Sunday, July 23, 2000

Report Card from Columbus: 2000




By Ray Cooklis
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        He's still “The Man.”

        For the third year in a row, Senate President Richard H. Finan, R-Evendale, has topped our report card of Cincinnati-area state legislators by a wide margin.

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        Mr. Finan, one of Ohio's three most powerful politicians, was rated an overall 8.50 out of 10 by Statehouse lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters who responded to our survey.

        Survey-takers praised Mr. Finan as “a great leader and a truly dedicated public servant,” “the best leader in a long time,” — yet didn't spare him criticism for his “terminal stubbornness.”

        Still, he's “the Rock of Gibraltar,” “king of the castle,” “The Man.” Take your pick.

        His closest competitor at 8.05 was Rep. Robert L. Schuler, R-Sycamore Township — the man many Columbus observers think will win Mr. Finan's Senate seat in 2002, when term limits end the Senate president's reign.

        But Mr. Schuler would have to cool his heels outside the General Assembly for two year, as he's ineligible to run for re-election to the House this November. So is the survey's No. 3, Rep. Rose Vesper, R-New Richmond.

THE SCORES
1. Sen. Richard H. Finan
Republican
Evendale
District 7

8.50
2. Rep. Robert L. Schuler
Republican
Sycamore Twp.
District 36

8.05
3. Rep. Rose Vesper
Republican
New Richmond
District 72

7.96
4. Sen. Doug White
Republican
Manchester
District 14
(tie)

7.91
5. Rep. Gary Cates
Republican
West Chester
District 58

7.69
6. Rep. Dale Van Vyven
Republican
Sharonville
District 32

7.47
7. Rep. George Terwilleger
Republican
Maineville
District 2

7.39
8. Sen. Louis Blessing Jr.
Republican
Colerain Twp.
District 8

7.27
9. Sen. Scott R. Nein
Republican
Middletown
District 4

7.21
10. Sen. Mark Mallory
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 9

7.10
11. Rep. Jerome Luebbers
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 33

7.07
12. Rep. Gregory Jolivette
Republican
Hamilton
District 59

7.02
13. Rep. Patricia Clancy
Republican
Colerain Twp.
District 35

7.01
14. Rep. Eugene Krebs
Republican
Camden
District 60

6.54
15. Rep. Jacquelyn O'Brien
Republican
Cincinnati
District 37

6.34
16. Rep. Cheryl Winkler
Republican
Cincinnati
District 34

6.17
17. Rep. Catherine Barrett
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 31

6.09
18. Rep. Sam Britton
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 30

6.07
19. Rep. Samuel Bateman
Republican
Milford
District 71

5.82
        We asked about 400 people to rate each of the 19 area lawmakers — 14 House members and 5 Senate members — for their integrity, intelligence, effectiveness, energy, problem-solving ability and potential.

        The delegation scored slightly lower across the board this year. One notable exception was Sen. Lou Blessing, R-Colerain Township, who scored higher and moved up five places in the rankings. He's a likely leader in the post-term limits Senate.

        The lowest-ranked lawmaker this year was veteran Rep. Samuel Bateman, R-Milford, also term-limited. But that ranking comes with a huge asterisk: Mr. Bateman, the respected Transportation Committee chairman, has suffered a series of illnesses during the past year, and has been absent from most sessions. Most respondents noted that in their survey forms.

        This year's average overall score for the 19 lawmakers was 7.09 on a 0-10 scale, down from last year's 7.24.

        Again this year, the survey responses seemed to lack extreme partisan bias. One respondent gave perfect 10s to both Rep. Patricia Clancy, R-Colerain Township, and Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati — hardly ideological twins. Another gave top scores to both Mr. Mallory and Mr. Finan.

        Most left blank the section on any legislator the survey-taker didn't know well enough to judge.

        That fair-mindedness didn't mean the survey responses lacked invective, however.

        For all his skill and get-it-done muscle (he “has delivered big-time for Southwest Ohio,” wrote one lobbyist), some in Columbus can hardly wait to see Mr. Finan go.

        “His stubbornness and extreme partisanship have made the Senate a laughingstock,” groused a Senate Democrat. “Everyone knows that (an issue's) final compromise will happen in the House.”

        We conduct this survey because many voters simply don't know who is working hard and who isn't in the Statehouse. State legislators toil in relative obscurity, compared to U.S. Congress members. Some Ohio voters don't even know which state House and Senate districts they live in — or who represents them.

        They need to know, and this Forum package is designed to help them find out. The General Assembly affects Ohioans' lives greatly — consider school funding, electric deregulation, DUI laws and stadium construction, to name a few examples.

        Ten of the 19 legislators are serving their final months under Ohio's term limits law. Those who remain after this year will wield more power as senior members in a General Assembly full of fresh faces.

        To grade each legislator, we turned to those who have the most direct knowledge of job performance: Their 113 General Assembly colleagues from throughout Ohio; the Statehouse press corps that covers state government daily; registered lobbyists who deal with them on legislative issues.

        We asked respondents to grade each legislator on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 highest (see “About the survey,” Page E4), and invited them to add written comments. Surveys were returned anonymously, compiled and averaged.

        Our survey is modeled on similar surveys done routinely in several other states — notably by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research and the California Journal. It is not a scientific poll. It's a sample of informed opinions from those “in the know” in Columbus. It can be a valuable tool for voters.

        Take a look through this section for a look at who your representatives are. And take the opportunity to clip out our mail-in form and rate your own legislators.

        Ray Cooklis is an Enquirer editorial writer. He can be reached at rcooklis@enquirer.com



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