SUDDES: Legislators need to focus on fundamentals, stop yammering about social issues



If the General Assembly is ever going to address Ohio’s real needs, legislators need to stop yammering about social issues and focus on fundamentals – such as the state’s relative economic slippage over the last several generations.

It is of course easier for the 132 members of the General Assembly – many of them self-satisfied, small-town white males – to rail against abortion and for guns, and to demonize LGBTQ Ohioans.

Meanwhile, news stories about the semiconductor factories sprouting in the cornfields of suburban Columbus make for heartening headlines. But they mask a stark fact, relayed here before but which bears mentioning again. That’s especially so Thanksgiving weekend, as ex-Ohioans revisit hometowns, where likely they recall an upbringing when next year was almost certain to be better than last year – with say, a new car, or a remodeled home, on the horizon.

Not now. In 2022, per capita personal income in Ohio was $57,777. In contrast, U.S. per capita personal income nationwide was $65,470, according to the United States Regional Economic Analysis Project.

That is, Ohioans saw 88 cents for every $1 in nationwide per capita personal income reported nationally. Even more startling, the project reported that the last time Ohioans’ per capita personal income was at least 100% of the national figure was in 1969, first year of Republican Richard M. Nixon’s presidency – 54 years ago.

That’s where Statehouse ballyhoo about tax cuts and business giveaways has landed Ohio – and squeezed Ohio’s one-time industrial heartland, the Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown triangle. In fairness, it may be that Republican then-Gov. James A. Rhodes’s jobs-and-progress quest (1963 through 1970, then 1975 through 1982) – and its reinvention by every governor since – has kept Ohio’s economic decline from being deeper than it is. (And Honda’s decision during Rhodes’s governorship to invest in outer-suburban Columbus has been a huge boost to what then was primarily an agricultural region.)

Meanwhile, though, Ohio’s blue collar cities, mainly but not just in Northeast Ohio, began their slow slide in population and employment, exemplified by the collapse, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, of steel production in Youngstown. (Where are its semiconductor “fabs?”) Stiff headwinds have also buffeted the Mansfield region and the Miami Valley.

Rather than address these big-picture problems, the General Assembly has been trying to forbid city regulation of flavored tobacco products, to penalize transgender Ohioans anyway it can, and to grandstand – still – on abortion.

So when former Ohioans return for visits this holiday weekend, and wonder why the old home town isn’t what it used to be, direct any questions to the Statehouse, where Ohio’s real problems should be addressed, but aren’t.

And it’s not because the legislature is so busy working on other things. In an eye-opening story,’s Jake Zuckerman recently reported that “the General Assembly could be in for its least productive year, in terms of passing bills into law, since at least 1955.”

In contrast, he reported, over the last 30 years, during odd-numbered years – when lawmakers debate biennial operating-, highway-, and workers’ compensation budgets – “lawmakers have passed an average of about 66 bills.”

This session’s La-Z-Boy workload is why, naturally, each legislator is paid a minimum of roughly $70,000 this year – most of them much more – and each legislator is also entitled to enroll in the state health care plan and Public Employees Retirement System.

Somehow, with all that time on its hands, the legislature just never gets around to addressing Ohioans’ big-picture circumstances, like relatively flat incomes. No, that’s a no-go in a General Assembly whose idea of leadership is to sic people on each other rather than unite them behind common goals that better Ohio.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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