Great ride as a reporter comes to an end
COLUMBUS -- Six years has seemed to go by in a blink of an eye.
It was six years ago that I first strode into the Statehouse press room as the capital bureau chief for Dix Newspapers and Columbus correspondent for The Vindicator.
Now, as I prepare to transition into a different career, I feel the need to try and make some sort of sense of these last few years.
I was an experienced newspaper reporter when I first came to the Statehouse, having worked for several news organizations and having covered beats ranging from crime to local government and education for nearly a decade.
But I was pretty green to the ways of politics.
I learned it by doing, spending seemingly millions of hours stalking the corridors and meeting rooms of the capitol chasing the news.
It's been a great ride and one that I hope readers have enjoyed as much as I have.
I think all reporters who are serious about the beats they cover think the subject matter they report on is the most significant in the universe.
I'm no different.
I think state government is important because its decisions can reach into every region of the state, from north to south, east to west and from rural hamlet to big city.
For example, the battles in recent years over how the state pays for public education has impacted people throughout the state.
Four times, Ohio's Supreme Court has held as unconstitutional Ohio's school-funding method, saying that an over reliance on property taxes has led to inequities between so-called "rich" and "poor" school systems.
State lawmakers have responded by pouring more state dollars into the funding equation and into school construction and renovation and making improvements in curriculum and other school matters.
But still debate continues as to whether more improvement is needed.
As another example of the reach of state government, a few years ago when the state was going through tough budgetary times, the state closed state facilities around Ohio. The facilities that were closed employed many people in their areas and the losses were felt in the local economies.
As another example, the two-year state budget that runs through June cut state personal income taxes by 21 percent over a few years and made major changes to the state's business taxes.
The tax changes phased out the corporate franchise tax and the tangible personal property taxes on business machinery and equipment and phased in a new "commercial activity tax" on business receipts.
During my tenure, I've also been witness to that most solemn power of the state to impose the death penalty.
Four times I've witnessed convicted killers meet their end at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville either as a media pool witness or as a witness for one of my newspapers.
It's an experience that I don't think ever could become routine.
And, I got a front row seat to one of the most hotly contested presidential races in history.
In 2004, Ohio became the lynchpin state that put President Bush over the top.
Ohio's role in the election drew both the president and Democratic nominee John Kerry and their surrogates to the Buckeye State often as they made their campaign pledges and stumped for votes.
I will miss covering the news. I will also miss the interaction with readers -- the phone calls, the e-mails, the chats when I would encounter readers during my travels thoughout the state.
As I transition to a new career, I will take all of those memories with me and know that it's been a great ride.
Jeff Ortega has been The Vindicator's correspondent for six years and has worked in journalism for 15 years. He has accepted a position as assistant communications director with incoming Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.