The passing of Paul Tipps closes the book on a generation of Ohio Democratic leaders who unapologetically took their messages to the streets, the board rooms and assembly lines as he managed a party in nearly full control of the state's highest offices. And that included all but one of the Supreme Court justices!
As the Democratic chairman from 1975 to 1983, Tipps wore a teasing smile and pleasant demeanor to disguise the gritty side of surviving the disarray so common to Democrats who were otherwise alive and well.
The party's first-team roster included Atty Gen. Billy Joe Brown, who would have preferred being governor, but was barred from fund-raising by the Mahoning County
Democratic chairman; House Speaker Vernal Riffe, a powerful political and legislative operative who also wanted to be governor; Richard Celeste, who eventually became governor and hoped to be president; often feuding Democratic lode stars Sens. Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn, who later patched up their rivalries; and a bed sheet list of fussing union leaders and some distrustful Cleveland egos. You needed no reminder that hyperkinetic political activists were on the scene every hour.
Even before he became chairman, Tipps encountered opposition from Glenn's point man, Steve Kovacik, who, with the former astronaut's blessing, sought to elect state Sen. Nelson Lancione to the job. At the time, I wrote a column critical of Glenn for spending his political capital as a freshman on such a losing course. While I was frying eggs in my kitchen, Glenn called to scold me for being "premature" in assessing the fallout. Tipps won handily - evidence of his solid political skills in the party's field commanding county chairmen on the executive committee. (On the night of the lopsided vote, Lancione was nowhere to be seen. It was rumored that he was enjoying the better climate of Florida )
For a political reporter, it was a lively time. With a half-dozen or so Democrats running for president, the chairman tried - and lost - to discourage the candidates from carving up the Ohio delegation to the 1976 convention. Even the favorite son ticket he had set up for himself and party VIPs failed to go anywhere. Lacking his own official voice, he sat aside of the Ohio delegation as a mere spectator. It was one of the few times that I saw him on the outside of internal party business.
Remember, too, that it was not the heyday of cable TV, digital shoptalk or the pressure of conservative preachers and their moral agendas. In that respect, the work was less complicated . Politics was simply politics as usual as handed down over the centuries. Tipps had an innate sense of the workings from his "undergraduate" work as Montgomery County Democratic chairman. C.J. McLin, an African American state rep from Dayton, was his perfect guide through urban racial unrest.
Tipps was ready to move on. To the despair of his critics, he was a tireless lobbyist, no small benefit for a state chairman. He was a tough survivor , and not easily discouraged , a genuine success story with all of those Democrats sitting in high office in Columbus. (Despite their early differences, Tipps and Glenn became friends. Glenn remarked this week that Ohio had "no better friend than Tipps.")
Even his lobbyist work was shared with Republican Neil Clark. That was a non-starter for politics at Tipps' level. But that merger blew up in a nasty feud. On the other hand, he was never apart from Riffe in their joint assembly of can-do power and influence.
For every feud, one could point to Tipps' genuine successes. Upon hearing of his death, it quickly occurred to me that the Democrats once had more than one prospect for every job.
Did I say Democrats?