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Published: Sunday, 11/28/2010

Third of faces in Ohio Statehouse to be freshmen

COLUMBUS - When Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) first served a single two-year term in the Ohio House, she was in the minority. When she jumped to the Senate in 2002, she was in the minority.

Now, as she returns to the House, she should feel right at home as Democrats surrender control of that chamber on Jan. 3 after a scant two years in power.

"There's always the potential in the back of [your] mind every election year that things could be different than what we anticipate," Ms. Fedor said. "But you work through that, work with that, work around it, and still work at representing the constituents in your district."

As the 99 members of the House raise their right hands to take the oath of office, there will be at least 32 new - or, as in the cases of Ms. Fedor and the returning Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), seminew - faces in the crowd.

That's a third of the chamber in a single election, and there soon will be more vacancies to fill, as Governor-elect John Kasich has started plucking GOP lawmakers to serve in his cabinet.

In the 33-member upper chamber, at least 10 senators will be new, a 30 percent turnover in one election cycle.

Considering only 17 of the 33 seats were contested, that's a 58 percent turnover rate in this age of term limits and anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic sentiment among voters.

And at least four more vacancies will occur promptly as three midterm senators and one newly re-elected senator, Steve Buehrer (R., Delta), move on to new elected or appointed offices.

No seats representing northwest Ohio changed partisan hands on Nov. 2, and, despite term limits, there is only one new face from the region in Columbus - Michael Ashford, the Toledo city councilman and Democrat who will replace Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), representing the inner-city 48th District in the House.

Mr. Ashford said the overall tone during recent freshman orientation was "positive and optimistic," despite the fact the lawmakers know they'll be called upon to make some unpopular budget cuts to resolve what could be an $8 billion deficit facing the next budget due on Mr. Kasich's desk by June 30.

"We just knew the challenges we're going to have meet. … Nobody knows how big the deficit will be," he said.

But as a rookie lawmaker from the minority party, he will have a tougher time advancing his own priorities than his Democratic colleagues have had over the last two years.

"There wasn't much we could do to prevent that," Mr. Ashford said.

"There was a political tsunami across the nation and in most major states with high unemployment. People wanted change. We have to accept that change and move the state forward. Both parties have to work together."

Ms. Brown, jumping to the Senate to replace Ms. Fedor in the 11th District, served six of her eight years in the House in the minority and said she learned in that time that she had to work with the majority.

She noted that the Republican majority co-opted her no-fault absentee ballot bill five years ago, and it's now the law of the land, even if her name isn't attached.

Democrats are now outnumbered in the upper chamber 23-10, meaning there are more than two Republicans to every Democrat.

"We must all, whether we're Democrats or Republicans, keep in mind and remember why we are here,'' she said.

"We're not here for our individual agendas. We're here for the citizens of the state of Ohio first and foremost.''

She made history by becoming the first black elected to the 11th District, but her election did not boost black representation in the Senate.

With nearly everything going their way, Republicans upset Sen. Fred Strahorn (D., Dayton), one of two GOP pickups on Nov. 2.

Ms. Fedor will replace Rep. Joe Walter (D., Toledo) in the House's 47th District. He was largely keeping the seat warm for her after Peter Ujvagi gave it up to become county administrator eight months ago.

Ms. Fedor said she does not regret jumping back to the House last spring when Mr. Ujvagi left while Democrats still control the chamber.

She has used the time to work with Senate Republicans to pass her bill to toughen penalties for human-trafficking in the state.

The bill is one of the few pieces of legislation that could yet see a vote in this lame-duck session.

"It's the issues that drive the successful effect," Ms. Fedor said. "I am able to help people see through the political climate because the issues are so critical that we have to work on it together."

Eight years ago, Mr. Damschroder was among the first wave of lawmakers forced out of the General Assembly by term limits.

Now term limits are responsible for bringing him back to replace the man who replaced him, Rep. Jeff Wagner (R., Sycamore). The 81st District encompasses Sandusky County, a southern strip of Ottawa, and western Seneca.

Mr. Damschroder, who served in the House from 1995 to 2003, has never known what it's like to serve in the minority.

He also served during better economic times for the state.

"It will be more austere," he said. "We were told right away that there would be a major reduction in the number of committees, which is cutting back on expenses. I just have the gut feeling that this is going to be the signature issue of the next General Assembly, financial prudence.

"I realize that, as we're faced with making tough decisions, we will see how many members have backbone," he said.

"These decisions will step on everybody's toes. But it's not just the responsibility of the legislators. The people have to back the legislators who back those decisions."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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