I have heard it said that a politician who has no further ambition is a dangerous man.
Randy Gardner doesn’t seem like a dangerous man. He seems like a nice guy — the quintessential nice guy. But that masks, I think, a master legislator.
State legislators are the unsung, virtually unseen, players of American politics. They do a lot of hard, important work that is never known. Take the Lake Erie water quality situation: The problem certainly can’t be solved by Toledo or Lucas County. We must have action out of Columbus — like the governor declaring the Maumee River a “distressed watershed” and like increasing incentives for farmers to abandon dangerous phosphate-laden fertilizers.
Luckily, Mr. Gardner, who has been legislating for nearly 30 years, toggling between the state Senate and the House, has made Lake Erie one of his main areas of concern much of that time. He may be the greenest grown-up in the legislature. So, also luckily, he will be key to ramping up action on Lake Erie.
We meet at his “office” — a Bob Evans in Perrysburg. Most days, when the legislature is not is session, he can be found here. He brings a small laptop and a smart phone and may see three of four people in a row, writing and emailing in between. Old-school. New technology.
The day after our meeting, Mr.Gardner co-presided, with Rep. Chris Redfern, over the Lake Erie Caucus’ hearing at Maumee Bay State Park. After almost six hours, there were still people with more to say. The topic was the Toledo water crisis. The consensus that emerged: There is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s get on with saving the lake.
The same day Mr. Gardner and I met, the governor an-nounced several new initiatives in his own Lake Erie response, including more money for water research and loans for cities like Toledo to improve our water-treatment facilities.
“People like you,” Mr. Gardner told me, “will write that it is not enough, and you will be right. But this is just the start.”
It's not so much not enough as not a plan.
What I mean by a “master legislator” is that Mr. Gardner is in command of the details of legislation. He can work across party lines. He has access to the governor and his staff. He can actually make things happen.
What I like about Mr. Gardner is that he’s more interested in passing good law and following up and making it work than posturing on TV. “Sometimes thinking makes a politician’s life harder,” he says ruefully. He loves being a state legislator. Never really wanted anything more. But his family comes first. He has not missed a single basketball game at the University of Findlay, where his son plays. He still shoots hoops himself most days. Politics is not life.
Randy Gardner is not so much dangerous as indispensable.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.