THE announcement by U.S. Sen. George Voinovich that he won't run for re-election in 2010 is not particularly startling. Mr. Voinovich, like all savvy politicians, understands the importance of timing, and the current Democratic resurgence in Ohio and nationally portends some tough times for Republicans over the next two years.
By bowing out now, the 72-year-old former governor and mayor of Cleveland avoids what undoubtedly would be a grueling and expensive effort to retain his Senate seat - as well as the real risk of ending more than 40 years of public service in Ohio as a loser.
At a glance, Mr. Voinovich's elective career, which started when he won the first of three terms in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1965, has been successful, although it is important to note that along the way he benefited from, and took advantage of, some fortunate - here's that word again - timing.
Having moved from the legislature to posts as Cuyahoga County auditor and commissioner in the early 1970s to a mundane stint in 1979 as lieutenant governor under James A. Rhodes, he was in position to capitalize after Dennis Kucinich's excruciating incompetence as mayor ran the city of Cleveland into fiscal default. Winning the mayor's office, Mr. Voinovich got credit for cleaning up the mess and the municipal renaissance that followed.
He served as mayor for a decade, exposing an ambition for higher office in 1988 when he ran for the U.S. Senate - badly, as it turned out - and lost to the incumbent, fellow Clevelander Howard Metzenbaum.
Two years later, Mr. Voinovich won the governorship as his Democratic opponent, Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr., was daunted by a wooden personality and public fatigue stemming from tax increases and minor scandals during the administration of Richard F. Celeste. By the time he ran for re-election in 1994, Republicans were ascendant and Mr. Voinovich swept to a record victory against Rob Burch, arguably the most ineffectual gubernatorial candidate in modern Ohio history.
As governor in the 1990s, Mr. Voinovich benefited greatly from a decent economy and, despite his self-styled reputation as a skinflint, state spending rose substantially. He promised he would be the "education governor," although the benefit to K-12 classrooms came not in innovation but in more money. By comparison, state colleges and universities were starved of funding.
Late in his second term, the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation quietly wired Tom Noe, a friend and GOP fund-raiser from Lucas County the governor had appointed to two state posts, the first of two $25 million installments in what was supposed to be a rare-coin investment venture.
Noe's subsequent theft from that fund and the scandal surrounding his criminal conviction led to the disgrace of Mr. Voinovich's successor as governor, Robert Taft, and a near-sweep of statewide offices by Democrats in 2006. While Mr. Voinovich has never fully explained his role in the Noe affair, we believe he should be held accountable since he was the state's chief executive when it all started.
In the Senate, Mr. Voinovich has carefully cultivated an aura of partisan independence and fiscal austerity. But a close examination of his record shows that over the past eight years he has been pretty much a reliable vote for the major initiatives - notably tax cuts for the rich, the war in Iraq, and environmental deregulation - of the outgoing Bush Administration.
Those misguided policies have come home to roost for Ohioans and the recession-bound economy, growing bleaker by the day, undoubtedly made it easier for Mr. Voinovich to remove himself from the 2010 campaign.
With partisan shackles loosened, Mr. Voinovich has the chance to spend his final years in the Senate as the independent force he believes himself to be. We know he understands the timing, and we hope he uses the opportunity wisely.
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