Sunday, August 01, 1999

CAPITOL INSIDER


'Sen. Springer' rings a bell with college class

BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio Democrats are the laughingstock of the political establishment for asking Jerry Springer to consider running for the U.S. Senate next year. But the idea of the former Cincinnati mayor turned TV talk-show host returning to politics is winning rave reviews from the politically illiterate.

        Just ask State Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont.

        On the first day of a summer course on government that Mr. Damschroder is teaching at his local community college, he asked the eight students to name the two men representing Ohio in the U.S. Senate.

        They responded with blank stares. Then several eagerly volunteered that Mr. Springer might be a candidate.

        “Not one out of eight could list their U.S. senators (Republicans Mike DeWine and George Voinovich), U.S. representative or state senator,” Mr. Damschroder said. “And these are typical students. It's really surprising.”

        Sadly, it shouldn't be so shocking. State representatives routinely get letters that start off with, “Dear Congressman ...”

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        Term limits will force lawmakers to seek another job after eight years in office, which could rob them of subsidized health insurance.

        Rep. Sam Britton, D-Cincinnati, wants to come to the rescue. He's introduced a bill that would slash to eight from 10 the number of years elected officials are required to serve before qualifying for low-cost health insurance.

        “While I personally won't be affected, I think it's only fair to help people who sacrifice eight years of their lives to serve in state government,” Mr. Britton said.

        Many lawmakers and statewide elected officials would qualify anyway because they previously served as county commissioners, township trustees or city council members.

        However, the Public Employees Retirement System isn't jumping up and down to support Mr. Britton's idea. State law requires the agency to give lawmakers within 60 days an assessment of how much the bill would cost the system.

        “We have to remember that health insurance is very expensive,” said Richard Schumacher, the retirement plan's executive director. “Any time you change the system, there is a question of dollars attached to it.”

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        That lawsuit-happy state lawmaker, Rep. Diane Grendell, recently provided another chapter in the annals of twisted legislative logic.

        In a letter sent to newspapers across the state, the Geauga County Republican defended her eye-popping lawsuit against legislative leaders for stripping a $30,000 airport grant she coveted from the state budget.

        GOP leaders have said they removed the grant after Ms. Grendell failed to vote for the budget bill. She calls the act “unlawful intimidation, coercion and retaliation.”

        While she's suing to restore money for her local airport, Ms. Grendell said she voted against the budget because it contained too much pork.

        “I could not vote for the record expenditure of taxpayer funds reflected in the budget bill,” she wrote, “especially as a member of the Republican Party that for years has advocated less government and less government spending.”

        In other words, everybody else's pork is bad. Hers is Grade A bacon.

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        John Rabenold, a longtime aide to Senate President Richard Finan, is moving back home to the Cincinnati area.

        Mr. Rabenold, who most recently played a key role in helping shape legislation to deregulate the state's electric utilities, is joining Mason-based CNG Financial Corp. this month as vice president of government affairs.

        After his one-year prohibition against lobbying his former bosses is up, one can expect to see Mr. Rabenold roaming the Statehouse corridors again.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.

       



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