Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Retired justice a candidate to lead 37,000 union workers


Inside Ohio's Capital

Debra Jasper and Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus bureau

Former Supreme Court Justice Andrew Douglas has always been a friend to labor interests. Next month, he may help run the state's biggest union.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association represents 37,000 unionized workers, most of whom work for state agencies.

Douglas is the top candidate for the union's executive director job, according to spokesman Peter Wray. He would replace Irwin Sharfeld, who retired to Florida five months ago.

Douglas is the only job candidate the union is negotiating a contract with, Wray said. The union board could vote on a contract by Feb. 14.

A Republican who spent nearly two decades on the Supreme Court, Douglas often sided with labor on legal disputes involving worker compensation and lawsuit reforms. He also was one of the so-called "Gang of Four" that held Ohio's school funding system unconstitutional in a series of controversial 4-3 decisions.

All those decisions made life hard, to say the least, for Douglas's fellow Republicans in the legislature. Few were sorry to see him retire from the court last year at the age of 70.

The party's loss has been labor's gain. Douglas helped the union keep the state prison in Lima open more than a year after Gov. Bob Taft ordered it closed to save money. That's kept about 400 union workers on the state payroll.

As lead counsel for the union, Douglas helped convince Allen County Judge Richard Warren to rule in August that Taft needs a legislative OK to close the prison. The case is now before an appellate court.

"Everyone in labor has felt he was a voice for the middle class and for working people on the Supreme Court," Wray said.

"He's clearly got a pretty sharp political mind."

BLACKWELL HONORED: Last week was a good one for Ken Blackwell, who landed on a short list of conservative GOP heroes.

The American Conservative Union and the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs named Blackwell the winner Thursday of the Ashbrook Award during a Washington conference.

The annual award is given to "individuals who exemplify integrity of thought and conduct and demonstrate a firm dedication to principals based on sound policy and dignified purpose."

Blackwell has been a devoted follower of the conservative ideal, pushing for a flat tax and smaller government throughout his career.

Ronald Reagan was an Ashbrook Award winner in 1986. Other honorees include Edwin Meese III, Patrick Buchanan, Charlton Heston, John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay.

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Debra Jasper (djasper@enquirer.com) and Spencer Hunt (shunt@enquirer.com) cover the Statehouse.




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