John Gilligan

Former Ohio governor and member of Congress, died this week at age 92 after a devoted career to progressive, vital public service.


John Gilligan, a former Ohio governor and member of Congress, died this week at age 92. He devoted his career to progressive, vital public service.

Elected in 1970, the Cincinnati Democrat served a single four-year term as governor. The most important act of his administration was adoption of Ohio’s first income tax in 1971. That was good policy, because it curbed the state’s reliance on regressive taxes that fell more heavily on lower-income taxpayers, while maintaining state funding of essential services.

But it evidently was bad politics, because voters denied him re-election in 1974, opting to return Republican James Rhodes to the governor’s office. Yet two years earlier, voters defeated a ballot proposal that would have repealed the income tax. The tax remains in effect, although subsequent governors and legislatures have reduced it and some politicians still seek, unwisely, to eliminate it.

Mr. Gilligan also presided over the creation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Locally, he contributed to the planning for Toledo’s One Government Center, expansion of the regional Metroparks system, and efforts to clean up Lake Erie and the Maumee River. As a member of Congress from 1965 to 1967, Mr. Gilligan supported the Voting Rights Act and the Medicare and Medicaid health-care programs for elderly, poor, and disabled Americans. Earlier, he was cited for bravery during World War II, taught literature at Xavier University, and served on Cincinnati’s city council.

Mr. Gilligan’s family is equally committed to public service: A daughter, Kathleen Sebelius, is U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services and a former governor of Kansas.

After his term as governor, Mr. Gilligan headed the U.S. Agency for International Development and taught at the University of Notre Dame. Nearly a quarter-century after he left Columbus, he sought and won election to the Cincinnati school board; he served eight years.

John Gilligan epitomized service to Ohioans. His career merits emulation.