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Published: Monday, 12/4/2006

Cooperation in Columbus

WHEN the Republican-led 127th Ohio General Assembly takes office in January, lawmakers accustomed to having their way politically in both chambers will confront a governor of the opposite party for the first time in 28 years.

With majorities of 56-43 in the House and 21-12 in the Senate, the GOP will still control the legislative agenda. But the new partisan paradigm, with Democrat Ted Strickland in the Statehouse s front office, will require at least a modicum of cooperation if anything of consequence is to be accomplished.

Into this potential vortex step two legislators from northwest Ohio, who have been chosen for positions of leadership by their respective parties: Republican Sen. Randy Gardner, of Bowling Green, re-elected as majority floor leader, the number three post in the Senate, and Democratic Sen. Teresa Fedor, of Toledo, elevated to Senate minority leader.

Both have proven to be capable lawmakers and exceptionally attentive to Toledo-area interests, but their abilities are certain to be sorely tried given the new alignment in Columbus.

Because he will be new to the Statehouse, Mr. Strickland s attitude toward cooperation has yet to be tested, although we suspect his years in the political bazaar that is Congress have impressed upon him the need for accommodation when useful and necessary.

Their challenge, as we see it, is to help prevent the kind of stalemate that is possible when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Doing so will require significant adjustment on both sides, given the history of one-party rule that has beset the legislature for the past 12 years.

Republicans have controlled both the House, Senate, and governor s office since the start of the 1995 legislative session. But the last time one party held both chambers while the executive branch was of the other party was in January, 1979, when Democrats controlled the legislature and Republican James A. Rhodes was in his final term as governor.

Back then, cooperation wasn t a problem. Mr. Rhodes was a master of the deal, as was his southern Ohio soulmate, the legendary House Speaker Vernal G. Riffe, Jr. Senate President Oliver Ocasek pretty much went along with what they decided.

The kind of compromise common then has been virtually unknown in recent years, as GOP leaders have set aside any pretense of evenhandedness in the legislative process.

If Senate President Bill Harris and Speaker Jon Husted attempt to maintain that rigid posture in the coming year, progress toward solving the problems confronting Ohio will be very difficult.

In other words, compromise cannot be a dirty word in Columbus. Cooperation is a must.

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