COLUMBUS — The last time someone from West Central Ohio served as leader of the Ohio Senate, the automobile was yet to be in mass production.
On Monday, Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, joined Hancock County’s Thomas McCornica, who served in the late 1890s and Mercer County’s Thomas Godfrey, who served from 1868 to 1870 as the chamber’s leader.
Faber, 46, took his oath of office pledging to draw on his skills as an attorney and mediator to lead the Senate through consensus. Faber referenced a continued tradition during the opening session, in which Democrats and Republicans walked into the chamber in pairs, shook hands and then crossed the aisle to sit on their respective sides.
“It is a gesture of goodwill and a commitment to collaboration on the work we face ahead. The challenge of each of us as members and especially those of us entrusted to lead our respective caucuses is to make sure that act of bipartisanship becomes not just a symbol but also a daily practice. This is not a moment for political rhetoric or policy pronouncements. It is a challenge to rise above the division and discord that defines so much of politics today and to set a new standard,” Faber said.
The Senate and the House have large Republican majorities. In the Senate, 23 of the 33 members are Republicans.
Faber will serve as the Senate’s 94th leader.
“It’s a pretty big deal. I’m honored to represent the seven counties that make up West Central Ohio,” Faber said Friday morning after a ceremonial swearing in.
Following the tradition of other Senate presidents, Keith Faber brought with him his own gavel, which was made for him with walnut from a Mercer County tree.
When Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy swore him in to the 130th General Assembly, he used his Faber family Bible. Former Allen County Commissioner Sam Bassitt and his wife, Barb, gave Keith and Andrea Faber the Bible when they married 16 years ago. The Bassitts are Andrea’s parents.
Faber took three ceremonial oaths Monday: one in a Senate hearing room for photos with family, and the second two during the Senate session, first as a senator, then a separate oath for the presidency.
First serving in the Ohio House from 2001 to 2007, Faber was appointed to the 12th District Senate seat in 2007 when Jim Jordan won a seat in Congress. Faber was elected to a second term in November. He has previously served on the Senate leadership team and worked on previous state budgets.
Faber said he’s ready to lead an experienced group of senators through complicated issues this year.
“My general approach to things is more collaborative,” Faber said. “I think that’s from 16 years of being a mediator. I know you can find better results if you can find those win-win scenarios for everybody.”
The Senate is not expected to meet in session again until Jan. 15. However, Faber expects to announce committee chairs on Wednesday. Gov. John Kasich will unveil his budget and other policy initiatives Feb. 4.
In addition to Faber, the region’s other legislators also were sworn into General Assembly leadership roles Monday. State Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, was sworn in as House Speaker Pro Tempore, the No. 2 House leadership post. Also, Rep. John Adams, R-Sidney, was selected as assistant majority floor leader and Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, was selected as assistant majority whip.
Passing a state spending blueprint for state programs over the two years beginning July 1 will be lawmakers’ main focus for the first half of the year. Faber said he is focused on economic issues, such as workforce development for the underemployed, tax reform and regulatory reform.
“Ohio is doing better right now than the national average on all the numbers — but better just isn’t good enough,” Faber said after the session.
Other bills that failed to clear the lame duck session may also resurface during the session, which spans two years.
Among them is a proposal to impose the most stringent abortion limit in the nation, prohibiting the procedure in most cases after the first fetal heartbeat. Faber said if the members want it voted on, he won’t block it, but also added it’s not a priority of his, nor has it come up as a legislative priority among the General Assembly.
Another closely watched bill that failed to pass by the end of the last session proposed new regulations on storefront gambling-style operations known as Internet cafés. Huffman, who tried to steer the bill through the previous General Assembly, said he expects to shepherd it again this year.