METAMORA, O. - On Jan. 6, 1998, Rick Hodges broke some news.
The Republican state representative from Fulton County announced that he would not run for re-election that year.
His decision caught some aides to House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson by surprise.
Only four months earlier, Ms. Davidson had appointed Mr. Hodges as chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Term limits barred Mr. Hodges from running for re-election in 2000. But he was considered a shoo-in if he had run for a fourth term in 1998 to represent Williams, Defiance, and Fulton counties.
Instead, Mr. Hodges finished his third term and he went home.
“Quite simply, the responsibility of representing our area is not without considerable cost to my family and the time I can spend with them,” Mr. Hodges explained.
“I have found that being with my wife and son is a higher priority for me and the time has come to make a choice,” he added.
What has happened in the House of Representatives since his departure is gratifying, Mr. Hodges said last week.
For in his six years as a House member, Mr. Hodges was a strong member of the conservative wing of the Republican caucus.
It's a bloc, derisively referred to as the “caveman caucus,” that has fought abortion rights, helped take apart the welfare state, crusaded for tax cuts, and raised red flags at the expansion of state government.
Some say the new speaker, Larry Householder of Perry County, is a genuine conservative and will take his 59-member caucus along the right fork of the road.
From his home in Fulton County, Mr. Hodges watches the action with some witstfulness.
His successor in the House, Delta attorney Steve Buehrer, is majority whip - the number five-ranking member on Mr. Householder's team.
Long-time GOP friends and allies have seats in the Householder clubhouse, such as Reps. Gary Cates of Butler County as speaker pro tem and Jim Trakas from Cuyahoga County, who is the new majority floor leader.
“The only downside of term limits is I could not be with them,” said Mr. Hodges. “They're all fine people. The excitement of working 20 years in the conservative ranks; it's finally happened. And it's all about ideas.”
Mr. Hodges is only 37 years old. He has remained active in politics as chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and he has kept in touch with politicos from all over the state.
He said a return to the legislature is possible. For now, however, he said he does not miss the 6 a.m. phone calls he used to take or the 10 to 15 calls he struggled to return at 10 p.m.
But the memories remain fresh and they're not all good, especially what Mr. Hodges refers to as the “long, hot summer” of 1997.
That's when conservative Republicans in the House helped block an effort to put a statewide tax increase on that ballot for public schools. Earlier that year, the state Supreme Court released its 4-3 decision that struck down the school-funding system as unconstititional, saying the use of local real estate taxes created unfairness among the property-rich and poor.
The following year, then-Governor Voinovich succeeded in getting the tax hike on the ballot. Mr. Hodges was not among the supporters and he watched voters kill it by a four-to-one margin.
“I still think about it and wonder, `With all of those bright people, why was that the response?' It seems like we missed a historic opportunity. There were all sorts of ideas that never, for some reason, were brought to the table,” he said.
But as House conservatives prepare to push their agenda, they may want to study the words of Mr. Hodges on the day he announced he wouldn't run for re-election in 1998.
“The system is built to slow down change. It's very difficult to create change in a democratic system. That's the way we preserved our liberties for 200 years with only one major crisis. When everybody has a chance to impact the process, you don't get everything you want,” he said.
Jim Drew is chief of The Blade's Columbus bureau.
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