Not only is Strickland getting things done- but he is, thankfully, doing things differently than the previous two Governors.
By Dennis Willard
COLUMBUS – After two months in office, whether you like or loathe him, agree or disagree with his ideas, Gov. Ted Strickland is making decisions that put to rest the voters’ lament that there is no clear choice offered in elections.
Strickland has already taken several steps that stand him in sharp contrast with Bob Taft and George Voinovich, his predecessors.
And it is not difficult to imagine that Strickland’s opponent in November’s election, J. Kenneth Blackwell, would have acted very differently on some of these early policies.
For example, on his first day on the job, Strickland vetoed legislation from the last session of the General Assembly that limited awards under the Ohio Consumer Protection Act and shielded lead paint makers from lawsuits.
Taft wanted the law to be enacted without his signature.
Throughout his career, Blackwell embraced tort reform initiatives that argue that personal injury lawsuits drive up insurance rates and the cost of doing business while making ambulance-chasing lawyers rich.
The contrast between Strickland and the others doesn’t stop there.
Take the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the state’s spending about $2 million a day to erect primary and secondary buildings across Ohio.
Since the commission was created in 1997 under Voinovich, contractors have been exempt from prevailing-wage laws that require workers to be paid at union rates in the area where the work is being done.
And although the law indicates schools were required to go with the lowest responsible bidder, the Voinovich and Taft administrations took that a step further and denied funding to districts unless they went with the lowest bid, regardless of comparative qualifications and experience.
In February, Strickland named Michael Shoemaker, a former state lawmaker, as the commission’s executive director and immediately revoked the prevailing-wage exemptions.
The lowest responsible bidder model was scrapped, too.
In its place, school boards can ask contractors to demonstrate that their laborers have completed or are enrolled in federal- and state-approved apprenticeships, and can make decisions based on factors other than just bottom-line cost.
Strickland was accused of repaying the unions that backed him with votes and campaign cash during his bid for office last year.
Critics like Ryan Martin, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, believe the prevailing-wage exemption saved tax dollars without sacrificing quality.
State Rep. Matt Szollosi, D-Oregon, a freshman lawmaker appointed as a legislative representative to the commission, believes past policies led to shoddy workmanship that potentially endangered students and cost taxpayers more money in the long run.
“There are a number of unscrupulous contractors that prospered by subverting the system who won’t be fond of this policy,” Szollosi said.
He calls the approach by the Voinovich and Taft administrations “heavy handed.”
Need another example?
Strickland’s first appointment to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is Paul Centolella, who was the top energy adviser and lawyer for former Ohio Consumers’ Counsel William Spratley.
Spratley took the title of consumers’ counsel seriously and ended up infuriating utilities and their friends in the legislature to the point where he was forced out of the office.
Centolella would not make the short or long list for Voinovich, Taft or Blackwell.
The most glaring difference between Strickland and the three Republicans is he agrees with the Ohio Supreme Court that the school funding system is unconstitutional. Voinovich and Taft provided lip service to four court orders to address the way the state pays to educate 1.8 million children, but they never accepted that the system was fundamentally flawed.
Of course, Strickland’s position creates a problem that eluded his predecessors. By acknowledging something exists, the governor is admitting something must be done.