Monday, December 25, 2000

Departing Democrats look back

Memories mixed for lame-duck House members

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — David Hartley, thick-skinned from decades of unpopular positions and skirmishes with his own party, is not in the mood to rest on laurels as he leaves the Ohio House of Representatives after 28 years.

        “I'm really frustrated. Some things got accomplished, but I really just feel like the guy always saying "No,”' the Springfield Democrat said.

        He is among 36 House members who cannot come back in January because of voter-imposed term limits.

        He's one of a handful of veteran Democrats leaving after a roller-coaster power ride over the past three decades — out of power when they first came to the House in the late '60s and early '70s, in power under the 20-year rule of House Speaker Vern Riffe, then in the minority for the twilight of their careers after Republicans regained control in 1994.

        Joining him in the forced exodus are Rep. Troy Lee James, who represented his inner-city Cleveland district for 34 years; William Healy of Canton, leaving after 26 years; and Jerry Luebbers of Cincinnati, leaving after 22 years.

        Mr. James, 76, the grandson of Texas slaves, parceled out advice to people at his corner convenience store in Cleveland before coming to Columbus in 1967.

        “I felt this was a spot where I could get done some of the dreams you have as a legislator,” he said.

        Known as an advocate for the poor, Mr. James pushed bills involving health care, aging and children. Gov. Bob Taft signed Mr. James' last bill on Dec. 21, setting aside James' birthday — April 18 — to honor adult care providers each year.

        Democrats were consigned to the Legislature's back seats after Republicans regained the House majority in the 1994 elections. But legislating from the edge wasn't new to Mr. Hartley, a liberal who was often on the outs with his own party.

        He butted heads with Mr. Riffe numerous times, and paid the price, twice being stripped of committee chairmanships after refusing to give Mr. Riffe votes, especially if they conflicted with Hartley's pro-labor positions.

        “Eventually, after being punished many times, we never settled anything except I knew I would be punished,” Mr. Hartley said. “I think he had a respect for me — although punishing me personally, my district did very well.”

        Mr. Hartley's refusal to back away from his personal beliefs was well-known, said former representative Barney Quilter of Toledo, one of Mr. Riffe's top lieutenants for nearly his entire time in power.

        “When he feels something strongly, he feels very strongly, you're not going to move him,” said Mr. Quilter, who left the House in 1994. “You could talk to him, but if he tells you, "No,' you might as well go to the bank with it — "OK, Dave, see you next time.”'

        Mr. Hartley, 58, is a lifelong resident of Springfield, a former manufacturing center trying to recover economically after bleeding jobs and losing population in the '70s and '80s. A one-time spot welder and forklift operator at International Harvester, he was a graduate student in history at the University of Louisville in 1972 when he won his first election to the House, the same year Democrats won back the majority.

        “There's three things we need to eliminate in this country — poverty, racism and sexism,” Mr. Hartley said. “If we do that, we could make some really big strides.”

        A practicing Presbyterian, Mr. Hartley is board chairman of Interfaith Hospitality Network, which runs a shelter and provides services for the homeless in Springfield. He and his wife, Vicki, spend a night at a homeless shelter every two months.

        . A lawyer who earned his degree taking night classes while in office in the early 1980s, he's applying for government jobs to shore up his retirement benefits.


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