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400 turn out for Gilligan's big day

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Former state employee Joe Anthony, center, presents former Ohio governor John Gilligan, left, with a photo of a donkey during his 85th birthday party in Columbus.

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COLUMBUS - For a governor ousted after a single term, John Joyce Gilligan has a lot of friends, judging by the roughly 400 people who turned out last night for his belated 85th birthday celebration.

The father of Ohio's personal income tax, Gov. "Jack" Gilligan ushered in the state Environmental Protection Agency, and angered friends and foes alike by briefly shutting down state parks during a 1973 budget crisis.

At a time when Democrats were winning elections across the nation in Watergate's wake, Mr. Gilligan was an exception. He surrendered the governor's mansion to the comeback kid, James A. Rhodes, in 1975 by a scant 11,000 votes. Gone was the talk of a vice presidential nod with Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But 31 years after the outcry, the income tax is still here.

And so is Mr. Gilligan.

"The income tax is not just here, but it's the major source of support for state activities of every kind," Mr. Gilligan said. "Heaven knows where we'd be without it. 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thing, and today I don't know anybody in the political arena who would dare to suggest that it ought to be repealed."

Mr. Gilligan now needs a cane to walk. He held onto the back of a chair for support last night as he greeted old friends and colleagues.

He served on Cincinnati City Council from 1953 to 1963 and in Congress from 1965-67 before losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968. He made a comeback in 1970 by riding the Crofters "pay-to-play" scandal into the governor's mansion. After he was defeated by Mr. Rhodes, he served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and, more recently, on the Cincinnati Board of Education.

In the crowd of roughly 400 people was his daughter, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. They are the only father and daughter to have served as governors in the United States.

He didn't help his cause for re-election in 1972 when a reporter asked him at the Ohio State Fair whether he planned to shear a sheep.

"Nope," he responded. "I shear taxpayers, not sheep."

"I was ready to die," said Pat Groseck, his press secretary at the time. "We were dismayed that it got out, but then we were extremely dismayed when other news outlets starting picking it up. He does have a great sense of humor. It was too bad that when he tried to use it, he got stung."

But that is "Jack" Gilligan, said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

Gov. Bob Taft was one of the few Republicans in the room.

"I need to dispel any rumors from the outset," Mr. Taft told the crowd. "I am not announcing tonight that I'm changing parties, although with one or two more [Ken] Blackwell ads, I'd have to give it serious consideration."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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