Youngstown Vindicator, By David Skolnick, November 18, 2021
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson expected his congressional district would grow to cover all of Mahoning County, but he said he was surprised it also included Trumbull County.
But with Johnson, R-Marietta, running for re-election next year in the new district — should the Republican-drawn four-year map withstand court challenges — he looks “forward to representing the people of the Mahoning Valley.”
He said: “While I’m surprised the district went that far north (into Trumbull County), I’m not at all unhappy or disappointed. I have very strong relationships in the Mahoning Valley, and I’ve worked hard for the people there. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and will obviously be spending a lot more.”
Johnson came to Ohio in 2006 to be the chief information officer for Stoneridge Inc., a Howland-based manufacturer of electronic components for the transportation industry, and lived in Poland before his 2010 victory for the 6th Congressional District seat over then-incumbent Democrat Charlie Wilson.
Before that, he spent 26 years in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and had his own information technology consulting company.
The 6th District currently includes a small section of Mahoning County along with all or portions of 17 other counties.
The new district, which would take effect with the 2022 election, includes all of Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, Jefferson, Carroll, Harrison, Belmont, Noble and Monroe counties and all but four townships in Washington County.
Johnson moved to Marietta in Washington County shortly after he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
Mahoning and Trumbull would be the two most-populous counties in the new district if the congressional map is upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Johnson’s current district is the most Republican in the state: 66.7 percent GOP to 30.96 percent Democrat with the rest going to other political parties based on voting trends during partisan statewide races over the past decade.
The new district is still considered a safe Republican one. But it would be 55.81 percent Republican to 41.83 percent Democrat with the rest going to other political parties based on the same voting trends.
When Johnson was first elected in 2010, the district was Democratic, and he won by 4.04 percent during a strong Republican year.
Since then, Johnson’s margin of victory has been 6.5 percent in 2012, 19.65 percent in 2014, 41.36 in 2016, 38.5 percent in 2018 and 48.82 percent in 2020. The latter three are some of the most lopsided congressional victories in Ohio during that time.
“My philosophy is I’m elected to do a job and that job is to represent people and you can’t do that job if you don’t talk to people, so I’ve never made it about party affiliation or where people live,” he said. “I’ve never let that determine who I help, who I work for, who I talk to and I think that’s reflected in the support I’ve garnered in this district over the last 11 years.”
WORK WITH RYAN
Of the 10 counties in the new 6th District, Johnson has represented some or all of nine of them during his time in Congress. The only county he hasn’t represented is Trumbull.
But Johnson said he’s worked closely with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland — who has represented most of the Mahoning Valley during his 10 terms in the House — on area issues such as supporting the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, additive manufacturing, Youngstown State University, Vallourec Star, the Youngstown Business Incubator and bringing businesses to Lordstown after the General Motors assembly plant closed.
Ryan is running next year for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I’m proud of the people and the work going on in the Mahoning Valley, and I look forward to representing them,” Johnson said. “The air base, Youngstown State University, additive manufacturing, Lordstown — Tim Ryan and I have worked closely on many things. Sure there are things that Tim and I disagreed on, but there are many things we agree on. If people will give me a chance on whatever side of the aisle they sit on, I think they’ll find me honest, transparent and willing to sit down and talk to them about their needs and concerns. At the end of the day, I’m not going to compromise my principles. But I’m also going to represent my constituency.”
Democrat Anthony Traficanti, first elected Mahoning County commissioner in 2004, said he is “contemplating a possible run.”
He added: “I’m seriously looking at it. I haven’t made a decision. I think I’d be a formidable candidate.”
Traficanti expects to have a decision no later than Jan. 1.
Several other prominent Democrats in the district have said they aren’t going to run for the seat.
Mahoning County Democratic Chairwoman Joyce Kale-Pesta said Traficanti would be a strong candidate.
Kale-Pesta criticized Johnson for not showing interest in the Mahoning Valley until he learned through redistricting that it would be a large part of his district.
“I don’t think Johnson does such a terrific job for our region,” she said. “We never see him here.”
But Thomas McCabe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party who lives in Johnson’s district, said: “He’s done a great job. The vote totals show that people like the job he’s doing. I’m excited he’ll be able to represent the Mahoning Valley all as one. Having the Valley as a whole is good for the area, and Bill will do a great job for the district.”
Johnson voted 96.8 percent of the time with Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, during his term as president and with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, 11.8 percent of time during his first 10-plus months in office, according to the FiveThirtyEight website, which tracks congressional votes.
Johnson is considered one of Trump’s strongest supporters in Congress and was among the 126 House members who signed a legal brief in support of a lawsuit filed with the U.S. Supreme Court contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Johnson said Trumbull County voters backed Trump in the 2016 and the 2020 election, and Mahoning County supported him in 2020. Those were the first times voters in either county backed a Republican for president since 1972.
“There are a lot of people who appreciated the policies that Trump espoused: the politics of let’s make it in America, let’s build it in America and let’s put America first,” Johnson said. “I subscribe to those same kinds of principles.”
Asked about Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 president election because of widespread voter fraud, Johnson said: “No, he didn’t win the election. If he had, he’d still be in office. We know how the election went. Were there voting irregularities? Sure. There were, and we’d have to be blind to not acknowledge those. There were states that made mistakes, serious ones.”
While that shouldn’t be ignored, Johnson said: “Clearly, Joe Biden won the election — that’s why he’s sitting in the White House.”