Monday, January 12, 2009

Voinovich no longer the gate-keeper

SCANNING Sen . George Voinovich's 40 year-history as an active politician recalls what they used to say about an old Major League southpaw named Dick Littlefield.  The guy pitched for more teams than  he could quickly  remember, so many, in fact, that the familiar reference to his work in a baseball uniform was "Much-traveled Dick Littlefield."   Voinovich, 72,  matched the Littlefield  sojourns  to fill his resume with at least seven different offices (I may have missed one or two) that began as a state representative  in 1967 and ended with his announcement that he would retire after two terms in the U.S. Senate.  In between he was the Cuyahoga County auditor, county commissioner, lieutenant governor, Cleveland mayor and governor.

His lack of political flamboyance    - occasionally interrupted by bursts against something that rose up to annoy him - earned him the reputation of being a Republican moderate, an outmoded condition for anyone who wanted a front-row seat  from the party's dominant hard-core right wing.  But Voinovich's record also at least placed him on the edge of some social issues, including his pro-life positions that earned him 100 pct. approval from the National Right to Life Society.  He also was in  the right place at the right time to advance his career in politics, as it happened in `1979 when he was elected mayor of Cleveland.  His opponent that year was Dennis Kucinich, the incumbent who took such a pounding from the business community and the media that Voinovich could have lazed on a Riviera beach for the entire campaign - and still won. 

As is often the case, his decision to return to private life stressed his hankering to return to family and long deferred recreational interests.  But in politics, there is always a subtext.  In Voinovich's case, in today's anti-Bush, anti-Republican climate, he would be cast as the underdog if he sought a third term.   Polls have shown him to be faltering.   He also carries some baggage from his administration as governor.  If the voters have forgotten the details, they would have been hastily reminded by Democrats in every which way of his possible liability in the scandalous avalanche that swept Republican operative Tom Noe into prison.  Tom Noe, the college dropout  Voinovich appointed to the Ohio Board  of Regents to look after the state's educational priorities?

In his personal life, Voinovich lived out his vengeance against government spending to the hilt. I visited him at his home in Cleveland before he packed off to Columbus to serve as governor.  It was hard to pick it out from the rows of plain  houses in the unpretentious far east side  neighborhood where the sick economy is said to have struck with sale signs and  foreclosures. His motto for government was that everyone had to "work harder and smarter."   It was ungrammatical as hell , but that has never been an obstacle to motto-making.  As I recall, I first heard it in my interview at his house  for a Sunday magazine profile.  

The lure of a vacant political seat has the power of lunar gravity.  Rob Portman,  the former congressman from Cincinnati, and Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget as well as trade representative, is going for the seat.  His chumminess with huge GOP financiers  may be enough to scare off others with stars in their eyes. And there will be others, if not for the Senate, then for governor or all of the other statewide seats now held by Democrats.  John Kasich, another ex-congressman is said to be pawing the Statehouse lawn for a challenge to  Gov. Ted Strickland.   And somewhere in the mix is likely to be former Sen . Mike DeWine and Ohio auditor Mary Taylor.

 Among those  keeping a watchful eye on the GOP kaleidoscope  these days is Alex Arshinkoff, the industrious Summit County GOP chairman who is not yet ready to forecast the survivors.  Industrious?  He will instantly recite the number of days left to the filing deadline, give or take a couple of hours.   "The filing deadline is still 340 days away," he said with the kind of scarily snappish  recall that shows his neurons are tracking perfectly.    "It's still very fluid - for Republicans and Democrats."

Heavens!.  Barack Obama has yet to be inaugurated after the last two-year campaign. and the Ohio pols have been fully sprung from the gate with Voinovich's retirement two years hence. After all, who among them  doesn't aspire to being the life of the party?  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Voinovich has been a disaster, in my opinion, at virtually every step of his political career. In Cleveland, he undermined the city's (and school system's) tax base by handing out abatements for Gateway and other downtown developments that have hardly kept the central city "vibrant." He was at his worst in Columbus, where he savaged the state's higher education system, leading to the fastest rising tuition rates in the nation. He has done very little for the state as senator -- Saved jobs? No. Landed big-money earmarks? No. Brought government offices (and jobs, such as IRS processing center) to Ohio? No.

I was very unhappy when my alma mater (and his), Ohio University, established the George Voinovich Political Institute. The guy did everything in his power to minimize state subsidies to higher education, accelerating the flight of high-tech jobs out of the region.

Hey George -- now that you're retired, think about splurging for vinyl siding for that outdated colonial in Cleveland. Oh yeah, that wouldn't be financially responsible.