Congressional seats with the decennial redistricting, the delegation was on notice. And with Republicans holding a 13-5 advantage, one of their own was likely to be on the chopping block.

How Rep. Steve Austria got the short end of the stick was the result of a last-minute deal that came together on Dec. 14, the last day of the Ohio House’s 2011 session.

But in Washington, D.C., Ohio’s delegation was panicking, lobbying state Representatives by phone to kill the deal.

“My Members were coming up to me with sort of like this, ‘so-and-so called and said we shouldn’t vote for this. What are we going to do?’ And I said, ‘Turn off your cellphone. We’re voting for this now,’” said state Rep. Matt Huffman, the Republican Majority Floor Leader at the heart of negotiations.

Thirty-six hours earlier, Matt Szollosi, the No. 2 Democrat in the Ohio House, came to Huffman with an offer. “I think I can get the votes for 369,” he said, referring to the compromise Republicans floated in November that the chamber’s top Democrat, Armond Budish, worked to kill.

Budish was on vacation. So Huffman and Szollosi scrambled to iron out the details.

The November lines passed that day made concessions to Democrats, including consolidating Montgomery County. It also set lines that left Austria at a disadvantage.

A September map had pitted him against GOP Rep. Michael Turner, with the new district giving each a roughly 50-50 split on territory from their previous districts. It was, more-or-less, a fair fight, something Speaker John Boehner had told state lawmakers was a priority for him if the new map was going to force Republicans to run against each other.

The new map gave Turner a 70-30 edge, meaning it “essentially eliminated Steve Austria’s ability to get re-elected,” Huffman said.

Surprisingly, the state legislators did not stop to alert House Republicans of their plans.

Word got back anyway, leading to the furious phone maneuvering, but to no avail. The Ohio Legislature passed the plan with large majorities, leaving Austria with no good options.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” Boehner told Austria the next day at a meeting of the Ohio Congressional delegation at the Capitol. Boehner said he hadn’t been given a heads-up about the plan to pass the bill. Rep. Steven LaTourette, a top ally of Boehner’s, said he couldn’t even get his phone calls returned in the hours leading up to the vote.

Austria stayed silent during the meeting. About two weeks later, on Dec. 30, he announced he would not run.

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