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West Virginia, Ohio Losing Congressional Seats After Release of Census Data

The Intelligencer: Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING — The pain of population loss — when it comes to representation in United States Congress — will be felt soon on both sides of the Ohio River.

The United States Census Bureau announced Monday that both West Virginia and Ohio will be among seven states who will lose a congressional seat in the 2022 election. They join New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California among states who will lose a seat in Congress.

The loss hurts both Ohio and West Virginia, but it is particularly damaging to the Mountain State, which goes from three seats to two. Ohio goes from 16 seats to 15.

West Virginia’s resident population dipped to 1,793,716 in 2020, down nearly 3.2% from 1,852,994 in 2010, the largest decline in the nation. The state once had six House seats, but the delegation has been shrinking since 1960.

As the exodus continued, Republican Gov. Jim Justice and the GOP lawmakers who have a supermajority in the Legislature tried to cut income taxes this year to entice more to stay and others to move in. The state has even offered financial incentives, including free admission to state tourist and recreation attractions, to lure new residents.

But the tax cuts failed as conservatives disagreed on the details during the 60-day legislative session. Justice has vowed to campaign statewide for his proposal and then summon lawmakers back for a special session to pass it.

Roman Stauffer, a GOP consultant, expects the legislature’s redistricting process later this year to result in the two remaining congressional districts being divided between north and south. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney would face off in a Republican primary in 2022, if both choose to run for reelection in the north.

Meanwhile, Rep. Carol Miller is likely to seek reelection representing the southern portion of the state, which has felt the brunt of the economic effects from deserted coalfields.

In a joint statement last week, the current House members said they all planned to run for reelection, but might reconsider after the new lines are drawn.

McKinley has not faced a primary opponent since first winning his congressional seat in 2010. He is from Wheeling, in the state’s northern panhandle, and is a former state legislator who ran for governor in 1996.

In Ohio, sluggish population growth over the past decade led to the loss of a U.S. House seat. Meanwhile, the state will embark on a new system of drawing its congressional maps, which are considered among the most gerrymandered in the nation.

Ohio’s population grew by 2.3% between 2010 and 2020, to 11.8 million residents, according to the new census data. The national population grew by 7.4%, according to the data.

Slow levels of job creation, failure to attract enough immigrants and a dearth of top-tier public research universities to attract and retain young talent are among reasons Ohio is not growing faster, said Ned Hill, a professor of economic development at Ohio State University’s Glenn College of Public Affairs.

The redrawing of political maps that is set to begin later this year could give Democrats an opportunity to reclaim control of several of the 15 remaining seats. Under the current Republican-drawn map, they control only four of 16 seats.