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Published: Monday, 1/3/2011

Brown , Ashford join Ohio legislature

COLUMBUS — Republicans returned to power Monday with a grip on Ohio state government that, when complete, will be tighter than before the GOP bleeding began four years ago.

Although their numbers have dwindled in both the Ohio House and Senate, Democrats pledged to be there when their colleagues across the aisle need them in dealing with financial problems of a magnitude not seen in decades.

"I think we know, at least in a general way, what we will face," said new House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina), who ascended to the podium after nearly four decades off and on in the chamber.

"I ask for your prayers that we may, through bipartisan cooperation and dedication, bring Ohio back to prosperity, economic growth, education excellence, and educational leadership among the states," he said.

As lawmakers raised their right hands to take the oaths to start the 129th General Assembly, Republicans outnumber Democrats 23 to 10 in the Senate, their largest majority in decades, and dominate 58 to 41 in the House.

Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) made history by becoming the first African-American to represent the city in the state Senate.

"Voters, rather than bring in race, looked at the qualifications, the dedication, and what I have done in my previous elected positions, and decided to go with someone that they knew would be there and would work for them, someone who would listen to them,'' Ms. Brown said.

Among those who watched her take the oath was former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who encouraged then-Representative Brown to run for the Senate despite the fairly recent deaths of a daughter and her husband. In addition to walking into the chamber as a new senator, Ms. Brown was promptly sworn in as minority whip, the No. 3 leader among the 10 Democrats.

"She doesn't feel the need to stand and make very dynamic speeches," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "She's a great listener, however, a great follow-up person, and she has earned the respect of men and women across northwest Ohio."

While there was some movement back and forth between chambers, there was only one truly new face in the crowd from northwest Ohio who raised his hand to take the oath.

Democrat Rep. Michael Ashford of Toledo's central city says he is willing to work with the Republican majority and support whatever is needed to get the state moving forward. Democrat Rep. Michael Ashford of Toledo's central city says he is willing to work with the Republican majority and support whatever is needed to get the state moving forward.
JAY LAPRETE Enlarge

Former Toledo councilman Michael Ashford, who replaced Ms. Brown to represent Toledo's central-city 48th House District, said he's willing to work with the Republican majority as it deals with what he's been told could be a potential revenue shortfall in the next two-year budget ranging anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion.

"If it's moving the state forward, I'm going to support it," Mr. Ashford said.

"If it's putting people back to work, if it's supporting small business, if it's creating a strong economic climate, I'll be the first in line."

Led by Governor-elect John Kasich, who will take office on Jan. 10, the GOP will control the ball over at least the next two years.

With the Nov. 2 election results, Republicans hold or will soon hold all but one seat on the Ohio Supreme Court and every statewide executive office from attorney general to treasurer.

In addition to a new House speaker, the Ohio Senate has a new president in Sen. Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond). Republicans will hold the pen as congressional and legislative district maps are redrawn, influencing elections for the next decade.

Among other things either on lawmakers' or Mr. Kasich's table are sentencing reforms to control prison costs, tackling binding arbitration for public employees, workers' compensation reform, and elimination of what's left of Ohio's estate tax.

Toledo Democrat Teresa Fedor, after eight years representing Ms. Brown's Senate district, is now back in the House representing the city's 47th District, thanks to term limits.

Also making a return engagement after a term-limited time-out is Republican Rex Damschroder of Fremont, who was pushed out of the 81st District encompassing Sandusky County, southern Ottawa, and western Seneca eight years ago.

"Statewide, I realize we've got major, major challenges out there," Mr. Damschroder said.

"These are probably the biggest challenges of my lifetime…However, I look at the experience that we bring to the table, people like Speaker Batchelder … I think we have the team in place. If anybody can do, we're going to be able to do it."

Back for another two-year term in the House are Reps. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova), now the fourth-highest-ranking Republican in the chamber; Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), now assistant minority leader; Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), Bruce Goodwin (R., Defiance), Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky), and Lynn Watchmann (R., Napoleon).

In the Senate, returning northwest Ohio Sens. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) and Karen Gillmor (R., Tiffin), both at midway points of two-year terms, joined Ms. Brown and Sen. Steve Buehrer (R., Delta) in taking their oaths.

Mr. Buehrer's return will be a short one.

He will leave the chamber by next week to become administrator of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and both Mr. Hite and Mr. Goodwin are among those who have applied to replace him in the upper chamber.

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



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