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OHIO SENATE DiDonato says so long, for now



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One-party rule has hurt Ohio, the departing Senate minority leader says.

COLUMBUS -- For Greg DiDonato, politics and public office has been a way of life since before he even graduated high school.

But with term limits ending his time in the Ohio Senate, the Dennison Democrat plans to take time to smell the roses.

"I've really been blessed," said DiDonato, whose 30th district includes Columbiana County.

He said he appreciates the chance to represent his district. But he added he is looking forward to taking it easy.

How he started

DiDonato began his political career as a Dennison Village Council member while still attending Claymont High School. He served as mayor from 1984-1990.

He said during his early years in politics it was necessary to hold down regular employment. He worked a number of years for Aberth's Bakery baking doughnuts on the night shift and as a referee for junior high and high school games. He also attended the Kent State University Tuscarawas Campus.

DiDonato served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1991-94 and the Ohio Senate from 1996 to 2004. The past three years he's served as Senate minority leader.

Accomplishments

He said throughout those years he was proud of his work on legislation that helped the state in many ways.

While serving in the House, he was able to get legislation passed requiring convicted criminals to pay for part of their parole costs unless the person was unable to pay. He said that legislation enabled the state to recoup millions of dollars.

He also touts his legislation that required state agencies to reduce their paperwork or application forms by 15 percent over three years, saving the state millions of dollars.

Funding improvements to school buildings in his district was also a highlight of his career. He said many schools in his district received funds from the school facilities program.

"We truly got lucky," he said adding the funding was the result of tobacco settlement funds the state received.

DiDonato said he has toured 75 percent to 80 percent of the schools in his district over the years and was initially appalled at what he found.

"I was shocked when I went around the schools and saw how many were in a deplorable condition," he said. "It was shameful."

Challenges

Tough budget years and being in the minority party were also challenges DiDonato said he faced over his years in state government.

"Its not easy to govern in bad times or easy times," DiDonato said, adding it is even harder when you are leader of the minority party.

DiDonato said one-party rule has helped accelerate the decline of the state. He said more time is spent fighting within the majority party over who gets power.

"I think we are paying the price for that right now," he said.

But both Republicans and Democrats admit having respect for DiDonato.

Sen. Bill Harris, R-Ashland, said DiDonato has been willing to lead his caucus while having a good working relationship with Republicans.

He said DiDonato was open about challenging departing Senate President Doug White when he felt it was in his caucus's best interest, but he was "nonattacking" and never personal.

"I commend him for his leadership," Harris said.

Bridgeport Democrat Charlie Wilson will replace DiDonato when the Senate convenes today.

"He's been a dear friend to the people he has served," Wilson said. "He's been a good common sense kind of guy."

Wilson said he believes DiDonato was able to reach across the political aisle to work with Republicans and get things for his area.

"They are big shoes to fill," Wilson said. "I'm up to the challenge. If I can work up to his level, I'll be happy and so will the people in this district."

DiDonato is not totally leaving politics and is not ruling out the possibility of running for public office in the future.

"I love public service," he said.

DiDonato will finish the remaining year of a vacated Mill Township trustee seat and will act as a consultant on health-care issues for Service Employees International Unions.

But DiDonato said his goals also include enjoying his family and traveling to Italy.




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