COLUMBUS - With the passing of a gavel, control of the Ohio House of Representatives passed to Democrats yesterday for the first time in 14 years.
The first Jewish speaker of the House gave a nod to the ominous financial problems facing the state but went on to propose new tax breaks and state spending in hopes of igniting an economic spark.
"I have a vision, a vision which I believe we can achieve, even given the fiscal restraints now upon us," said newly sworn-in Speaker Armond Budish, 55, a second-term representative and a consumers' rights attorney from the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood.
His second-in-command is fellow sophomore Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon).
Mr. Budish proposed a series of tax exemptions and incentives to spur new business creation, help Ohioans working at start-up companies, and expand access to free broadband Internet services. He talked of providing more state support for school construction and "green-collar jobs" and for new partnerships with the state's big cities. But he cautioned some of his proposals may have to be tempered, given Ohio's "fiscal quicksands."
"The challenges facing Ohio are greater than they've been in decades, maybe ever," Mr. Budish said. "We're facing a $7 billion deficit in the next [two-year] budget, which we'll begin wrestling with in a month."
As the chamber's first Jewish speaker, Mr. Budish took his oath on two Bibles - the Jerusalem Bible and the historic William McKinley Bible, which President McKinley used at his 1897 swearing-in. It was loaned for yesterday's ceremony by the Western Reserve Historical Society.
With the November election, Democrats rebounded from a 53-46 minority in the just-completed 127th General Assembly session to a mirror-opposite majority in the 128th. But the House majority and Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland must work with a Senate dominated 21-12 by Republicans.
Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland), who has had a good working relationship so far with the Democratic governor, continues to lead the upper chamber.
The new House minority leader, veteran Rep. Bill Batchelder (R., Medina), praised Mr. Budish and gave tentative support to the idea of more tax credits.
"We've had some tax credits that have been disasters•.•.•.•," he said. "So we have to be careful what we do. We cannot afford to be foolish in the way we apply tax incentives. The flip side of that, however, is they are a good thing."
With the exception of fund-raising, the quiet Mr. Budish largely flew under the radar during most of his freshman term.
His former competitor for the top post, Mr. Szollosi, had all but been dubbed "dude pro tempore" by the time he took his oath as the number-two speaker pro tempore.
Rep. Stephen Dyer (D., Tallmadge) recalled the e-mail that his friend sent him.
"Dude, will you nominate me on Monday?" the e-mail read.
"Dude, I will be honored," Mr. Dyer responded.
Even Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer got into the act.
"Representative Szollosi, I'm the dude who has the honor of swearing you in," he said before administering the oath to the former Oregon city councilman as his wife, Melanie, and three children watched.
Later, Mr. Szollosi predicted stronger bipartisan cooperation under Mr. Budish.
"Ohioans don't want to see political bickering," he said. "They want to see results."
Two new faces took their oaths to represent portions of northwest Ohio in the House: Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) in the 80th District, incorporating Erie and most of Ottawa counties, and Rep. Terry Boose (R., Norwalk) in the 58th District, straddling eastern Seneca, Huron, and southwestern Lorain.
Across the Statehouse Rotunda, Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) moved rapidly up the ranks of Republican leadership to be sworn in as majority whip, the No. 4 post.
The sole new face representing northwest Ohio in the Senate is not so new. Sen. Karen Gillmor (R., Tiffin), widow of U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor, raised her right hand to take her oath in the chamber where she served two terms in the 1990s. She represents the north-central 26th District stretching from Oak Harbor to Marysville.
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