Commentary: How Long Will Mike DeWine's Age Of Aquarius Last?

Jan 16, 2019

Ohio's new governor has changed personas several times in his long, long, long career in politics and now, as Ohio's brand-spanking new governor, seems to be in the process of doing it again.

We remember the U.S. Senator from the late '90s and early 2000s – Moderate Mike, the one who bucked the party establishment and backed his friend and colleague John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination over the favorite of the monied crowd, George W. Bush.

Then there was Tea Party Mike, in his first term as Ohio's attorney general, who cozied up to that then-powerful ultra-conservative movement, doing things like going to court to overturn Obamacare.

Now, there appears to be a New Mike, who, in his inaugural address at the Statehouse Monday, said that all Ohioans are now united.

Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said he believes most Republican Party leaders are a lot more comfortable with DeWine in the governor's office, as opposed to his predecessor, Republican John Kasich.

Kasich, he said, spent his second term running for president and seemingly disengaged from being governor.

"There was a real angst among Republicans about (DeWine's) predecessor,'' Triantafilou said. "He (Kasich) became aloof; Ohio Republicans felt disconnected from their governor.

"Mike DeWine has a certain kind of authenticity about him,'' Triantafilou said. "He's a well-known political brand, with decades of government experience and a level head on his shoulders."

Triantafilou said it is not surprising that many Democrats approved of DeWine's midnight executive orders.

After DeWine was sworn into office at midnight on Monday at the family's farmhouse in Cedarville, he immediately took up his gubernatorial pen and signed six executive orders that struck some Democrats as not so bad for a conservative Republican who has been in elected office for the better part of 47 years.

Democrats certainly would have rather have been celebrating the inauguration of their gubernatorial candidate, former Ohio attorney general and treasurer Richard Cordray, but most could find little fault with DeWine's list of orders.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper was among those who had praise for DeWine – tempered with a healthy dose what-have-you-done-for-me-lately.

"My view of life and politics is that if you want the other side to do something positive and they actually do it, give them credit,'' Pepper said. "It may be a moment of peace that will pass, but I think he sincerely believes what he said and I will take him at his word."

Here, in brief, are the new governor's executive orders:

  • To fight the state's opioid crisis, the order creates a Recovery Ohio Initiative which will coordinate programs of several state agencies
  • Creates the Governor's Children's Initiative, which will advance policies improving home visits, early intervention services, early childhood education, foster care and children's physical and mental health
  • Designates Ohio as a disability inclusion state and says that Ohio will be a "model" among states for hiring people with disabilities
  • Foster care: DeWine signed an order making the Office of Families and Children report to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
  • An order prohibiting discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion and demotion of state employees for the usual reasons of age, sex, race, military service and religion, along with sexual orientation and gender identity. It also includes protection against discrimination for those who are pregnant or who are parents of fosters kids or small children

Democrats could buy into most of this agenda.

But as always in governance, the devil is in the details.

And there will be issues which come up that infuriate Democrats, pro-choice people and gun control advocates.

Twice – once just before he left office – DeWine's predecessor, Kasich, vetoed the so-called heartbeat bill – legislation which would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Most believe that DeWine, an ardent opponent of abortion, will sign a new version of that bill into law.

And that could lead to a lawsuit that many pro-life groups hope would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and create yet another chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"Stand Your Ground'' – pro-gun legislation which would allow people to use lethal force to defend one's self or others against real or perceived threats, regardless of whether or not retreating from the situation – is also possible.

Back in the 1990s, then-Sen. DeWine lost the support of the NRA when he voted for a Democratic-sponsored ban on assault weapons. But, in the 2018 gubernatorial election, he managed to win back the NRA endorsement. DeWine would almost certainly sign a "Stand Your Ground" bill into law.

"It's almost impossible to say if we are going to see the Mike DeWine 1.0, who was the moderate in the Senate, or the Mike DeWine who catered to the Trump people in the gubernatorial election,'' said David Niven, assistant professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati.

"You would assume that after eight years of Kasich's volatility DeWine would be a caretaker-type governor,'' Niven said. "But you really can't be a caretaker in the GOP these days. Donald Trump saw to that."

DeWine takes office at the age of 72, the oldest person to be elected governor of Ohio.

If you assume that he will run for a second term in 2022, he will be 76; and, if he wins a second term, he will be 80 when he is term-limited out of office.

His lieutenant governor, former Secretary of State Jon Husted, is 51.

Husted was one of DeWine's early (and strongest) rivals for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But in late November 2017, Husted suddenly dropped out of the race and was almost immediately chosen by DeWine as his running mate. Husted also brought a boatload of money to DeWine's campaign, and essentially cleared the way for DeWine to become the candidate for governor.

Does DeWine owe Husted?

You betcha, as another former GOP running mate was fond of saying.

Sarah Palin in 2011.
Credit Stephan Savoia / AP

Has Husted given up his ambition of being Ohio's governor?

No way, my fellow Ohioans.

Might DeWine serve one term and then endorse his lieutenant governor for the top job, rather than consign him to a possible eight years running Innovate Ohio, a new state agency, the function of which nobody can quite explain?

"Personally, I don't think Jon Husted surrendered in the governor's race just to wait out eight long years,'' Niven said.

But on Inauguration Day, DeWine told Steve Brown of WOSU Radio that running for a second term is "absolutely" an option.

"Look, I don't think anybody runs for governor and thinks about serving one term,'' DeWine said.

"I think any governor who takes office assumes that they're going to try for the second time and that they hope to serve eight years,'' DeWine told Brown. "Because what we all do when we run is have things we want to get done. And I have a lot of things I want to get done."

Pepper said it will be interesting to see how closely DeWine will want to work with minority Democrats in Columbus and how closely he will stick to the agenda he laid out at Monday's inaugural.  

"After watching Ohio's governor for the past four years, people should be very suspicious if they have their governor running for president,'' Pepper said. "I don’t think Mike DeWine will be running for president. He'll show up at work every day."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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