COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine and his fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly need a wardrobe change.

They’re wearing knickers, and it’s past time to put on their “big boy pants.”

They could take a lesson from long-ago Democrats, particularly Northfield state Sen. Oliver Ocasek. We’ll get to the Democrats later.

Back at the Statehouse, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, started the conversation about political haberdashery earlier this year, at the expense of Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.

Householder lampooned senators who dilly-dallied before passing a state transportation budget, which ultimately included a 10.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax increase.

“… [W]hen you come here you’ve got to put on your big boy pants, you’ve got to pull your binky out of your mouth and you’ve got to make tough decisions,” Householder said, according to the Associated Press.

DeWine and the legislature agreed on the transportation budget in April, but that’s ancient history.

The most important job for the governor and legislature is enacting a two-year operating budget. It’s the master plan for raising billions of dollars for schools, colleges, state parks, health care, prisons and more.

The deadline for passing the budget was June 30. Instead, DeWine, Householder and Obhof tugged on their knickers and approved a 17-day interim budget. They continue to squabble over taxes, education and health care, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

It’s not as if something controversial in the budget is likely to hurt their political fortunes. Republicans control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, as they have since 2010 and for all but two years since 1995.

They control the House, 61-38, and the Senate, 24-9.

Back to Ocasek and the Democrats.

Democrats have controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature at the same time, but not often. The last time was from 1983-1984.

In 1982, Richard F. Celeste was elected governor, and Democrats won control of the House, 62-37, and the Senate, 17-16.

It wasn’t the best of times for Ohio.

The national recession hit hard, and Ohio was hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. Outgoing Republican Gov. James A. Rhodes and the previous legislature had kept the state afloat with “temporary” tax hikes.

Celeste couldn’t wait for negotiations on a two-year budget to put the state on sounder financial footing.

He proposed making permanent a “temporary” 50 percent income tax surcharge and adding 40 percent. It became known as the “90 percent” tax hike although supporters argued that adjustments made it lower.

The plan easily passed the House in February, but with no Republican help the Democrats needed all 17 votes in the Senate.

If any Democrat had the right to feel disloyal it was Ocasek. He had served as Senate president from 1979-1980.

His tenure lasted just two years. Republicans gained the majority in 1980. This upset Ocasek’s fellow Democrats. He was thoughtful and well informed but no brawler.

Democrats wanted a combative leader and dumped Ocasek for Harry Meshel of Youngstown in a coup that Ocasek likened to treason, according to his Beacon Journal obituary.

Meshel, not Ocasek, became Senate president in 1983. The loss of the presidency dwindled in importance when tragedy struck Ocasek.

In January, he and his wife Virginia were in a car-truck accident in Florida. Mrs. Ocasek was seriously injured and died in April.

Back in Columbus, Ocasek’s vote was required. Celeste sent a plane to Florida to bring him back. In one of the most dramatic events ever in the Senate chamber, Ocasek hobbled in on crutches to cast the crucial vote.

Celeste did more than send a plane for Ocasek.

After the 1982 election, he had helped thwart a Republican effort to control the Senate despite the Democrats’ 17-16 advantage.

Republicans promised state Sen. Morris Jackson of Cleveland, an Ocasek ally still bitter over the 1980 coup, to make Jackson president if he joined them.

That would have given the GOP the 17-16 advantage.

“Morris Jackson voted with the Democrats and Harry Meshel became (Senate) leader,” Celeste told me later. “And I played a very active role in making sure all 17 Democrats stayed together.”

Democrats also made sure they passed the two-year budget by the June 30 deadline, sort of. House Speaker Vern Riffe, from Scioto County along the Ohio River, made time stand still.

As the midnight deadline approached, Riffe had the clocks covered with white paper until he and his allies made the necessary compromises and rounded up the votes for passage.

It’s hard to find a legislator with Ocasek’s courage, but DeWine, Householder and Obhof surely could find some white paper while searching for their “big boy pants.”

 

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 can be reached at hershey_ william@hotmail.com.