Sunday, April 16, 2000

Lawmakers fail to back Taft's agenda

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Gov. Bob Taft went out on a political limb last week for his safe-gun-storage bill, and promptly had it sawed off by lawmakers urged on by the National Rifle Association.

        The Cincinnati native made his second appearance as governor before a legislative committee, but failed to win any converts. Some legislators said Mr. Taft might even have lost votes after his appearance.

        Another sign of the governor's bungled lobbying effort: There weren't any television cameras in the room to beam Mr. Taft's testimony into living rooms across the state. The talking heads must have known something for a change.

        Legislative leaders withdrew the gun bill from consideration just a day after Mr. Taft's appearance before the House Criminal Justice Committee. Their decision portends a difficult future for Mr. Taft in the General Assembly, at least when it comes to controversial issues.

        Term limits are ushering in a new crop of lawmakers who will help shape and control the governor's agenda. But of the six Ohio House primaries that Mr. Taft got involved in last month, only two of his favored candidates won.

        Guns aren't the only issue dogging Mr. Taft. He previously failed to win support for legislation that would have allowed Ohioans to sue their HMOs, and nearly lost his blueprint for spending the state's $10.1 billion share of the national tobacco settlement.

        Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, and House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg, refused to use the pending state construction budget as a carrot or stick to muscle more votes for the gun bill.

        There apparently weren't any old-fashioned threats to either support the governor or lose a coveted pork project. “I'm not going to tie an ideological issue to something like that,” said Mr. Finan, who never was too keen on the gun bill anyway.

        As a result, conservative lawmakers made good on another challenge to the state's Republican leadership, leading Mr. Finan to reveal some of his frustration last week.

        “People keep asking me what I'm going to do when I leave this place,” he said. “I tell them I'll be lucky to still be alive by then.”

        Rep. Bob Schuler, R-Sycamore Township, isn't wasting any time declaring his intentions to replace Mr. Finan when term limits force out the Senate leader in 2002.

        In an attempt to scare off any competition, Mr. Schuler has added another fund-raiser to his annual $25-a-plate Pasta Party. The event at the Queen City Club “will be much pricier,” he said.

        Members of Mr. Schuler's finance committee include Mr. Finan, Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, Cincinnati City Councilman Phil Heimlich and Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr.

        “With Finan leaving, we're going to have quite a hole in our delegation,” Mr. Schuler said. “We need somebody with experience up in Columbus.”

        Even though the Senate seat isn't up for grabs for another two years, Mr. Schuler thinks it isn't too early to start raising money.

        “It used to be that people only had fund-raisers when they were up for election,” he said. “Now everybody has one every year, so you have to also.”


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