Ohio Rep. Steve Austria to retire, sparing GOP a primary showdown

Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio), forced by redistricting into a primary scuffle against a fellow Republican, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the House. 

The decision spares the GOP a potentially chaotic intraparty showdown for the seat.

Austria, who was first elected in 2008, had little trouble winning reelection in 2010. But slow population growth in Ohio over the past decade forced state lawmakers to dismantle two districts, and much of Austria's district was merged with that of Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

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Austria said he shares the frustration and anger of constituents who are upset that the district was disassembled. In explaining his decision to retire, Austria cited what he anticipated would be a negative, divisive primary battle that would have cost millions and risked harming vital interests in the area, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working on behalf of every one of my communities, both large and small, and regret that I will not be able to continue the work I have been truly committed to, due to the redrawing of the maps,” Austria said in announcing his decision.

Earlier in December, Austria filed petitions to run in the new 10th congressional district, where Turner would also be running. But last-minute adjustments to the map excluded many of the counties he had previously represented. That created an uphill battle for Austria against Turner, who has served for longer in Congress and would have had more of his constituents in the new district.

Both had campaign war chests of slightly more than $400,000 as of the end of September.

“I’d like to be one of the first to thank Steve Austria for his service to Ohio and our country,” Turner said in a statement. “I know he is an honorable man and throughout his time in office he has done what he thought was right for Southwest Ohio and his constituents.”

While Austria opted out of a primary contest with a fellow Republican, he left little doubt about his feelings about the process that led to his predicament. Republicans controlled the redrawing of the map in Ohio that followed the 2010 census, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly played a major role in determining the new boundaries.

“Since the redistricting process began, it has been done in secrecy and with closed door deals,” Austria said. “I join my constituents, who are frustrated and disappointed about the new maps forced upon them and the fact that they didn’t have a voice in the process.”

Austria also made clear that while he will leave his House seat when his term expires in 2013, he's not closing the door on serving in office again.

Austria was not the only victim of redistricting in Ohio, but he is the first to choose departure rather than a 2012 battle against another House member. Democratic Ohio Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur are preparing for a primary battle to determine which of the two will stand a chance to stay in Congress.

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) saw her district dismantled in 2011 and will face Republican Rep. Jim Renacci (Ohio) in a general election next year. Early polling shows the two in a dead heat.

Austria, who served for nine years as an Ohio state lawmaker before running for Congress, was elected president of the Republican freshman class in Congress in 2008. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee and earlier served on the Budget and Homeland Security committees.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Session (Texas) said Austria's small-business experience and conservative principles made him a forceful voice for fiscal responsibility.

"With strong leadership and common-sense solutions, Steve stood up for Ohio families and job creators against Washington’s reckless spending and burdensome regulations," Sessions said. "I join House Republicans in thanking Steve for his hard work in Congress, and we will miss his friendship and service.

— This post was updated at 4:17 p.m.