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Published: Wednesday, 12/15/2010

Strickland airs worries, hopes in last speech

COLUMBUS -- Outgoing Gov. Ted Strickland Wednesday used his last speech in office to caution against trying to do too much too quickly while the nation and Ohio remain in the economic doldrums.

But he admitted his philosophy of the last four years of trying to keep the ship of state on a steady course despite the economic storm didn't serve him well on Nov. 2.

"During a recession you try to keep things functional," the Democratic governor said. "You try to maintain essential services, and you try to continue to invest in the things that are foundational for future growth, but you don't try to deal with problems that have been neglected for decades.

"You survive so that you can hopefully do the right thing when the economy's in a stronger position," Mr. Strickland said. "That just seems like common sense to me, but 49 percent of Ohioans didn't believe it."

In a 30-minute speech that met with several standing ovations at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, Mr. Strickland never mentioned the name of former Republican congressman John Kasich, the man who defeated him by 2 percentage points last month.

Mr. Kasich will be inaugurated on Jan. 10, and he has vowed to undo a number of items that Mr. Strickland cited as among his greatest accomplishments, including a long-term, but not yet funded, plan to revamp how the state pays for K-12 education, gradually shift a greater share of the costs onto the state, and increase teacher preparedness.

Mr. Strickland said he was concerned Ohio's $400 million in federal Race to the Top funds tied to its education efforts could be in danger. Mr. Kasich has said he's received assurances that would not happen, and the state is proceeding with distribution of the money to schools.

Mr. Strickland again expressed his disappointment the federal government last week took back what was left of Ohio's $400 million economic stimulus grant for rail development and distributed it to other states after Mr. Kasich said he would kill Mr. Strickland's plan to restore conventional-speed passenger rail service between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

"The new administration has decided the train will leave without us," he said. "Quite frankly, that saddens me, because those funds meant new development, new jobs, and a new transportation era for the most populated corridor in the nation without rail service. Those funds and that train meant a stronger foundation for Ohio, and now they'll mean a stronger foundation for California and Florida."

Mr. Strickland, 69, said he'd been working on a "stirring second act" for which the curtain now will never rise.

As he did during the campaign, Mr. Strickland argued his policies have solidified Ohio's economic foundation and prepared it for stronger growth once a national recovery takes hold.

He repeatedly pointed to the predictions of failure that preceded Dayton's own Wright brothers' successful but brief first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. as he drew comparisons with what he attempted to accomplish in office.

"We may not have reached our final destination, but by God, we put that plane in the air. …," he said.

The governor appeared to be relaxed and offered no excuses for his election loss, although he lamented what he characterized as a lack of depth in current political debate.

While saying he worked to help Ohio become a leader in renewable and advanced energy, he pointed to Quasar Energy, an Ohio venture that is operating plants that convert manure into energy.

"You know, I'm still wondering if they might be willing to bring their equipment over to the Statehouse," he said.

Then, with a smile, he added, "I apologize for that. I couldn't help myself."

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



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