One theme of the campaign for governor involved how Mike DeWine long had thought about holding the office. An election victory would amount to reaching the height of his career as an elected official, starting in the 1970s as the Greene County prosecutor, including time in Washington as a House member and senator, with stints in Ohio as a state senator, lieutenant governor and, most recently, attorney general. So, now at age 72, he has had time to weigh what he would do as the state’s chief executive.
The thought has been apparent the past two months as DeWine has put together his governing team. The announcements on Thursday completed the task of filling Cabinet and staff positions, except for the director of the state Department of Health. In the main, this is a strong group, experienced, knowledgeable, prepared and accomplished.
DeWine often has been the beneficiary of low expectations. With his appointments and selections, expectations for governing have moved higher, as his administration starts work on Monday. That is especially so in areas he has given priority, for instance, early education, the opioid epidemic, Lake Erie and transportation.
What deserves particular attention is the welcome diversity of his team.
Recall the stir John Kasich created eight years ago with his first Cabinet choices, largely white men. The critical response wasn’t some form of political correctness. Rather, diversity goes to ensuring that in leading state government, the governor taps the full range of talent and life perspectives. It also is about affording opportunities to those who have been deprived historically, something at the forefront of the DeWine campaign in his commitment to elevating the lives of disadvantaged children and their families.
It means including women and minorities.
Look at the numbers. DeWine has put together a Cabinet of 16 women and nine men. Five members are African-American. The makeup doesn’t amount somehow to denying openings to qualified white men. It gets to the point Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made in a 2003 Supreme Court ruling securing affirmative action, that “in order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”
And gender. DeWine isn’t the first to advance on this front. Women made up half of the Cabinet under Ted Strickland. Bob Taft achieved gains in diversity. It also is true that DeWine has a record of appointing women to key positions, notably, his chief of staff when on Capitol Hill and now as governor, Laurel Pressler Dawson.
In that way, the selections further echo the thinking of Justice O’Connor in recruiting “talented and qualified individuals.” For instance, Maureen Cochran brings deep knowledge and understanding of Medicaid. Lori Criss promises the same in dealing with the addiction crisis, as does Jack Marchbanks in leading transportation and Laurie Stevenson at the state Environmental Protection Agency. Those are just four examples. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a learning curve, or that the administration will go the public sector equivalent of undefeated. There will be blunders and missed opportunities, and this editorial page no doubt will share its disagreement with policies and decisions. What is worth applauding now is the overall composition and quality of the team.
An Ohio with steep challenges must take advantage of all its talent. That is the valuable message Mike DeWine has sent.