William Hershey

COLUMBUS: The spectacular failure of President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control Congress to “repeal and replace” Obamacare has inspired talk of revenge, retribution and even, believe it or not, bipartisanship.

In today’s poisonous political atmosphere that last one seems like an outdated oldie but goodie, with a “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” dimension.

But there really has been such a thing.

There’s no better example in the Akron area than the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The prime mover behind the park was the late U.S. Rep. John Seiberling, an Akron-area Democrat.

Seiberling had plenty of help from former U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, the Stark County Republican who used his position on the Appropriations Committee to get money for the project. There also was bipartisan support for the park from others in Ohio’s congressional delegation.

And don’t forget the late Ray Bliss, the Akron insurance man and former Republican national chairman. Regula credits Bliss’ personal plea to then-President Gerald Ford, a Republican, with preventing a repeal of legislation creating the park.

Down the road in Columbus, I witnessed a more nitty-gritty form of across-the-aisle cooperation.

When Ohio’s finances really hit the skids in 1981, Republican Gov. James A. Rhodes, despite his allergy to the “T-word,” got the bipartisan help he needed from Democratic House Speaker Vern Riffe of Scioto County for a “temporary” — Rhodes’ tax increases were always temporary — 25 percent personal income tax surcharge to keep the state running.

Back then, Gov. John Kasich was a young state senator from the Columbus area. Maybe the Rhodes-Riffe cooperation had rubbed off when he got to Washington after he became the only Republican newcomer to defeat an incumbent Democratic U.S. House member in 1982.

I arrived in Washington in 1984 and by then Kasich actually claimed Democrats among his friends. After Democrat Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Kasich invited Hillary Clinton to his house for dinner to discuss health care reform.

Nothing much came of that but in 1997 Republican Kasich was arguably the key congressional player working with a Democratic president to achieve the unheard of notion of a balanced federal budget.

Maybe memories of those glory days still dance in Kasich’s head as he calls on Trump and members of both parties in Congress to forget deep-seated differences and come up with a health care system that does more to help Americans than to advance the interests of either party.

From here, Kasich’s plea seems like a long shot. Many things have poisoned the bipartisan well since 1997, including current Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration that his key goal was to keep Democratic President Barack Obama from winning a second term.

Besides, to achieve bipartisan reform in Washington, leadership usually must come from the White House, just as in Columbus it must come from the governor’s office.

During my time in Washington, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican President Ronald Reagan knew how to pull it off. Kasich and Clinton got together on budget balancing. Reagan worked with Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O ‘Neill to achieve tax reform in 1986, the last time federal taxes got a real overhaul.

Unfortunately, President Trump, unlike Reagan and Clinton, who had been governors, has little experience working with legislators, even those in his own party. Also, the president has demonized many of the elected officials whose help he now needs.

In addition, extreme gerrymandering has given members of the U.S. House little reason to cooperate with each other or with the president. Most are from districts so safe that the only danger to re-election is a primary challenger from their own party.

So, yes, Virginia, there has been bipartisanship, but don’t hold your breath for its return.

Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He also was the Columbus bureau chief of the Dayton Daily News. He is writing a biography of Ray C. Bliss with John C. Green, the director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Hershey can be reached at hershey_william@hotmail.com.