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Two Former Ohio Governors Reminisce, Talk Politics

Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles talked at a fundraising event.
Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles talked at a fundraising event.

All three of Ohio’s former living governors were at the Statehouse this week for an event for the Capitol Square Foundation, which, among other things, raises money for improvements to the Statehouse. Ohioans heard a lot from Gov. Ted Strickland when he ran for U.S. Senate last year, but former governors Richard Celeste and Bob Taft have kept lower profiles since leaving office.

Republican Gov. Bob Taft led Ohio from 1999 to 2007. He’s a little wistful about his time in office.

“We had Democrats. We had Republicans. But we talked a lot more. We were more on the same page.”

He says that even though he was caught up in the Coingate scandal involving a $50 million questionable investment by a state agency. Coin dealer Tom Noe went to prison and some of Taft’s aides and Taft himself were convicted of ethics violations.

On the plusside

But Taft had successes as governor as well. The Ohio’s Third Frontier development program was created and improvements were made for the Great Lakes. Taft doubts he would have been able to accomplish those goals in today’s political environment.

“I think it would have been far more difficult. I might have had problems getting some of the Republican votes that I got when I was here because the Republican party is more divided now. You’ve got the Tea Party, you have the establishment and now you’ve got the Trump Republicans, so called. So it’s a very divisive situation, and if you don’t have your own party behind you, it’s tough.”

No romance for the past

On the other side of the political aisle is Democratic Gov. Richard Celeste, who led Ohio from 1983 to 1991. He says things may have been a bit easier for leaders in some respects. But he doesn’t view his time in office as the good old days.

“I’m not one that looks back and says, 'Well, those days were wonderful. Nobody knew what an iPhone was back then. We didn’t have them. The world has changed dramatically in the last 30 years.”

Celeste had to deal with the collapse of the Cincinnati-based Home State Savings Bank because of an investment that didn’t exist. The state ended up paying $12 million to the bank’s depositors. But he also was able to convince Ohio lawmakers to increase state funding for public education, mental health and other human services programs. Celeste says public officials are still wrestling with those issues now.

“I think the challenges that policy makers face today are both enduring and fresh. How do we use technology to further education? How do we address the growing diversity of our communities? Those challenges are worthy challenges and I hope the same spirit of enthusiasm will be brought to bear on them.”  

Bipartisanship

Taft says the biggest problem that leaders need to overcome is the lack of bipartisanship, but he knows some in his own party considered him too moderate.

“I think some of the conservative Republicans thought I wasn’t a Republican given some of the ideas I proposed. But, for the most part, I got good leadership from the Legislature, good support and we got a lot of good things done.

"And I think I’m seeing Gov. Kasich’s going to have a little bit of a harder time now with some of his programs because it has changed, the atmosphere has changed, and I think it’s more difficult to accomplish big things today than it was when I was governor.”

Cutting bothways

Celeste agrees on the need for bipartisanship across the country and notes the big issues facing the Buckeye State also face Colorado, the state he now calls home.

“I think it’s hard these days to imagine that there are problems that are distinctive to a particular state. Nearly all of the problems we face are problems that reach across state boundaries and even, in many instances, reach across national boundaries.

"And we are going to learn that the issue of immigration cuts both ways. The issue of trade cuts both ways. The investments in economic growth cuts both ways. So my view is I want Ohio to succeed because Ohio is the heartland and what happens in Ohio, I think, is in many respects, a bellwether for the rest of the country.”

Celeste says Ohio’s success is personally important to him because he still has children and grandchildren who live here.

Both Taft and Celeste have stayed busy since leaving office. Taft is teaching students at the University of Dayton. Celeste retired as president of Colorado College in 2010, and is now getting ready for a tour around Ohio to promote his new book.

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