Sen. George Voinovich (R)
Elected: 1998, term expires 2010, 2nd term.
Born: July 15, 1936, Cleveland .
Education: Ohio U., B.A. 1958, Ohio St. U., J.D. 1961.
Family: Married (Janet); 4 children.
Elected office: OH House of Reps., 1966-71; Cuyahoga Cnty. auditor, 1971-76; Cuyahoga Cnty. commissioner, 1977-78; OH lt. gov., 1979; Cleveland mayor, 1979-89; OH Gov., 1990-98.
Professional Career: OH asst. atty. gen., 1963–64.
George Voinovich, Ohio’s senior senator, is a Republican who will have spent 44 years in elected office by the time he retires in 2010. Facing the prospect of a tough re-election fight that year, he announced in January 2009 that he would leave the Senate at the end of his current term.
|George Voinovich (R)||3,464,356||(64%)||($8,956,380)|
|Eric Fingerhut (D)||1,961,171||(36%)||($1,166,538)|
|George Voinovich (R)||640,082||(77%)|
|John Mitchel (R)||195,476||(23%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (56%), 1994 governor (72%), 1990 governor (56%)
Voinovich is of Serbian and Slovenian descent and grew up in the heavily ethnic, working-class neighborhood of Collinwood in Cleveland, where he still lives. He graduated from Ohio University and from the Ohio State University law school, then practiced law in Cleveland. He was elected to the state House in 1966 at the age of 30, elected Cuyahoga County auditor in 1971 and county commissioner in 1977. In 1978, he was chosen by Republican Gov. James Rhodes to be lieutenant governor. In 1979, after Cleveland went into bankruptcy under Democratic Mayor Dennis Kucinich (now a House member), Voinovich ran for mayor. It was a strenuous campaign—he was running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic city—and one touched by tragedy: His nine-year-old daughter was killed in an auto accident during the campaign. But he won, and in 10 years in office, he fixed the budget and helped spark the city’s renaissance. In 1990, he ran for governor and beat Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze Jr. 56%-44%, and in 1994, he was re-elected by a resounding 72%-25%. Although he increased taxes in 1992, Voinovich got the state government’s fiscal house in order.
When Democratic Sen. John Glenn announced plans to retire in 1998, Voinovich, not eligible to run for re-election as governor, was the favorite. His Democratic opponent was Cuyahoga County Commissioner Mary Boyle, who campaigned on education, blaming Voinovich for allowing Ohio schools to decline. Voinovich mostly ignored her attacks and outspent her almost 3-to-1, running ads that highlighted his record as governor. In November, his margin over Boyle was a decisive but not overwhelming 56%-44%.
After 32 years in public office, Voinovich came to the Senate as a big-government Republican, willing to increase tax rates and dubious about cutting them. In his previous positions, he had been required to balance budgets, and he was put off by budget deficits. In April 2000, he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the Republican budget. The same year, he voted against repeal of the estate tax and marriage-penalty relief. He did support President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001, when it looked as if the government’s budget surplus would be permanent. But later that year, he worked to scale back the tax cuts in the House Republicans’ economic-stimulus bill. In 2003, he came out against the $700 billion Bush tax cut, and that April, he and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe insisted they would back no tax cut higher than $350 billion. That led GOP Finance Chairman Charles Grassley and Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist to say they were willing to compromise on the figure, enraging the House Republican leadership. In 2004, Voinovich declined to back the “pay-go” amendment, which required all tax cuts and spending increases to be offset elsewhere in the budget, but in March 2005, he agreed to back an unsuccessful pay-go measure.
In September 2005, Voinovich said that the Bush Social Security changes were “not going to happen now” and continued to argue against extending earlier tax cuts. In May 2006, he was one of three Republicans to vote against the tax bill extending the capital-gains and dividend tax cuts and providing a one-year fix of the alternative minimum tax to stop it from ensnaring middle-income taxpayers (it is aimed at wealthy taxpayers). Also that year, he joined most Democrats in voting against the Republican leadership’s trifecta bill, which included estate-tax reductions, a minimum-wage increase and extensions of other tax cuts. “Instead of making the tax cuts permanent, we should be leveling with the American people about the fiscally shaky ground we are on,” he said. “I have to say this, and I know it is controversial, but if you look at the extraordinary costs that we have had with the war and homeland security and Katrina, the logical thing that one would think about is to ask for a temporary tax increase to pay for them.”
In 2007, Voinovich proposed repealing the tax code by 2010 to force major changes in it. He was one of two Senate Republicans to vote against permanent repeal of the estate tax that year, and in March 2008, he said that a federal tax increase might be necessary to meet future challenges. However, he was one of the few Senate Republicans to vote against a proposal for greater disclosure of spending earmarks and joined 77 other senators to override Bush’s veto of a $23 billion water-resources bill. In October 2008, as the economy faltered, Voinovich agreed to vote for the bipartisan $700 billion bailout of the financial-services industry, calling it necessary but “like being punched in the gut.” He was one of four Republican senators President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid targeted as possible votes for Obama’s $787 billion economic-stimulus bill in January 2009. Voinovich initially indicated that he was leaning toward voting for the bill, but after days of deliberations with centrist Republicans and Democrats, he said there “was too much in the Democratic counterproposal that was not stimulative” and voted against the bill.
In May 2009, Voinovich introduced legislation with independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to create a commission to explore ways to revamp the nation’s tax code and to reform entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare. He also has led the unpopular fight to raise the gas tax, arguing that in order to fix highways, “It's going to take a gas tax [increase]. I think the sooner we face up to it, the better off we're going to be.”
Before the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008, Voinovich had called for tighter regulation of the twin mortgage giants. In 2007, he and Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow sponsored a successful amendment for mortgage-cancellation relief, which reduced taxes when mortgages were reduced by agreement. A booster of the domestic auto industry, he co-sponsored a successful amendment to let auto companies use accumulated research and development credits to make new investments. With other senators in November 2008, Voinovich fashioned an auto-company relief bill to let them use for general purposes the $25 billion in loan funds approved for use in clean-car development. “We must ensure that the American auto industry remains whole. During these uncertain and fragile economic times, in my opinion, bankruptcy is not an option,” he said. Reid and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swatted the idea down immediately, but eventually the Senate considered a similar but smaller version of bill, though it failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.
Voinovich has also been deeply involved in energy issues. In 2003, he managed Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative, which created a cap-and-trade system to allow companies to swap permits to emit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. But he rejected calls for carbon dioxide controls, which he said would disproportionately hurt the economy in Ohio, which has a coal-mining sector in its southern tier and is heavily reliant on coal as an energy source. The bill bogged down amid disagreements between members of both parties on the Environment and Public Works Committee. In 2005, Voinovich floated a compromise, with a voluntary carbon-dioxide-emissions program, but it was rejected in committee. In 2008, he opposed a similar bill sponsored by Lieberman and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Republican, saying it would “have a dramatic impact on the standard of living on the people of Ohio.” He called for a greater reliance on nuclear power and development of clean-coal technology.
Voinovich has sometimes surprised colleagues with his stands on foreign issues. He is the only Serbian-American in the Senate and as a college freshman wrote a paper on how the United States sold out Yugoslavia at the February 1945 Yalta conference. In 1991, his Serbian relatives were forced out of their homes in the newly independent Croatia. In March and April 1999, he strongly opposed the bombing of Serbia, but he called Slobodan Milosevic a “war criminal” and tried to persuade the State Department to support forces that wanted to depose him. In February 2008, he criticized the Bush administration’s recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. On Iraq, Voinovich joined Indiana Republican Richard Lugar in June 2007 in calling for the withdrawal of troops, though without a timetable. In June of the following year, he urged Bush not to negotiate an agreement with Iraq that committed the next administration to defend it against internal and foreign aggressors.
In 2004, a good year for Republicans, Voinovich came up for re-election. There was talk that he would be opposed by Democrat Jerry Springer, the successful talk-show host, who had served competently as councilman and mayor in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 1980s. But in August 2003, Springer decided against a race. The Democratic nominee was state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, a former U.S. House member who hiked across Ohio as part of his campaign. But he had only $1 million to Voinovich’s $9 million. The incumbent won 64%-36%, carrying all 88 counties and almost beating Glenn’s record percentage in a Senate race, set in 1974. But Ohio has trended Democratic over the years, in part because of a scandal involving Republican state officials and GOP fundraiser Tom Noe, who persuaded the Ohio Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation to make what turned out to be disastrous investments in rare coins. Newspapers revealed that the bureau made its first investment with Noe when Voinovich was governor. Noe was later convicted on campaign-finance and fraud charges. Voinovich said he had been mistaken in believing that Noe and bureau officials were honest.
In his final two years in the Senate, Voinovich will serve on the powerful Appropriations Committee, an appointment he secured in early 2009. His retirement announcement caused an electoral scrum, as numerous candidates in both parties indicated interest in the race. Republicans are worried about holding the seat in the increasingly Democratic state.