For Gov. Mike DeWine, 2019 has been the first year of the culmination of a life in public service, and Ohio is better for it.
DeWine was not our choice in the 2018 gubernatorial race. We preferred Democrat Richard Cordray, both for his own long record of public service and out of concern that DeWine would do too little to counter the backward tendencies of a General Assembly dominated by his fellow Republicans.
His tenure so far has been a welcome surprise.
From a much-needed gas-tax hike to spending on children’s needs to environmental protection, DeWine has focused on problems that the Republican legislature over the years largely has yawned at. In some cases, he has done so against opposition from others in his party.
Working with a supermajority of conservative Republicans, many of them to the right of rightwing, parts of DeWine’s agenda are only slightly more popular than a Democrat’s with some members of his party. Yet he has been resolute in pursuing it, and part of the reason seems clear: Unlike most of his predecessors, Mike DeWine can do what he really wants.
The 72-year-old governor won’t be running for any further public office other than re-election, and that’s a different prospect from seeking the presidency or a senate seat. DeWine doesn’t have to worry about alienating President Donald Trump’s hard-right supporters or collecting chits from Statehouse politicians with their own ideological agendas.
And so it was that DeWine began his term in the wee hours of Jan. 14, swearing his oath of office in his Cedarville home and immediately issuing a raft of executive orders, including one to continue former Gov. John Kasich’s order extending anti-discrimination protection in state hiring on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Another extended protection against discrimination to foster parents or parents of young children. Others created new positions and offices to tackle opioid addiction and focus on the needs of children and families in foster care.
The new governor’s priorities came into sharper focus in the spring, when his 2020-21 budget proposal included an unprecedented investment in children’s well-being, doubling the allocation for county children services agencies. That prospect may have helped Franklin County Children Services to get by with only a renewal levy on the May ballot rather than a replacement, which would have meant a tax increase.
DeWine also requested an increase of $550 million over two years in the fund that supports “wraparound services” such as health care, counseling and after-school programs for public schools with lots of families in poverty.
Also unprecedented was DeWine’s eye-popping request for $900 million to create H2Ohio, a fund to pay for 10 years’ worth of projects to protect and clean up Lake Erie.
When he saw the dismal condition in which his predecessors left Ohio’s roads and bridges, he didn’t shy away from pushing the most obvious solution: raising the state’s gasoline tax, which had been unchanged for more than a decade. Initially proposing an 18-cent hike as part of the budget, he ended up settling for 10.5 cents per gallon.
The result is a recently approved transportation plan for $1.1 billion in work over the next four years.
As Ohioans learned the full extent of sexual abuse of patients and staffers by former Ohio State University sports physician Dr. Richard Strauss and the fact that the State Medical Board essentially sat on hundreds of allegations of abuse by doctors, DeWine declared it a failure and called on the board to review every case that had been closed without action for the past 25 years.
We don’t share all of DeWine’s priorities; his race to sign a destructive nuclear-bailout bill was unfortunate, as was his support for an anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” that is extreme and clearly unconstitutional.
DeWine has had less success budging Statehouse Republicans from their blind loyalty to the gun lobby. Moved by the demands of a crowd in Dayton to “do something” after a mass shooting there in August, the governor unveiled a list of proposed law changes including expanded background checks and a long-sought “red flag” measure allowing the seizure of guns from people deemed to be dangerous.
His measure lacked important components, such as bans on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, and still in the face of opposition he watered it down further, changing the background check from a mandate to an incentive.
He’s still pushing for his plan, dubbed STRONG Ohio. While we regret the measures aren’t stronger, we salute DeWine’s determination to find what’s possible on this especially fraught issue. While he unfortunately supports some excessive gun-rights legislation such as a “stand your ground” bill and one allowing concealed carry of lethal weapons with no license or training, we were gratified when he recently advised lawmakers not to bother forwarding either of those measures to him until they pass his STRONG Ohio package.
Those who know DeWine say it’s easy to see what helps him find the possible in Ohio’s contentious political environment: boundless energy and a genuinely likeable personality.
Where Kasich quarreled with lawmakers, they say, DeWine hosts lunches and picnics and listens. Local government officials, including the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, marvel that he shows up at their meetings and new-courthouse openings and listens to their concerns.
“He obviously loves being governor,” one friend said. “He enjoys the people.”
We thank Gov. DeWine for his hard work and we look forward to at least three more years of progress on behalf of all Ohioans.