COLUMBUS - Ohio Senate Democrats caused a ruckus yesterday as they tried to force public hearings on Gov. Bob Taft's choice for lieutenant governor.
On the second day of the new two-year session, as the Senate prepared to vote on whether to confirm the governor's appointment of Bruce Johnson to replace Jennette Bradley, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland) said the rules required that the measure be sent to a committee.
That would allow for Mr. Johnson, a former GOP state senator from Franklin County who is keeping his job as state development director, to appear at a committee meeting to answer questions about issues that include taxes and Ohio's job climate, Mr. Fingerhut said.
"He's a heartbeat away, a peanut away from being the governor of the state of Ohio," said Mr. Fingerhut. "No, he was not elected by the people."
After conferring with the clerk, Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) said because the confirmation of Mr. Johnson was through a House-Senate resolution - not a "message from the governor" - the issue didn't have to go to the rules committee.
But that didn't stop Democrats, outnumbered by the GOP 22-11, from pressing the issue of why citizens shouldn't get the chance to hear Mr. Johnson's views before he becomes lieutenant governor.
In a party-line vote, Senate Republicans rejected a motion to send the resolution to the reference committee. By an identical 21-11 vote, the Senate confirmed Mr. Johnson.
On Dec. 21, Mr. Taft named Ms. Bradley as state treasurer, replacing Joe Deters. He resigned to return to Hamilton County as prosecutor, after three aides pleaded guilty last year as part of a scheme to give brokers who had contributed to Mr. Deters' campaign fund an advantage in getting contracts with the treasurer's office. Mr. Taft chose Mr. Johnson to replace Ms. Bradley.
State Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Dayton) said Mr. Johnson is well-known; "a man more known for policy than politics. "
State Sen. David Goodman (R., Bexley) said the citizens weren't shut out of the process. If senators didn't think Mr. Johnson should be the new lieutenant governor, they had the ability to vote no yesterday, he said. State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said yesterday appeared to be the first time that the Senate had voted on the confirmation of a lieutenant governor.
When voters amended the constitution in 1976 to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to be elected jointly instead of separately, House and Senate confirmation became a requirement when a vacancy is filled in the lieutenant governor's office.
Earlier yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 97-0 to confirm Mr. Johnson. There was no debate and it took about 15 seconds. Mr. Taft is set to preside at today's swearing-in ceremony at the Statehouse.
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