Term-limited Ohio House leaders look back
There was a lot that happened in the House in the final weeks of the last General Assembly. There were so many committee meetings it was hard to get a quorum sometimes, there were marathon sessions on the floor, and there was the almost-unheard-of failed vote on the Republican-backed abortion measure known as the Heartbeat Bill.
But when Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder of Medina and Democratic Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard of Columbus sat down to talk about the lame duck session, they had different impressions about whether the climate was confrontational or cooperative.
“I don’t think it’s been confrontational. Maybe I don’t get it," Batchelder said.
“I think it’s both," Heard said. "I think it just depends on who the members are that you’re dealing with. And sometimes it just comes down to what the subjects are, but I think we have demonstrated our ability to work together on really difficult things. Sometimes we do it really well, and sometimes we don’t do it so great.”
Batchelder said that showed in the sudden appearance of a resolution that surprised many – the one that changes the way the district maps for state lawmakers will be drawn. The Speaker said he was never totally confident in its outcome.
“Obviously I was plugged into it, totally, because it’s something that the public feels strongly about – I’m not sure, sometimes, why – but putting that to the side, and then people came together and it went out of here with tremendous majority and minority support,” Batchelder said.
But an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote may not happen much in the future, with the House tilting more to the right than ever. Republicans will hold a record 65 seats in the next General Assembly. Heard is disappointed that Democrats lost five seats in this last election, bringing in that historic majority.
“I am not thrilled to leave that as the legacy, but I can’t say that I – that’s a challenging position to be in, and it makes cooperation difficult because it’s not required," Heard said. "So I’m hoping that Speaker-Elect (Cliff) Rosenberger will simply be more open to more bipartisan work.”
But Batchelder, who had trouble with his own 60 member majority with Gov. John Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid, knows a larger caucus could mean a more unruly caucus – in Columbus and on Capitol Hill.
“Without question, it could," Batchelder said. "And obviously, John Boehner has some more problems. I think personally that the people who are going to be in the leadership are going to be outward looking. I know them pretty well and I’m very hopeful that will be the case.”
Batchelder leaves after 38 years in two separate tours in the House, and is the second longest serving state lawmaker in Ohio history. But while he said he leaves a lot less undone than he did the first time he left the House in the 90s because of term limits, he said what he calls an “attitude of mutuality” will be needed in the future to get things done.
“If our governor is going to run for president – and there’s no reason that he shouldn’t, given the numbers he’s racked up – that will be a more difficult thing to get people together,” Batchelder said.
Heard said she feels there is work to be done in education, but she fears it might be that way for a while.
“I truly believe that until we take the approach just as we did around the sentencing reform issues that we won’t be successful," Heard said. "It can’t continue to be that political football that we just flip with each successive administration.”
Heard, who once had a career in broadcasting, said she’s not sure what she’ll be doing in her post-lawmaker life. Batchelder said he’ll be teaching at law at Cleveland State and will join the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.