Taft campaign on 8-city tour
Governor's race could be historic

Friday, May 8, 1998

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

As Bob Taft's campaign bus rolled through Ohio on Thursday, he seldom mentioned his famous family.

Bob Taft, who is running for Ohio governor, meets DaShauna Ricks at Woodward High School.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |

Instead, he told of Myron Herrick, the last Republican governor who was elected to succeed a Republican governor. The year: 1903. Mr. Taft, a Cincinnati Republican, wants to succeed George Voinovich, a Cleveland Republican whom the Ohio Constitution prevents from seeking a third consecutive term.

Two days after securing his party's nomination, Mr. Taft embarked on an eight-city campaign swing through Ohio, hoping to break the trends of history.

He fielded questions on budget cuts and education reform, joked about his sometimes-awkward demeanor and promised lower taxes, more state support for schools and better management.

"Much more important than the amount of money we put into our schools is the kind of students we turn out," he told a Columbus rally.

Billed as an education field trip, the campaign also visited Woodward High School, toured a central Ohio courthouse and took part in a PTA meeting in Vandalia, near Dayton.

Across Ohio he emphasized that more money for schools doesn't necessarily mean better schools.

Mr. Taft supported this week's failed effort to generate an additional $550 million for schools through a sales tax hike. But after voters overwhelmingly defeated Issue 2, he and his Democratic rival Lee Fisher began insisting that schools can be properly funded with existing resources.

While some of his fellow Republicans who supported the plan had harsh criticism for their opponents, Mr. Taft offered help. He said he telephoned educators and labor leaders who opposed Issue 2 to let them know he'd work with them on education issues as the campaign progresses.

On Wednesday, he outlined his school plan, which includes a panel to study mandates imposed on schools. Without the sales tax, he said he'd properly fund education by streamlining government, imposing a hiring freeze and appointing a commission to recommend ways to tighten state government's belt.

During Thursday's tour, however, Mr. Taft encountered an education reform program that works. As with many successful programs, it's pricey.

Known as Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates (JCG), the program trains and funds counselors who help high school students develop the skills needed to get a job. They learn how to write resumes, deal with interviewers and answer phones. Tutoring is available. Participants must pay back the program through service activities that range from voter registration drives to fund raising for muscular dystrophy.

Mr. Taft and running mate Maureen O'Connor met with JCG students and counselors at Woodward High School.

Senior Jason Gary said the program boosted his confidence, raised his ambitions and improved his writing skills. When trying to write a speech, Mr. Gary said the words came out so quickly he had a hard time getting them down.

"I wish it worked that way for me sometimes," Mr. Taft quipped. Woodward Principal Ellie Johnson dubbed the program a huge success, and cited studies that show it has helped reduce the dropout rate and improve test scores.

Program administrators said it costs about $1,200 per student, with about two-thirds of the funding coming from the Ohio Department of Education. The remainder comes from private businesses, the school district and city of Cincinnati.

Mr. Taft said he'd like to continue the program, and predicted he could do so using existing resources.

The entire trip was a sharp contrast to Mr. Taft's November announcement tour, which was marred by the candidate's indecision on several questions.

When asked why this trip is so different, Mr. Taft said: "The more campaigning you do, the more comfortable you get."

If he continues to do well, Myron Herrick will lose his place in history.

Both he and Mr. Herrick were teachers and lawyers. Both were fiscal conservatives. And Mr. Herrick, he noted, defeated a man from Cleveland.

Mr. Taft's opponent, former Attorney General Fisher, is a man from Cleveland.

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