Sunday, May 23, 1999

Report card from Columbus




BY RAY COOKLIS
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Somebody up there likes us. Specifically, a lot of somebodies up there in Columbus like the folks we've sent to represent us in the Ohio General Assembly.

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The survey
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About the survey
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        In the Enquirer's second annual report card on Cincinnati-area legislators, Statehouse lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters rated our delegation higher than last year by nearly a full point across the board.

        We asked more than 400 people to rate each of the 19 local lawmkers for integrity, intelligence, effectiveness, energy, problem solving and potential.

        This year's average overall score for the five senators and 19 House members was 7.24 on a 0-10 scale, compared to 1998's 6.54. No legislator rated below an overall 6 this year, while five did last year. Written comments on the scoresheets were notably kinder, too.

        But even with grade inflation, the pecking order remained remarkably consistent.

THE HIGHLIGHTS
Press' pet:
Richard Finan

Most respected by peers:
Richard Finan

Lobbyists' favorite:
Richard Finan

Smartest:
Richard Finan

Highest integrity:
Jackie O'Brien

Highest energy:
Richard Finan

        The top four finishers were the same as last year, in the exact order, and three others among last year's Top 10 remained there this year.

        Again leading the pack by a large margin with an 8.88 score was Senate President Richard H. Finan, R-Evendale, one of Ohio's three most powerful politicians. Respondents portrayed him as stubborn and hot-tempered but a strong, effective leader. One lobbyist put it succinctly: Mr. Finan is "The Man."

        At bottom was Rep. Sam Britton, D-Cincinnati, with a 6.03. He's viewed as a friendly and honorable man whose legislative initiatives are sometimes out of touch. "Wake up, Sam!" wrote one colleague.

        Second at 7.98 was Rep. Rose Vesper, a New Richmond Republican who won warm praise as a "very sharp," "very capable" legislator who would be a "good candidate for any office."

She'll have to find another one quick. Term limits won't let her run for re-election in 2000.

THE SCORES
1. Sen. Richard H. Finan
Republican
Evendale
District 7

8.88
2. Rep. Rose Vesper
Republican
New Richmond
District 72

7.98
3. Rep. Gary Cates
Republican
West Chester
District 58

7.94
4. Rep. Robert L. Schuler
Republican
Sycamore Twp.
District 36

7.76
5. Rep. George Terwilleger
Republican
Maineville
District 2

7.70
6. Sen. Doug White
Republican
Manchester
District 14
(tie)

7.68
6. Rep. Dale Van Vyven
Republican
Sharonville
District 32

7.68
8. Rep. Gregory Jolivette
Republican
Hamilton
District 59

7.37
9. Sen. Scott R. Nein
Republican
Middletown
District 4

7.34
10. Rep. Jerome Luebbers
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 33

7.31
11. Sen. Mark Mallory
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 9

7.21
12. Rep. Patricia Clancy
Republican
Colerain Twp.
District 35

7.03
13. Sen. Louis Blessing Jr.
Republican
Colerain Twp.
District 8

7.00
14. Rep. Samuel Bateman
Republican
Milford
District 71

6.84
15. Rep. Jacquelyn O'Brien
Republican
Cincinnati
District 37

6.71
16. Rep. Eugene Krebs
Republican
Camden
District 60

6.56
17. Rep. Cheryl Winkler
Republican
Cincinnati
District 34

6.37
18. Rep. Catherine Barrett
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 31

6.26
19. Rep. Sam Britton
Democrat
Cincinnati
District 30

6.03
        Close behind Ms. Vesper was Republican Rep. Gary Cates of West Chester, who received effusive verbal praise: "making the right moves"; "one of the best orators in the House"; "potentially the next Speaker"; "quick learner"; "may end up in Congress."

        Kingmakers take note: Mr. Cates is just starting his second term, with nearly six years left to serve in a pretty safe district. He could be a Statehouse force for years to come.

        Robert Schuler of Sycamore Township, No. 4 at 7.76, is noted as intelligent and low-key, a master of details who gets things accomplished without fanfare. He "works like the devil," wrote one lobbyist, and several put him among the top legislators in the entire state. But he is also a lame duck, and would have to wait two years for the Senate seat in his district to open up.

        The delegation's lone newcomer this year, Rep. Catherine Barrett, D-Cincinnati, was just ahead of Mr. Britton at No. 18, with a 6.26 score. But most commented that it's just too early to judge her. One press corps member noted that Ms. Barrett is "working hard to learn."

        The only dramatic changes:

        • Rep. George Terwilleger, R-Maineville, rose to No. 5 from last year's No. 11. Possible explanations: He's become a member of leadership this term as chair of the State Government Committee. His Warren County district is in one of the state's highest-growth areas. He raised his profile by sponsoring more bills in two years than any other area legislator. But he, too, is term limited.

        • Rep. Gregory Jolivette, R-Hamilton, a newcomer in 1997, gained enough familiarity over the past year to rise from No. 14 to No. 8. One House colleague called him "well-liked" but needing more high-profile issues.

        • Democrat Mark Mallory, who moved from the House to the Senate this January, dropped from No. 7 to No. 11, but he's starting from scratch in a new chamber, as a member of the minority party.

        Possible reasons for this year's more generous scores overall:

        1. Our area delegation, with its seniority and the leadership of Sen. Finan, is simply doing a better, more effective job in Columbus.

        2. Survey takers were feeling more generous in this time of great economic news and huge state budget surpluses.

        3. After last year's nasty, revealing survey comments, leaders put the word out that survey takers should accentuate the positive.

        Cynics might pick No. 3, but our sources in Columbus didn't detect that. We'd like to think that No. 1 is closer to the truth -- that Cincinnati's delegation is shaking off its complacency and turning into the powerhouse of legislative influence it should be as a rock-solid bastion of the majority-party leadership.

        We conduct this survey because many voters simply don't know who is working hard and who is clueless in Columbus. State legislators toil in relative obscurity, compared to Congress members. Some Ohio voters don't even know which state House and Senate districts they live in -- or who represents them.

        They need to know, and this Forum package is designed to help them find out. The General Assembly affects our lives on everything from schools to taxes, electric rates, DUI penalties and new sports stadiums.

        Even more important, 10 of the 19 legislators are lame ducks, serving their final terms under Ohio's term limits law. Those who remain after 2000 will wield more power as senior members in a General Assembly full of fresh faces.

        To grade each legislator, we turned to those who have the most direct knowledge of job performance: Their 113 General Assembly colleagues from throughout Ohio; the Statehouse press corps that covers state government daily; registered lobbyists who deal with them on legislative issues.

        We asked respondents to grade each legislator in six categories on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 highest (see "About the survey," Page D4), and invited them to add written comments. Surveys were returned anonymously, coded by group (press, legislator, lobbyist), compiled, and averaged.

        Our survey is modeled on similar surveys done routinely in several other states -- notably by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research and the California Journal. It is not a scientific poll. It's a sample of informed opinions from those "in the know" in Columbus. It can be a valuable tool for voters -- vitally important to good government.

        Not one of the surveys showed an obvious pattern of partisan bias. Quite the opposite was true. For example, Democrat Mallory and Republican Finan both got perfect 10s from several respondents. And most scrupulously left blank the section on any legislator the survey-taker didn't know well enough to judge.

        All that makes for a fair picture of how Columbus folks view our delegation -- remarkably consistent with last year's survey.

        Take a look through this section for a detailed summary of who your representatives are, how they fared in the survey, and what they've accomplished. And take the opportunity to clip out our mail-in form and rate your own Ohio House and Senate members. After all, that's the real point: helping voters become more aware of who's representing them in Columbus -- and how well they do it.

        Ray Cooklis is an Enquirer editorial writer. He can be reached at rcooklis@enquirer.com



Rating your legislators
The survey
Scorecard background
About the survey
New bills for 1998-1999
Your representatives
District map
Vote online