A common theme appearing in coming-of-age tales is one of a youth who becomes disenchanted with a hero. The youth discovers the hero has flaws. The youth becomes a bit cynical. The youth feels disillusioned. The youth doesn’t look at the hero the same way again. It’s just a part of growing up.
But then one is not all the way grown up at that point. One has to grow up a little bit more and not only be forgiving of flaws, but giving permission to others to be flawed. Why? Because no one is perfect and because no one ought to coerce another to give up their flaws. We have to respect agency–people making choices about their own lives . . . and if someone doesn’t make any wrong choices, then that somebody isn’t making choices, period. Furthermore, one only has to look in the mirror to find a person who needs forgiveness for being flawed, for making wrong choices.
So as I reflect on the passing of George Voinovich and what George Voinovich meant to me, I have to own up to making a hero out of him. By September 2009, I was disenchanted. Now, I find my criticisms a bit harsh and now I find myself wondering why I didn’t try to muster some forgiveness sooner. I need to look in my mirror and take a good long look at a flawed person again to cement in my mind the need for forgiveness.
I first remember Voinovich from my boyhood, when he was mayor of Cleveland. He performed two miracles. One was getting elected as mayor of Cleveland as a Republican. That he had been a Cuyahoga County commissioner some time prior to that was amazing enough, but Cleveland mayor? Republicans just don’t get elected as Cleveland mayors. It just doesn’t happen. At least, not anymore. There have been mayoral elections in Cleveland where Democrat primaries settled the mayoral races. The other was that he led a Cleveland economic renaissance immediately after his predecessor, Dennis Kucinich, had led the city to financial default. If only Detroit could have been so lucky as to have a person like Voinovich take over as mayor after Kwame Kilpatrick was ousted.
He went on to be Ohio’s governor, and then U.S. Senator. He was the rare Republican who could sweep the vote across 88 counties.
One of the issues that I really felt close to Voinovich on was his opposition to casino gambling. His steadfast stance on the issue was perhaps the main reason I lionized him. The casino lobbyists had infested Ohio by the swarms, targeting weak and corrupt legislators of both parties. The lobbyists kept saying that casino legalization would be an easy revenue raiser. Voinovich had brought Cleveland back from financial default without resorting to gimmicks like gambling. The lobbyists were doling out campaign contributions left and right, but Voinovich wasn’t having any of it. It’s refreshing to see politicians who will not be bought by the agents of sleaze.
I really feel like Voinovich’s star shone brightest when he held executive office. Not so much legislative office. He was better at on-the-spot and uncompromising executive decisions than the highly deliberative and compromising legislative decisions.
My first taste of government service came as a volunteer intern in the office of Governor George Voinovich. Though my tasks were menial clerical ones, I felt like I had an excellent aerial view of Ohio’s political landscape from atop the Vern Riffe State Office Tower. I assisted with the filing of the “Governor’s Clips.” Each day, staffers combed through the print media to assemble a digest of the day’s political stories. This digest kept the governor informed about the issues without occupying too much of his time. This was back in the day before internet killed print media, and back when filing cabinets held paper files rather than computers holding data files. After the governor read each day’s clips, that wasn’t the end of them. They had to be filed for possible future retrieval. They had to be filed according to date, according to source, according to location, according to the names of people in the news clips, according to issues, etc. I do that on this blog with tags. With paper files, tags don’t quite cut it. The date, location, and source filing was easy. That was done by others before I even arrived at the office. My task was to skim through the stories, themselves, to pull out the keywords, then make as many photocopies of the clipping as I needed in order to file away each story according to each keyword.
Working with the “Governor’s Clips” gave me a brief glimpse into my political future when I encountered an article outlining a state legislator’s gambling expansion proposals: Some guy named Joe Koziura wanted a casino built on Lorain’s lakefront. I was incensed. Years later, in 2002 and 2004, I would run against that same Joe Koziura for the office of state representative, but lose both times.
Until 2009, I had voted for Voinovich every time his name appeared on my ballot. I had handed out his campaign literature door-to-door. I had attended some of his fundraisers (which meant that some of his campaign money came from me). I had also worked phone banks getting out the vote on his behalf. But the chinks in my hero’s armor had begun to show. Congress bailed out Wall Street in 2008, something it should not have done. I didn’t understand Voinovich’s voting patterns. When I finally paid a visit to the offices of the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC, I figured it out. Those office buildings, especially the Hart Senate Building, resembled palaces. Democracy gives way to aristocracy in the rarefied air of these Senate offices. It was the Beltway Bubble. Our Senators are too far removed from the real world, and even a man as principled as George Voinovich succumbed to the disengagement with the real world.
In the upcoming Senate race, I have no love for Ted Strickland, who reneged on his pledge against the expansion of gambling on his watch as Ohio governor. Voinovich and Strickland had touched base on the topic of casinos, and Strickland had told Voinovich that he would hold the line against them. He lied. He lied to George Voinovich. He lied to Ohio. Strickland doesn’t deserve Ohio’s vote. I here and now endorse Rob Portman for reelection. However, I would note that Portman has been around DC for far too long. Between a stint in the US House, and a stint in the US Senate, Portman served in the George W. Bush administration. I would urge Portman to (get reelected and) use this upcoming Senate term to groom someone else to succeed him. Make that two someone elses, for we need someone to oust and succeed Sherrod Brown, too. And I would say that we need more diverse representation than what we’ve had. Portman has had “listening” tours around Ohio so that he feels like he hears from folks outside the bubble, but I would say to Portman that, at some point, before he serves any additional terms in DC beyond the next one, that he needs to BE one of the folks from outside the bubble if he’s to remain useful as a representative of Ohioans. This is what I learned about the bubble on my trip to DC. Even a hero like Voinovich could not make sound decisions after spending too much time in the DC bubble.
Farewell, George Voinovich. We didn’t end up with quite the Ohio that we wanted. Four casinos are legal in Ohio now. The lobbyists wouldn’t be denied. But as long as you were in the real world with us, outside of that bubble, no lobbyist could cross your conscience. We need a government with a conscience. Badly. And so I should have forgiven you a long time ago. I do forgive you.