State Sen. Lou Gentile is running for re-election while representing the residents of two counties who won't be voting for or against him this fall and getting to know people in seven other counties who will.
Gentile, a Democrat from Steubenville, was appointed to the 30th District Senate seat in December, just a couple of months after Ohio's legislative districts were redrawn based on the 2010 Census. The 30th now consists of Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson, Columbiana and Tuscarawas counties, but starting in 2013, it will lose the latter two and pick up Washington, Monroe, Noble, Athens, Carroll, Meigs and part of Vinton County.
"I made a commitment to continue to serve the people in the counties I'll be losing. That's my obligation," Gentile said.
"At the same time, I've been making every effort to spend time with the people in southeast Ohio," he said. "I'm working seven days a week to try and manage this."
Gentile's opponent in the November general election had been expected to be Belmont Republican Laura D. Groux, but a source with the Ohio Republican Senate Campaign Committee said Tuesday she was filing paperwork to withdraw from the ballot. Additional information was not immediately available.
The party's 30th District central committee has until Aug. 13 to name a replacement, and the committee member said he expected an announcement soon.
Current office: Appointed to 30th Senate District seat in December.
Experience: Elected to Ohio House of Representatives, 95th District seat, in 2010; assistant director of Governor's Office of Appalachia during Gov. Ted Strickland's administration.
The nominee will have a challenge before him or her, said Leslie Haas, chairwoman of the Washington County Republican Party.
"This is a large district. It's 10 counties, and it's very long and skinny," she said.
Distance isn't the only factor; there's also name recognition or a lack thereof. Washington County is currently in the 20th Senate District and represented by Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville. Prior to his appointment last year, the seat was occupied by Athens County Republican Jimmy Stewart, who spent six years representing a House district that included part of Washington County.
"Jimmy Stewart was so well-known," Haas said. "He had been around for many years."
To help the candidate get to know voters in the county and vice versa, Haas said the Washington County GOP will keep the person informed of events and set up opportunities to meet people here. Local Republicans will assist with campaigning through phone banks and door-to-door canvassing, Haas said.
Gentile has already made a few visits to Washington County, including the county Democratic Party dinner in October, while he was still a member of the House of Representatives. He was also a speaker at the Athens County Democratic Party dinner earlier this month. Gentile said he wants to show people he's accessible by attending community events and listening to their concerns.
"I think if you want to represent people, you have to understand what's going on in their lives," he said.
Gentile said an amendment he worked to add to a recent energy bill passed by the General Assembly reflects concerns among people in his current district and the counties he hopes to represent. It will require the state's Office of Workforce Development to produce an annual report showing the number of Ohio workers hired, Ohio-based contractors engaged and local skilled workers employed as a result of the expanding shale gas and oil industry. There are no incentives at this time, but Gentile said it's a step toward making sure the state benefits as much as it can from those developments.
"People want some security about whether this oil and gas industry, as it emerges, is something that's going to create local jobs," he said.
A balanced approach can result in protection of the environment and a chance to capitalize on the economic opportunities of shale exploration, Gentile said. Concern about those issues is just one of the things the counties in the new 30th District have in common, he said.
While Steubenville is more than 100 miles from Marietta, Gentile said he can see similarities in the communities. He said driving south of the Pioneer City on Ohio 7 reminds him of his home county, Jefferson, with manufacturing and natural resources in close proximity.
"We have a lot of the (same) challenges and opportunities," he said.