John Gilligan speaks during a public education rally in Columbus on Oct. 23, 1999. “After serving as governor, he was an elected member of the Cincinnati School Board,” state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said.
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COLUMBUS — John Joyce “Jack” Gilligan, Ohio’s 62nd governor who was known as the father of Ohio’s income tax, died Monday in Cincinnati at the age of 92.
The liberal Democrat paid a political price for championing the 1971 creation of the state’s first income tax, losing his bid for re-election to returning Republican Gov. James Rhodes by just over 11,000 votes in 1974. But when voters had a chance to repeal the income tax at the polls, they declined to do so.
“The income tax is not just here, but it’s the major source of support for state activities of every kind,” the former governor told The Blade in 2006 when his 85th birthday was belatedly feted by the Ohio Democratic Party.
“Heaven knows where we’d be without it,” he said. “At the time that it was proposed, it was thought to be a revolutionary thing, and today I don’t know anybody in the political arena who would dare to suggest that it ought to be repealed.”
But times have changed.
Current Republican Gov. John Kasich has championed reduction of the income tax with the longer-term goal of eliminating it.
Mr. Kasich on Monday ordered flags over the Statehouse to be lowered to half-staff through the funeral.
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Governor Gilligan,” he said. “He served with honor and distinction, and my family’s thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”
Mr. Gilligan was elected governor in 1970 and was defeated in 1974. But that didn’t end his political career.
“After serving as governor, he was an elected member of the Cincinnati School Board,” state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said. “Think about that. That says so much about Governor Gilligan.”
Gilligan, earlier in career
In 2011 shortly after his 90th birthday, the ever-outspoken Mr. Gilligan took aim at the modern Republican Party and the Tea Party faction intent on the demise of Ohio’s income tax in an interview with The Blade.
“Here we are 40 years later, and the Republican Party, having achieved to a degree some foothold in state government, their big thing is, ‘We’ve got to get rid of taxes,’ ” he said in his Cincinnati home. “They come up a little short when asked to explain how you’re going to run these services without any taxes. Well, then they skip to the next subject.”
Mr. Gilligan and his wife, Mary Kathryn Dixon, had four children. Among them is Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and currently President Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services where she is overseeing implementation of Mr. Obama’s health-care reform law.
“Jack Gilligan lived his life in service to his fellow Americans, especially those in his home state of Ohio and across the United States who were left out or left behind,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement. “During World War II, he earned a Silver Star for his bravery at Okinawa, and he never stopped serving his country — as a congressman, where he helped enact historic legislation from the Voting Rights Act to Medicare and Medicaid, and then as governor of Ohio. …
“Kathleen followed in the high tradition of public service that Jack set, and they became the first father-daughter team of governors in American history,” he said. “She always made her father proud, and I’m proud to have her on my team each and every day.”
One of the Gilligans’ sons, John, is a Democratic state executive committee member. A grandson, Joe, is one of Mr. Redfern’s staff members for the party.
In addition to championing the income tax, the Irish Catholic governor ushered in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and angered many when he briefly shut down state parks during a 1973 budget crisis.
In 1972, during the traditional governor’s tour of the Ohio State Fair, he was asked by a reporter whether he planned to shear a sheep.
“Nope,” the sharp-tongued governor replied. “I shear taxpayers, not sheep.”
The quip came back to haunt him in the 1974 election.
“It was my glowing personality that blew it away, seriously,” he joked in The Blade interview in 2011.
The seeds for what is now One Government Center in downtown Toledo were sown under Mr. Gilligan, but the state office tower was completed under Mr. Rhodes. Today, a bronze statue at the plaza and fountain commemorates Mr. Rhodes, not Mr. Gilligan.
Mr. Gilligan visited northwest Ohio many times during his tenure.
He appeared locally to address water pollution and efforts to clean the Maumee River and Lake Erie. During a speech before the Great Lakes Basin Commission on Sept. 15, 1973, he called for a federal-state partnership to study the Maumee River basin and said the task should be undertaken by the commission.
He delivered a $30,000 check on Sept. 11, 1973, to Metroparks of the Toledo Area on Madison Avenue to purchase property for Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.
On June 15, 1973, Mr. Gilligan gave a speech during the spring quarter graduation at the University of Toledo in the old Field House on the West Bancroft Street campus. He told graduates that they should look at society critically and urged them to use their voting rights to bring about the kind of world they want to live in.
He mentioned specifically the referendum in November, 1972, when Ohio voters defeated an amendment that would have repealed the state income tax, calling it “proof that the common voter does not want to close the schools or watch the hungry go unfed, but is willing to be taxed to meet that end.”
Charles F. Kurfess, the former Republican lawmaker from Perrysburg, was House speaker when Mr. Gilligan was governor. He recalled discussions within his caucus about the creation of the income tax, which had some support in Wood County.
“I had a caucus that said, ‘If there’s going to be an income tax, it’s going to be a Republican income tax,’ ” he said. “That was the last thing I wanted. If there was going to be an income tax, I wanted it to be Gilligan’s income tax because there would be substantial negative reaction to it politically.”
John Galbraith, a Republican from Maumee, was also in House at the time. He voted against the income tax.
“I was there a long time, 20 years, and looking back, there were some votes I think I was wrong about,” he said. “Perhaps that was one. There was a movement after it passed to repeal it by a group of Republicans and some close friends of mine. … I didn’t join it. I thought it was futile and had no chance of winning.”
He called current talk of repealing the tax “foolhardy” and “stupid.”
As a loyal Republican, he supported the return of Governor Rhodes in 1974, but Mr. Galbraith said he considered Governor Gilligan to be a “fine man of good reputation, integrity, and ability.”
Current House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) was also in the House at the time.
“He was a student of American literature, and, while we did not have the same authors at heart, he was a well-read scholar,” Mr. Batchelder said. “Governor Gilligan was a devoted man and had very strong views about changes in Ohio government, which he did his very best to carry out.”
Early in his career, Mr. Gilligan taught literature at Cincinnati’s Xavier University.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said he recalled meeting Mr. Gilligan one time when Mr. Rothenbuhler was a carpenter and delegate of his union at an AFL-CIO meeting.
“I always had a lot of respect for him,” he said. “He treated everyone like a gentleman.”
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) praised the late Governor Gilligan as “an urbane, progressive leader for our state.”
“More than anyone else, he helped bring education in Ohio into the 20th century. He was a voice for peace during his time in academia at Notre Dame. He will be greatly missed,” she said.
He served on Cincinnati City Council from 1953 to 1963 and in Congress from 1965 to 1967. In 1968, he upset sitting U.S. Sen. Frank Lausche in the Democratic primary election before going on to lose to Republican William B. Saxbe in the general.
He then rode a Republican “pay-to-play” loan scandal into the governor’s mansion for his single term, defeating Republican Auditor Roger Cloud. After leaving office in early 1975, he served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and as a faculty member and director of the Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater.
Staff writers Tom Troy and Mark Reiter contributed to this report.