Saturday, August 28, 1999

White men still dominate state boards

Minorities make up 12 percent of governor's appointments

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio changed governors earlier this year, but not much has changed in a political world long dominated by white men.

        During Republican Gov. Bob Taft's first eight months in office, the Cincinnati native selected more than twice as many men as women to serve on boards and commissions created for regulation, oversight or advice, according to state records analyzed by The Enquirer.

        Minorities accounted for 12 percent of the appointments. While that mirrors Ohio's nonwhite population, four of the 23 African-Americans selected were appointed to boards that address black issues or stu dents.

        A dearth of women and minorities in top state policy jobs isn't unique to Ohio. Governors across the country are under increasing pressure to diversify their cadre of advisers as Congress gives states more power and state coffers swell with tax collections.

        “These officials make decisions with widespread impact on the lives of state residents,” said Judith Sidel, executive director of the Center for Women in Government at the State University of New York in Albany. “That's why it's important to have representation from the entire population, not just part of it.”

        States with a higher representation of women in policy-making positions, such as Vermont, New Hampshire and North Carolina, tend to have governors who included women in the inner circle of their campaign staffs, Ms. Sidel said.

        Mr. Taft vowed last week to be more aggressive in reaching out beyond the state's traditional, white-dominated power structure.

        There are only two blacks in Mr. Taft's 23-member Cabinet, both of whom are holdovers from former Gov. George Voinovich's administration. One of the four women in the Cabinet, Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, may soon leave to run for Summit County executive.

        “We should look more deeply,” Mr. Taft said of efforts to broaden his range of advisers. “But I think we are working very hard on this.”

        Most boards and commissions are obscure compared to elected officials and Cabinet-level agencies. Yet some have considerable influence over the everyday lives of Ohioans.

        Among other things, they regulate doctors, accountants and real estate agents. Some panels oversee state universities and billions of dollars in bonds for state buildings and the Ohio Turnpike. Others set utility rates, resolve tax disputes, weigh civil rights com plaints and decide workers' compensation claims.

        Of the 206 people Mr. Taft has appointed to boards and commissions since taking office in January, 61 were women and 25 were members of racial minorities, according to a computer-assisted analysis of records provided by the governor's office.

        On a percentage basis, Mr. Voinovich's record was similar in 1991 during his first eight months in office. He appointed 65 people to boards and commissions during the period, including 18 women and eight minorities.

No lack of candidates
        In an era when private corporations are striving to make their workplaces more diverse, most of the desirable state boards that provide compensation or power still are dominated by white men. Examples include the Ohio State University Board of Trustees, the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, the Ohio Industrial Commission, the State Medical Board and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

        Black leaders sharply criticized Mr. Voinovich for allowing four state universities, including UC, to operate without African-American representation on their nine-member boards of trustees.

        Mr. Taft moved quickly to change that. In February, he appointed a black businessman to the UC board. He also selected black and Hispanic men for the University of Toledo board and a black woman for the University of Akron board.

        Moreover, the governor added minority members to the previously all-white state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors and the Governor's Council on People with Disabilities. And he chose former Sen. Janet Howard of Forest Park, a black Republican, for a $47,944-a-year appointment to the state Liquor Control Commission.

        Phillip R. Cox, president of Cox Financial Corp. and the first black member of the influential Cincinnati Business Committee, filled a void left after Dr. O'dell Owens left the UC board in January 1998.

        Mr. Cox said he hoped he was in the running for the post because Mr. Taft admired his business acumen.

        “I think it's unfortunate that this appointment has been wrapped up in racial politics,” said Mr. Cox. “I have far more to offer than my race.”

        It is difficult to avoid politics — racial or otherwise — when it comes to the governor's appointments.

        Advocates of racial and gender diversity contend students and faculty need to see women and minorities on university boards to provide different perspectives and to assure them that school leaders understand minority issues.

        A lack of qualified candidates isn't the issue.

        When Mr. Voinovich issued press release proclaiming Aug. 26, 1997, as “Women's Equality Day,” he boasted that Ohio is ranked sixth in the nation in the number of women-owned businesses. Thirty-seven percent of all businesses in the state are owned by women.

        One woman Mr. Taft appointed to a key post is Karen Lafferty Hendricks, president, CEO and chairman of Baldwin Piano & Organ Co. in Mason. She is one of two women on the nine-member OSU board.

        “Ohio is a very diverse state,” said Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati. “You need different views at the table because that will lead to the best decisions for everybody.”

        Scott Milburn, Mr. Taft's spokesman, said the governor asks for the racial and gender breakdown of each board before making an appointment.

        He gets suggestions from friends, legislators, community organizations and members of industries and professions regulated by the state, Mr. Milburn said. Some people angling for an appointment make sure the governor's office knows they're interested.

More advice needed?
        Twenty-five of the people Mr. Taft has appointed may have caught the governor's attention by contributing to his campaign fund. His appointees gave a combined $22,220 during last year's campaign, according to an analysis of records from Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's office.

        “That's not a factor at all in his decision making,” Mr. Milburn said.

        Sometimes it's difficult to find women and minorities interested in a government post, said Senate President Richard Finan, who makes several appointments each year. He noted there recently were no black candidates for a judgeship in Montgomery County.

        “I think it's too early to judge this governor,” said Mr. Finan, R-Evendale. “But I'm not a believer in quotas. I just don't think that's the way to go.”

        Critics say Mr. Taft needs to broaden the type of people he seeks out for advice when considering candidates for boards and commissions.

        Mr. Voinovich sometimes turned to Mr. Blackwell, a black Republican, for names of minority candidates. But while Mr. Blackwell is one of the nation's top-ranking black Republicans, he doesn't play a similar role with Mr. Taft.

        Said Mr. Blackwell: “On matters of key appointments and minority outreach, I have not heard as much from this administration as I did the previous one.”


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