Not a happy day


WHILE we remain hopeful that the merger of the University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio will indeed make both institutions stronger, we do not consider Gov. Bob Taft's visit today to sign the enabling legislation a cause for celebration.

The governor will be in town to make the merger official, but the smiles and handshakes among the principal players will occur beneath a cloud of gloom that seems to follow Mr. Taft everywhere he goes as he winds down his two terms as Ohio's chief executive.

Mr. Taft comes to Toledo as the only sitting governor in Ohio's history to be convicted of a crime. He makes his latest stop here at a time he is rated the least popular governor in the Union.

A Zogby International poll in November showed that just 6.5 percent of Ohio voters viewed Mr. Taft favorably, and just 3 percent described his performance as good or excellent.

Half the Zogby respondents said Mr. Taft oversaw a "purposely corrupt" administration, and a full one third said the governor was the victim of "corrupt individuals who scammed the state."

A recent SurveyUSA poll put his approval percentage back in the teens, but it was still the lowest of all 50 governors - by far.

A scandal of Coingate's magnitude will do that to a governor, especially one who clearly turned his back on the proud Taft political heritage of integrity in public service and embraced the likes of Tom Noe.

As the governor arrives for today's ceremony, you can bet the Lucas County Democratic Party is delighted to welcome him.

The worst fear of Ohio Democrats in this year of such promise for their statewide candidates is that Governor Taft will resign his office. His departure would promote the relatively obscure lieutenant governor, Bruce Johnson, to the governor's office and, depending on how much time remained to the general election Nov. 7, take some of the wind out of the Democrats' outrage.

But as long as he keeps his job, he remains the "elephant in the room" - what appropriate symbolism - for his fellow Republican candidates struggling to hold on to their party's domination of Ohio's statewide constitutional offices.

At some level it might be easy for many Ohioans to feel a measure of sympathy for Bob Taft and his predicament. After all, he's a nice man, someone who's devoted his adult life to public service. But there is no reason to feel sorry for him. Ohio deserves more than a pleasant demeanor in the governor's office, and Mr. Taft's problems are of his own doing.

His approval ratings are historically low because he tolerated an atmosphere of corruption, embodied by the Coingate mess and the amazing lapses at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and because he simply could not say no to those who would exploit his friendship.

He has never been comfortable in his own skin as a son of privilege. Had he honored his family name he never would have allowed himself to get caught up in such an ethical mess.

And he would have paid far more attention to the quality of his appointments. His choices for the MUO board have been generally good, but his appointments to the UT board over the years have been uniformly mediocre.

No, there is no joy in the visit of Governor Taft to Toledo. How we wish we could say otherwise.