Suddes: What should Ohio’s next governor, senator focus on? – The Columbus Dispatch

Whether the major-party candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate will acknowledge it is an open question: Ohio is a state in transition, and a statesman, as opposed to a hack, is that officeholder or candidate who acts upon that fact.

Ohio is an aging state.

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The Census reported that 17.5% of all Ohioans are age 65 or older. (The national stat is 16.5%.) That means more and better health services for older Ohioans — and tough standards for nursing home care — should be atop the next governor’s agenda. The state Medicaid Department says it’s “the largest health insurer in the state.”

And it covers almost 250,000 Ohioans age 65 or older. It will cover many more, as Ohio ages. Is Ohio ready?

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Drug addiction —  pills and needles — is killing Ohioans at a terrible rate.

In population,  Ohio ranks No. 7 among the 50 states; in fatalities from drug overdoses per 100,000 deaths overall, Ohio ranks No. 4, with metropolitan and Appalachian counties reporting some of the most shocking numbers. Mental health services and drug abuse treatment is at best spotty in Ohio; fix that before yammering about the 1619 Project or critical race theory.

Ohioans need coalition-building 

People go where the jobs are.

Ohio’s population is skewing southwest toward Columbus, away from northeast and north central Ohio. The Census reports Ohio’s population center is now about 35 miles northeast of the Statehouse. In 2010, the state’s center of population was, say, 5-10 miles north of that. And Intel Corp.’s planned $20 billion semiconductor factory in suburban Columbus guarantees even further population bloat in Central Ohio.

That means how issues look from the Statehouse will tend to better fit western and southwestern Ohio’s perspectives as opposed to the northeast’s. Result: A need for regional coalition-building at the Statehouse.

Ohio should rethink how it pays for roads 

The approaching boom in electric cars and trucks means Ohio must rethink how the state pays for roads, now funded mainly by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. Even beyond that, Ohio must reconsider its auto and freeway intercity transportation model. Adding lanes to I-71, from Cleveland to Cincinnati, just guarantees more traffic-clots. A high-speed, three-C rail line – for freight as well as passengers – would be gridlock’s only cost-effective relief.

Ohio doesn’t need 600 school systems

Someone’s got to say it — even if she or he becomes a one-termer for doing so – but Ohio, with an aging population and smaller families, doesn’t need 600-plus school districts. Texas, the second-largest state in geography, and with almost 30 million residents (three times Ohio’s), has just over 1,000 districts. Ohio should fund teachers, not bureaucrats.

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Ohio’s waterways need a champion 

Other reporters and columnists have said this earlier and better, but the senator or governor who doesn’t move heaven and earth to protect Lake Erie and all Ohio’s water resources is a fool.

Drought is becoming the norm in the American West. Before too much time passes, someone’s going to try tapping the Great Lakes to water Arizona’s putting greens. That must stoke a resounding “no” in Columbus.

Otherwise, Clevelanders will someday be able to walk to Canada across mud flats once called Lake Erie.

Ohio’s women need a voice 

Lost in the General Assembly’s Manhood Derby is the fact that 51% of Ohio’s population is female – that is, Ohio has a female majority. Both parties and whoever’s governor need to recruit and elect more female candidates for the General Assembly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “in 2020, women’s annual earnings were 82.3% of men’s.” This year, base pay for a state senator or representative in Ohio is $68,674. Maybe if someone shrunk that to 82% of the current base – to, say, $56,313 – the guys would catch on.

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Ohioans need real talk not ‘razzmatazz’ 

Finally, it’s incontestable, as the House Bill 6 scandal demonstrates, that Ohio’s ethics and lobbying laws are softer than overcooked pasta. It’s ridiculous that what now passes for disclosures by legislators amounts to small-dollar souvenirs, in great part.

That’s why Ohio needs to have a real discussion on that and other genuine issues confronting the voters, not the customary razzmatazz of yet another statewide campaign of slogans, personality – and attitude.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

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