Voinovich has the verbosity
to join Senate

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - In the next session of Congress, when the Senate Republican leadership is looking for someone to lead a good old-fashioned filibuster, they may well be able to look no further than the junior senator from Ohio.

Ohio Gov. George Voinovich hopes to be elected to that office next year, to take the place of the retiring Democrat, John Glenn, and Mr. Voinovich may get his wish. The governor has the kind of approval rating from Ohioans that most politicians would sacrifice their first-born to have; his likely Democratic opponent, Mary Boyle, has never been on a statewide general election ballot.

The U.S. Senate, its members like to say, is the world's greatest deliberative body.

Translation: They talk a lot.

And if the ability to speak, to spin out great clouds of blue-green smoke until audiences beg for mercy, is what it takes to be a U.S. senator, George Victor Voinovich has it in spades. The governor has never met a compound sentence he didn't like.

In Cleveland, where he was mayor for 10 years, the governor is known as a hands-on manager, a can-do, nuts-and-bolts guy who - as he likes to say - works harder and smarter and does more with less.

He is also known as the kind of fellow who, if you ask him what time it is, will tell you how to build a facsimile of the atomic clock at Greenwich.

Friday, Mr. Voinovich was the luncheon speaker here in his hometown at the summer meeting of the Republican National Committee (RNC), the GOP's governing body and a collection of well-connected and influential party operatives from every state in the country.

Many of them already knew Mr. Voinovich. Over his seven years as governor, he has become a player on the national stage of Republican politics. Next week, he will become an even bigger player when he goes to Las Vegas for the National Governors Association annual meeting and becomes that organization's new chairman.

But for others in the RNC, and for some members of the Washington press corps on hand to cover the summer meeting, Friday's speech was their first exposure to the enthusiastic, if somewhat disjointed speaking style of Ohio's governor.

RNC chairman Jim Nicholson had scheduled about half an hour between the lunch and Friday afternoon's working session, but by the time Mr. Voinovich ended his half-hour-plus stemwinder, the delegates had about five minutes to hit the restrooms and check their voice mail before moving on to the next meeting.

Mr. Voinovich talked about his childhood in Cleveland; his years as mayor; about how most of the skyscrapers that make up this city's impressive skyline weren't there when he became mayor; about his wife, Janet, (''the best first lady Ohio ever had''); about his first political campaign, when he ran for president of his law school class and won; about his uncle, his father, and pretty much everybody he has met or shaken hands with in 30 years in politics.

Most of what the RNC delegates from places like Missouri and Delaware know about George Voinovich they know from occasional national news reports. He has developed a reputation as a different kind of Republican - in an age when tax-cutting is all the rage in the GOP, the Ohio governor has pushed more than his fair share of ''revenue enhancements.'' The most recent plan is to raise the sales tax by a penny to fund Ohio's public schools.

Mr. Voinovich's reputation preceded him when he came to speak to the RNC Friday. The featured morning speaker was Michigan Gov. John Engler, who made it clear that Ohio and Michigan compete in more than college football.

''One area where Michigan is way ahead,'' Mr. Engler said, pointedly, ''is in cutting taxes.''

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for The Enquirer. His column appears Sundays.