Mike DeWine began his inaugural address, “Today, we are united as Ohioans.” The new governor then proceeded to identify the priorities Ohioans share, and that will drive his administration, “ensuring that all of our children lead meaningful, fulfilling lives,” ending the opioid crisis and preserving and protecting “our magnificent Lake Erie.” Make real and substantial progress on these three fronts, and his tenure will be a success.
DeWine then reiterated: “I will be the governor for all the people of our state.” That can amount to a platitude, words quickly cast aside, bowing to the political reality, Ohioans divided and distrustful, just like the rest of the country. Or it can be more of a guiding principle, attention focused on finding consensus, on priorities where advances are necessary and can be achieved.
That second option is the one the governor signaled he intends to choose, his address fittingly delivered in the rotunda of the Statehouse, where Ohioans come together to govern themselves. DeWine made the choice, in part, through the inclusive tone of his address. He talked about his grandfather planting maple trees until his death in the faith that they would serve well later, as they have, tapped for syrup by later generations of DeWines. A similar spirit animated his ailing father, who planted daffodil bulbs knowing he would not see them bloom in the spring.
This was the governor laying down a marker for legislators. “Over the next four years, I will be asking the people of Ohio and I will asking those of you in the General Assembly to do things where the results will not be immediate — but where they will be profound, and where they will endure.” That is not an easy request in a political life prone to short horizons. Yet it is the way to make a difference in the lives of the many at-risk children.
Invest adequately and persistently, and the better outcomes promise benefits for all of Ohio.
The priority and tone shouldn’t surprise. DeWine stressed during the campaign his commitment to doing something ambitious for children in poverty, via such things as early education and child care. This is the DeWine of the U.S. Senate, less the partisan, working across the aisle to put in motion what works to ease, and even solve, problems. He pledged to “bring people together. … seek out many opinions and ideas. … work hand-in-hand with local government and community leaders. And we will listen.”
At one point in his address, the governor borrowed from Hubert Humphrey on the essential work of government, “to protect the most vulnerable,” those “in the dawn of life, those in the twilight of life and those in the shadows of life.” One of his first acts as governor involved issuing an executive order protecting transgender Ohioans from discrimination. His predecessor, John Kasich, took nearly eight years to get there.
This was a good start. No doubt, there will be difficult junctures ahead. For instance, the Medicaid expansion mirrors the approach the governor described. Yet he grudgingly gave his support, and talks about work requirements that could jeopardize the protection many need. The governor has promised to sign an extreme “heartbeat” bill that all but outlaws abortion and hardly goes to bringing Ohioans together.
Mike DeWine long has wanted this job, believing, as he told the Columbus Dispatch, that he has “prepared his whole life” for the position. That rang true in his inaugural address. Now he has the task of meeting the high expectations he set for himself and the state.