Watching the General Assembly’s Republicans act as if they are gynecologists for the state’s women — a majority of Ohio’s population — is startling.
It’s such a paradox, after all those years when, during debates on public health insurance, Republicans shrieked about Democrats “interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.”
This of course is the same wise legislature, GOP-run then, too, that ballyhooed Prohibition, which bankrolled the Mafia. And, it’s the same legislature that, during World War I, forbade Ohio schools to teach the German language because, hey, that might comfort Kaiser Bill, the German emperor, and his fellow “Huns,” who fought Americans on Europe’s battlefields.
Then, too, it’s the same legislature that passed Ohio’s nationally condemned Bible-reading bill, in 1925, Ku Klux Klan-backed, requiring that ten Bible verses be read daily in the state’s public school classrooms, regardless of pupils’ religious affiliations.
(Conservative) Democratic Gov. Vic Donahey vetoed the bill, writing, “It was the hope and desire for religious freedom that inspired the settling and founding of the United States of America.” (Among House members who fought the Bible-reading bill was the first Bob Taft.)
Of course, skeptics will say, that was the legislature then. The new, improved legislature is supposedly far better: Today’s Ohio legislators have college degrees! They know that an espresso is a beverage, not an overnight delivery!
Still, there’s a handy test to assess how “representative” the General Assembly really is. One thing Ohio does do right is televise sessions of the Ohio Senate and Ohio House and their committee hearings on the Ohio Channel (ohiochannel.org).
Watch it for an hour or two, Then ask yourself just how much Rep. “X” or Sen. “Y” represents what you personally think and want. The answer to that will tell you all need to know. And it won’t be pretty.
Because of the fight over the proposed abortion-rights amendment, some other issues are getting buried at the Statehouse. That’s how the insiders like it.
One of the more interesting arguments, both pro and con, is over whether Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, and successors of both parties, should gain more power over state supervision of Ohio K-12 schools.
In the 1950s, voters created the State Board of Education and empowered it to hire a superintendent of public instruction. But voters left it pretty much up to the General Assembly to write the state board’s and superintendent’s job descriptions as heads of the Education Department. The legislature may soon vote to make the board and superintendent all but bystanders by creating a new Ohio Department of Education and Workforce headed by a director appointed by DeWine.
Republican then-Gov. George V. Voinovich sought to transform the (elected) board to an appointed board. But then-House Speaker Vern Riffe, a Scioto County Democrat, refused. The compromise: A board with a mix of elected and appointed members.
The legislature is virtually certain to give DeWine what he wants. And assigning direct responsibility for K-12 schooling to governors will at least show where the buck stops.
Still, public schools nationwide have become battlefields in what seems like an endless culture war. Fortunately, in the last 60 years, Ohio’s governors have been middle-of-the-roaders, not ideologues. And maybe that will always be so at the Statehouse.
Still, people favoring governors’ direct oversight of K-12 schools should consider whether a future governor might try to infuse schools with his or her philosophy — stoking the cultural war over schooling that rages today. That’s not Mike DeWine’s deal. But it could be a successor’s.
Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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