On Wednesday, Mike DeWine got the question: Why now? A reporter wanted his assessment of whether the deadly mass shooting in Dayton would prove a “tipping point” for substantial change in how Ohio addresses gun violence.

“Why now for me?’’ DeWine responded. “I am governor today. I have an obligation to do this.” He added: “You run for governor because you want to make things happen. … This is an opportunity … for us to do things that should be done.”

The occasion was the unveiling of his plan to improve the state’s part in the background check system for gun purchases. The governor has called for expanding checks to all gun purchases, except those involving family members. He knows the system won’t be effective until the information provided is current and complete.

The key word in his answer was “opportunity.” That is what the governor’s office involves, especially. Watching DeWine since Dayton, or, really, since he stepped into the job at the start of the year, it has been striking to see his determination to make the most of his chance.

The governor hardly fits the description of a Never Trumper. He greets the president at airports and joins him during visits. Yet there is a clear Never Trump quality to his brand of leadership.

It involves more than their vastly different personas, the carnival barker versus the guy easy to approach when the room is brimming with self-importance. DeWine reflects the value of knowledge and experience. He benefits from his many years as a county prosecutor, state lawmaker, member of Congress and state attorney general. He understands the importance in hiring talented people, not to mention a diverse range.

DeWine gained an education as lieutenant governor under George Voinovich in the early 1990s, in particular, an understanding of the flaws in “just lock ’em up.” Now he appears comfortable with his lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, having room to flex, recognizing a strong leader puts others in position to succeed.

Who knew that preparation and skill, honed during decades of public service, could be so helpful in governing?

No doubt, DeWine is a political survivor. The senator who opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and supported renewing the assault weapons ban accommodated Tea Partyers and made cozy with the National Rifle Association. He cut an unflattering campaign profile in tagging Richard Cordray with the Great Recession and claiming his Democratic opponent wanted dangerous criminals on the streets.

The DeWine now at work is more than a survivor. It is evident in how he has framed his term as governor — through his emphasis on “unfinished business.”

Political figures long have employed the phrase. It echoes the founding concept of “a more perfect union.” What it suggests is continuity, or building on what predecessors achieved. That indicates something shared, usually the product of compromise, both parties with a stake in seeing the achievement endure.

That is context for recalling the response to the DeWine budget plan and State of the State address, the Democratic opposition applauding many of the priorities. More than two decades after the DeRolph court rulings, the state still hasn’t repaired adequately the inequities in school funding. The governor advanced the cause by including $550 million for students burdened by poverty. House Democrats and Republicans then added another $125 million.

DeWine opened his State of the State address with a forceful argument for raising the gas tax, highlighting a past record of inadequate investment. He backed in words and dollars such items as children services and protection for Lake Erie. Did he miss deserving priorities, for instance, higher education? Sure. Still, for now, he has pushed the state to take up unfinished business.

So it is with curbing gun violence. The governor responded to passionate calls of “do something” with a plan and a strategy for passage. Two former governors, Bob Taft and Ted Strickland, voiced their support last week. Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton, has told reporters the governor is “the big difference this time” in the brighter prospects for the Republican legislative majorities taking action.

The governor may not get there. Yet amid so much presidential know-nothingness and chaos, he is a reassuring presence. He sees the opportunity. He is equipped to seize it.

 

Douglas is the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial page editor. He can be reached at mdouglas@thebeaconjournal.com.