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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.

“It was the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my political career, not to run for re-election,” Austria told Roll Call in an interview. “I’m going to remain very active in politics.”

Turner, for his part, offered conciliatory words to Austria. “I know he is an honorable man and I wish him well in his retirement. I look forward to running for re-election and working to grow jobs in Southwest Ohio,” he said in a statement.

Behind the scenes, Boehner had indicated he didn’t like the final plan. But he hadn’t fought it tooth and nail, either.

“Speaker Boehner advised the Legislature that if a Republican Member was to be drawn into a district with another Republican Member, he preferred the lines create a fair primary contest. Ultimately, he respected the Legislature’s responsibility to act as it determined was best,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner.

The process could have gone another way.

A spreadsheet from early September, obtained through a public records request by Ohio political activist Jim Slagle, shows four options were under

Boehner denied reports in July that his political team would try to target Rep. Jim Jordan, the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee who has sometimes caused headaches for GOP leadership. “The word retribution is not in my vocabulary,” he said.

Still, the spreadsheet shows Jordan’s political future was on the line. Two of the four options presented would have resulted in difficult races for him.

One option, which would have created a tough race between freshman Republican Reps. Bob Gibbs and Bill Johnson, gave Jordan a district that would have provided Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) 46 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. Another would have pitted Jordan against Turner.

Huffman said the four options on the spreadsheet weren’t the only ones considered — or even crucial to the process.

Tom Whatman, Boehner’s top political aide, explained why the Austria-Turner matchup was preferable in an email to Thomas Niehaus, the Republican President of the Ohio Senate, that has not previously been made public.

Whatman’s rationale focused on the intricacies of the district lines and what would be best overall for Republicans.

“Turner\Austria makes the [Rep. Bob] Latta [(R)] and [Rep. Marcy] Kaptur [(D)]/[Rep. Dennis] Kucinich [(D)] districts possible. A Gibbs/Johnson district pushes population counterclockwise and forces 3 long east west districts for [Rep. Jean] Schmidt [(R)], Turner and Austria. In addition it makes it impossible to draw Latta w/ a good index because you can’t get enough good to offset the bad he takes from Lucas County. Therefore you cannot draw a Kaptur/Kucinich district,” Whatman wrote.

In other words, the map drawers were juggling a series of priorities, including wanting to pit Democrats Kaptur and Kucinich against each other.

He also addressed the Gibbs-Johnson proposal to force two of the Republican delegation’s freshman Members to run against each other.

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