Has a new era dawned in the General Assembly?
If we heard it once, we heard it a dozen times during last year's election: Democrats in the Ohio House and Senate are being largely ignored by the majority Republicans when it comes to major legislative initiatives, such as developing a system of funding primary and secondary education that would pass constitutional muster.
Hence we were intrigued by the comments of the new president of the Senate, Bill M. Harris, after he was sworn in last week. Harris of Ashland, said he intends to reach out to newly sworn-in House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican from suburban Dayton, and to Democrats.
"I'm excited about the possibilities," Harris said.
And the possibilities are endless -- if Harris and Husted recognize that Democrats in the General Assembly would bring to the table valuable insight, knowledge and experience.
Considering the Mahoning Valley's Democratic predominance, we have a special interest in seeing area senators and representatives being given the chance to not only be heard, but to sponsor legislation that would be assured a fair hearing in committee and open debate in each chamber.
The Republican Party's iron grip on state government, from the governor down, has emboldened some in the GOP to ride roughshod over the minority. That is not good for democracy, and isn't conducive to the proper governance of the state.
Sen. Harris' remarks were particularly timely given the myriad problems confronting Ohio today.
"Together we walk humbly on the path of many challenges," he said. "That doesn't mean we will get along on every issue."
State Democratic legislators who met with Vindicator editors and writers in 2004 as part of the newspaper's endorsement process made it clear that they don't expect to be given the same rights or opportunities as the majority. However, they would like a fair hearing on their legislative initiatives.
Members of the opposition represent constituents, as do members of the majority. And the constituents have one thing in common: They're all Ohioans.
Indeed, last year's passage of the prescription drug bill, which will benefit Republicans and Democrats alike, was the culmination of a long, and at times lonely, battle waged by state Sen. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd. For more than a decade, Hagan has put health care at the top of his agenda, but there was movement only after the GOP realized that the ever-rising cost of life-sustaining drugs was affecting their constituents as well.
We point that out because Ohio can no longer allow partisan politics to rule the day.
The president of the Senate has said that reforming the tax code is crucial to solving the state's economic woes and meeting its job-creation goals. Such reform won't occur overnight and certainly can't be cobbled without a great deal of discussion involving legislators from both parties.
We, therefore, urge Republican leaders to pay attention to a bill that will soon be introduced by Democratic Sens. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland and Marc Dann of Liberty Township. The measure calls for eliminating property taxes on business machinery and replacing the revenue that would have gone to schools and local governments by making the 1-penny sales tax permanent. The tax is set to expire June 30.
Fingerhut and Dann aren't political novices and both have spent time studying Ohio's economy and its job-creation effort.
The bill would be a good starting point for a bipartisan discussion about the future of the state.