Sunday, January 23, 2000

CAPITOL INSIDER


One big, happy (?) Republican family

BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since Republicans control both the governor's office and the General Assembly, GOP legislative leaders predictably had high praise for Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State address last week.

        Some rank-and-file lawmakers weren't too pleased, though. Conservative Republicans, in particular, responded to the governor's speech with sarcasm and outright derision.

        “It does bring back memories of a former Democratic governor,” said Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon. “It was very disappointing when it comes to what I consider to be Republican principles.”

        Mr. Wachtmann and other conservatives allied with the National Taxpayers Union and the National Rifle Association don't like Mr. Taft's gun safety bill, which would require owners to keep their weapons stored out of the reach of children.

        Some conservatives prefer an NRA-backed bill that would allow Ohioans to carry concealed weapons, an idea Mr. Taft and major police organizations oppose.

        Moreover, the conservative wing of Mr. Taft's party hates his plan for spending the state's $10.1 billion share of the national tobacco settlement. They fought unsuccessfully to use the money for tax cuts, and now are trying to block Mr. Taft's attempt to spread the money around for school construction, biomedical research, anti-smoking initiatives and public health programs.

        But while Republican legislative leaders eagerly shared their platitudes with reporters after the governor's speech, they were stumped when one writer asked, “Was there anything in there that a Democratic governor wouldn't have said?”

        After a long pause, Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, and House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg, declined to answer.

        “That's a very interesting question,” Mr. Finan said.

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        Mr. Taft peppered his speech with a few one-liners.

        In praising the work of Habitat for Humanity, a group that builds affordable homes in cities across the world, Mr. Taft noted that his wife, Hope, worked on one of the group's projects last year.

        “I don't know about you, but Hope swings a mean hammer — thankfully not in my direction,” Mr. Taft said, prompting a few guffaws from lawmakers gathered for the speech.

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        The one part of Mr. Taft's speech that reflected political reality was the only line that wasn't in his prepared text.

        Nearing the end of his 34-minute address, Mr. Taft noted term limits will force many veteran lawmakers to find new jobs next year.

        After a canned line thanking them for serving in “the finest tradition of public service,” he unleashed a sardonic remark about their attempts to remain attached to state government.

        “By the way,” Mr. Taft said. “We'll be collecting resumes at the door.”

        Mr. Taft already has plucked several lawmakers facing term limits for spots in his Cabinet or on state boards and commissions.

        By announcing in his speech that he intends to create at least two new commissions, he opens the door for more to quit early.

       



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