Paul E. Kostyu reports:
The new General Assembly convenes today – and there’s nary a Southwest Ohioan in GOP leadership, which controls both chambers. That’s a big change.
Southwest Ohio Republicans and Democrats have had leading roles in both the Ohio Senate and House for decades.
In the last two-year session, Southwest Ohio Republicans held three key spots – Senate president, senate majority whip and speaker pro tempore in the House, which is second in command.
The region’s only surviving leader is Sen. Eric H. Kearney of North Avondale, the top Democrat as minority leader, a post he’s held for two years.
Does this mean anything? Some people think so.
• Interactive: Ohio’s geography of power
“This is something we should worry about,” former Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff told The Enquirer.
What does having people from the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan area in leadership positions mean? Well, money, for one. Lots of it.
Senate presidents, House speakers and their leadership teams carve tens of billions of dollars in state budget money for construction, research, infrastructure projects, social programs and businesses.
Under Aronoff and former President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, for example, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to renovate Fountain Square, build two sports stadiums, revitalize the riverfront, renew Over-the-Rhine and create the Aronoff Center.
And the leaders control which legislation gets hearings and a vote, which means the voices of some constituents are a little louder than others.
Under former President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, for example, a pension fix passed last year and abortion restrictions did not.
Not only is Niehaus out, so is speaker pro tempore Louis R. Blessing Jr., R-Colerain Township, both because of term limits. State Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, was majority whip but opted not to seek the post again this year.
Aronoff said he doesn’t doubt the new Senate president Keith L. Faber, R-Celina, will be a good leader, but he’s not from Southwest Ohio. Aronoff said it’s too early to predict whether the region will be affected by the leadership void.
“It doesn’t bode well when you lose leadership positions,” Finan said. “It doesn’t help you at all.”
Finan called Blessing’s departure the “loss of a really important representative.”
In tight-money times, committee work critical
“Southwest Ohio is not any less important,” Niehaus told The Enquirer. But he said times have changed since Aronoff and Finan directed huge sums of money toward local projects.
Money is tighter, Niehaus said. There was no capital budget in the second half of Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration. Gov. John R. Kasich’s first capital budget last year was tight. The governor said he wanted to rein in spending and limit the state’s bond debt.
Patrick R. Miller, assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said it’s critical the region’s 19 legislators from both parties have a unified front.
Miller said legislators in northern Virginia, where he used to live, “were very effective” when they cooperated. Now, however, lawmakers are either ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative and “they don’t talk to each other. It has really hurt their ability to help the region.”
Miller said the delegation, and its staff members, need to work within the committee structure and “in the backrooms wherever appropriations and legislation are hammered out” to make sure the region isn’t ignored.
Kearney and Niehaus got along famously over the past two years, even introducing key legislation together. Kearney told The Enquirer he hopes and expects a similar relationship to develop with Faber.