Sunday, November 12, 2000

Excited freshmen plan bills

By Debra Jasper
Columbus Enquirer Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Standing amid a sea of blue-suited lobbyists and lawmakers in a huge convention center ballroom, Jean Schmidt and Michelle Schneider were downright giddy.

        They gushed one moment about bills they hoped to push through the legislature next year and looked around in awe the next, letting it sink in that they are now brand-new members of the Ohio General Assembly.

        “Oh my God, I'm really a state representative,” said a grinning Ms. Schmidt of Miami Township, as she nudged her colleague.

        Ms. Schneider nodded in complete understanding.

        “I grew up in Madeira never dreaming I'd become the mayor, much less a state representative,” she said, staring at the political crowd gathered at a post-election conference downtown. “I'm so excited. I'm just full of fresh ideas.”

        Thanks to term limits, Republicans Ms. Schmidt and Ms. Schneider will join 43 other new legislators in claiming seats vacated in the Ohio House. Majority Republicans kept control.

        In southwest Ohio, voters elected new representatives in nine House seats opened by term limits. In only one district did voters not keep the seat in the hands of the same party. The 32nd District seat being vacated by Republican Dale Van Vyven was won by Democrat Wayne Coates. Mr. Coates' 169-vote victory margin will be subject to a recount.

        More conservative than their predecessors, some of the new freshmen are already talking about everything from cutting taxes and restricting abortions to ending prevailing wages for union workers on government buildings.

        “It's a great thing, term limits,” enthused Tom Brinkman Jr., a Cincinnati Republican elected to the 37th District.

        Mr. Brinkman said Ohioans will benefit from electing a Republican-controlled conservative and outspoken legislature this year. Not only do they want tax cuts, he said, but many new members view their legislative jobs as part-time work.

        As a result, he said, “We're going to move legislation through, get it done and go home.”

        With so many new ideas and new people in office, however, analysts and others don't predict a smooth-running operation at the Statehouse anytime soon.

        “It will be chaotic. There will be a period when all these new legislators will be going off in 20 directions at the same time,” predicted Robert Adams, an associate political science professor at Wright State University.

        “And there's going to be competition over who will lead this body,” he said. “It could be the governor, the new (House) speaker or the interest groups who put money into a lot of these campaigns and who will now be saying, "Hey, you said you love us, now show us.'”

        Jim Ruvolo, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the new members may find that accomplishing their goals will be much more difficult with their time in office limited to eight years.

        “A lot of folks run for office and find themselves taking a major step up,” he said. “There's a lot of excitement. They get to go to the Capitol and work in an impressive building. But they ought not to get too carried away with it. They don't have a 30-year-mortgage. They just have an eight-year mortgage.”

        He thinks the conservative Republicans taking office this January will actually give Democrats more clout as moderate Republicans turn to them for help in passing legislation.

        “You'll see a real split,” he said. “To get things done you'll have to compromise and many of the conservatives won't compromise.”

        The biggest issue requiring compromise next year, all sides agree, will be school-funding reform. With an Ohio Supreme Court ruling requiring legislators to overhaul the way the state funds public schools by June 15, 2001, the pressure is mounting.

        Republican Larry Householder, a Perry County legislator expected to become the new House Speaker, said dealing with school funding is his No. 1 priority. “Our goal is to answer the court. We have to resolve this,” he said.

        But Mr. Householder said it's too early to say how well lawmakers will balance demands from conservatives for major tax cuts with demands by educators and other lawmakers who argue that billions of state dollars are needed for troubled Ohio schools.

        “I don't think we should prejudge these people (new lawmakers),” Mr. Householder said. “The best thing to do is to let them all come here and then see how they govern.”


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