Gov. Ted Strickland (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st term.
Born: Aug. 4, 1941, Lucasville .
Education: Asbury Col., B.A. 1963, M.Div. 1967, U. of KY, Ph.D. 1980.
Family: Married (Frances).
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1992-94, 1996-2006.
Professional Career: Assoc. minister, Trinity Methodist Church, 1967–68; Administrator, KY Methodist Home, 1968–70, 1975-76; Consulting psychologist, Southern OH Correctional Facility, 1985–92, 1995–96; Prof., Shawnee St. U., 1988–92, 1995–96.
Democrat Ted Strickland was elected governor of Ohio in 2006. He was born and raised in Lucasville in Appalachian Ohio, the son of a steelworker with a sixth-grade education and the eighth of nine children. His family lived a hardscrabble existence, briefly living in a chicken coop after their home burned down. College did not seem within the realm of possibilities but a high school teacher took him on a trip to visit Asbury College and Theological Seminary in Kentucky and he ended up graduating from there with degree in history in 1963. He went on to get a master’s degree in divinity in 1967. Strickland became a Methodist minister and served in various roles at the Methodist Home for Children in Versailles, Ky. In 1980, he got a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky and went to work as a prison psychologist. He was also a psychology professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.
|Ted Strickland (D)||2,435,384||(61%)|
|Kenneth Blackwell (R)||1,474,285||(37%)|
|Ted Strickland (D)||634,114||(79%)|
|Bryan Flannery (D)||166,253||(21%)|
There was little in his early political career to suggest he might one day end up as governor. Strickland ran for the U.S. House unsuccessfully in 1976, 1978 and 1980, and then ran again in 1992 when redistricting placed two Republican incumbents in the same district. One lost in the primary 50.2%-49.8% and Strickland defeated the other 51%-49%. In his first term in the House, Strickland voted for President Bill Clinton’s budget and tax package, but against the 1994 crime bill because of its gun control provisions. He also voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement. As the 1994 election neared, Strickland suggested there might be a need for tax increases to pay for health care programs. Republican challenger Frank Cremeans seized on the statement and beat Strickland 51%-49%. In a 1996 rematch, Strickland attacked Cremeans for Medicare “cuts” and scaling down the earned income tax credit, which he called a tax increase on the poor. Strickland won 51%-49%. In Congress, Strickland’s voting record was generally moderate but a bit more liberal on foreign policy.
In May 2005, he decided to run for governor after Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, the leading Democratic candidate, seemed to falter. The governor at the time, Republican Bob Taft, was ineligible for a third term and had extremely low job approval ratings. In any case, Ohio Democrats argued that Republicans had been in office too long, having held the governorship and majorities in the legislature for 16 years, the longest period since Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans in 1803-22. It did not help that the supposedly fiscally conservative party had raised taxes several times, and that was not mitigated by cuts in the income tax made by Taft and the Legislature in 2005. As often happens when a party is in power for many years, there was scandal. In August 2005, Taft pleaded no contest to criminal violations of state ethics laws for failing to report some $6,000 of gifts, including free golf outings, meals, and hockey tickets. It the first time an Ohio governor had been convicted of a crime. At the same time, the state Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation, controlled by Republicans, was under investigation for placing $50 million in investments in a rare coin business run by major Republican contributor, Tom Noe. In May 2005, the Toledo Blade reported that as much as $13 million of state assets were missing. A year later, Noe pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws.
Strickland won a 79%-21% victory over former state Rep. Bryan Flannery in the May primary, and faced Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a strong fiscal and cultural conservative, in the general election. Like Strickland, Blackwell had a compelling life story: The son of a meatpacker, he lived in a Cincinnati housing project until he was 6, attended Xavier University on a football scholarship and later became Cincinnati mayor, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development undersecretary and Ohio treasurer. Blackwell was sharply critical of Taft and Republican legislative leaders. Strickland campaigned on a platform called “Turnaround Ohio,” a plan to strengthen the state’s economy, improve education, retrain workers for the global economy and increase access to health care. Blackwell called for repeal of the sales tax increase and a constitutional amendment limiting the growth of state spending. Both candidates opposed gun control and legalizing same-sex marriage, though Strickland supported legal benefits for gay partners. Religious faith played an unusually prominent role; both candidates incorporated biblical verses into their speeches and Strickland ran ads on Christian radio saying that “biblical principles” would guide his actions as governor. He won 61%-37%, carrying 72 of 88 counties and accruing more votes than Republican Gov. George Voinovich had in 1994. However, Republicans held on to majorities in the Legislature, losing just one seat in the state Senate and seven in the House.
On his first day in office, Strickland angered Republicans by vetoing a law limiting non-economic damages in civil lawsuits to $5,000; Taft had intended to allow it to become law without his signature. But Strickland also embarked on a bipartisan course. He moved his office from a high-rise to the old State House and installed a round conference table, where he held weekly meetings with the Republican House speaker and Senate president—the atmosphere was frosty at first, but warmed up. He worked to come up with policies that would have their support, and in 2007 he told The Washington Post, “If you act with respect toward the people who disagree with you, they’ll give you a break and won’t cut you off.” One result was the passage in June 2007, with just one dissenting vote, of a $52 billion, two-year budget. It included a freeze on tuition increases at state colleges and universities after a decade of 9% average increases, $100 million of additional college aid, an expansion of Medicaid eligibility and an increase of the state share of education funding from 48% to 54%. Republicans opposed Strickland’s line-item veto of a tuition voucher program for special needs students and $500,000 for abstinence-only sex education. Strickland firmly opposed any tax increase. In December 2007 he told the Toledo Blade, “I feel the economy is fragile, and a tax increase would not be helpful to the economy.” He reduced state spending pretty much across the board in September 2008 when revenues came in under estimates.
Energy was another issue Strickland took on. Electric rate stabilization plans were scheduled to expire in 2008, with the likely result being much higher electricity rates. He endorsed a plan to require that 25% of energy generated in Ohio in 2025 be from “advanced” sources—wind, fuel cells, clean coal—and his bill allowed consumers to choose between market rates and those set by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. His plan passed the Senate unanimously and the bill was signed into law in May 2008.
In early 2008, Strickland proposed that the state borrow $1.7 billion and invest the proceeds in various projects to create 80,000 jobs, including $250 million in renewable energy, $200 million in biomedical industries, $150 million in bridges, ports and roads, $100 million in bioproducts for renewable sources for plastics (Akron is a major polymer producer), $400 million for local infrastructure and $200 million to redevelop city centers.
In January 2009, Strickland called for sweeping reforms to the education system, with plans to reduce classroom sizes, require day-long kindergarten and add 20 days to the school year. The House passed a plan similar to Strickland’s, but the Senate balked, stripping the changes from their budget. This set up a contentious fight between the houses as they sat down to negotiate a compromise budget that June.
For all his bipartisanship, Strickland has proved to be an effective party leader. When Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann was revealed to have had an affair with a female subordinate, Strickland joined other Democrats calling for him to resign, which Dann did in May 2008. Strickland also took an active role in presidential politics. He endorsed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. Her 53%-45% victory in the March 4 Ohio primary, which brought her especially large margins in Strickland’s old congressional district, kept her in the race with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for another three months. After Clinton withdrew in June, Strickland endorsed Obama and campaigned with him in the fall. As the highly popular governor of a state that had been crucial to the outcome in 2004, he was widely mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee. But he announced in June 2008 that he would not accept the vice presidential nomination. The November election turned out well for Strickland. Obama carried Ohio and Democrats gained seven seats in the House to capture a 53-46 majority. But the GOP retained control of the Senate, 21-12.
Into 2009, Strickland generally enjoyed solid job approval ratings although, like governors around the country, he faced hard economic times ahead. Also, Democrats need to capture five seats in the state Senate in 2010 to get control of congressional redistricting after the every-decade census, a tall order.