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Former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris Dies At 83

Former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris
Ohio Public Radio
Former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris

Former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris has passed away at the age of 83 after months of battling cancer.

Harris was born in Tennessee and got his college degree in Arizona, but his political career was all Ohio.

In 1995, he left his car dealership in Ashland after being easily elected, in a heavily Republican district, to the Ohio House. The Marine veteran served there until 2000, when former Gov. Bob Taft appointed him to fill the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Dick Schafrath, who took an administrative position.

Harris was considered a long shot in the race for the Senate presidency in 2005, but he won and served in that job until 2010 when he left due to term limits.

Gov. Taft said Harris had exceptionally strong leadership qualities.

“He was someone you could always trust," Taft said. "His word was his bond. He was concerned about others, their situation, their feelings. But he was also focused on moving the ball ahead and getting things done."

He explained one of Harris' biggest accomplishments was shepherding a massive budget reform bill through the legislature in 2005—a bill that included Taft’s 21 percent income tax cut phased in over five years.

"I believe he had a passion to accomplish that," Taft said.

Current Senate President Larry Obhof echoed his praise for Harris’ leadership skills.

"I think he did a great job as Senate president," Obhof said. "I also represent the same area as he did because there’s some overlap between his former district and my current one. And I can tell you from personal experience that he was a pillar of the community here, someone that the people were very proud of, someone you could always look up to, who you always knew was representing the interests of the people of this area."

JoAnn Davidson, the first woman to serve as Ohio House Speaker, said Harris was genuine and widely respected in the legislature.

“I just remember that he was so supportive and standing by to help you in some of the very difficult decisions we had in the legislature," Davidson said. "He was a person that you would look to and usually lean on a little bit because of the thought process he used in examining the issue on both sides."

The Ohio Republican Party’s Blaine Kelly said Harris led a full life in the military, then as a car dealership owner and after that as a political leader.

“You know he really embodied the American Dream," Kelly said. "Everyone who knew him knew that he had a kind heart and he was committed to serving his constituents."

As he left the Ohio Legislature in 2010, Harris called for cooperation.

“I encourage all of the legislators on both sides of the aisle to talk to one other and work together along with our new Governor, John Kasich, and the new leadership of the Ohio House of Representatives to move our great state forward," Harris said in 2010. "The responsibility is yours and I will be watching from my farm in Ashland County.”