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Kasich’s taking speech on road splits lawmakers

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By Marc Kovac


State lawmakers were split Tuesday on Gov. John Kasich’s plans to take his State of the State address on the road next month.

It’s nothing against Steubenville, the location of the Feb. 7 speech to a joint session of the General Assembly. But Democrats and Republicans both voiced concern Tuesday about the costs involved and in the traditions being broken by having the annual event away from the Statehouse.

“I love Steubenville, but I love my taxpayers more,” said Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon, who will have to drive more than four hours from his hometown in northwestern Ohio to attend.

“The State of the State should be held in this chamber right here,” added Rep. Ronald Gerberry, a Democrat from Austintown, a little more than an hour from Steubenville. “To take the State of the State out of this chamber is wrong.”

Kasich announced earlier this month that he will give the State of the State from Wells Academy, a top-ranked public school in Steubenville. It’s the first time in modern history that a governor has given the speech away from Columbus, and he has defended the decision.

“I think it’s just a great thing to think that everybody’s going to drive across Ohio and go and visit a place that has basically been ignored for 50 years,” the governor told reporters last week.

The issue was the focus of a debate in the Ohio House on Tuesday, as it and the Ohio Senate moved a resolution to have the joint session for Kasich’s address. The speech technically is a combined meeting of lawmakers for the purpose of hearing a message from the governor.

“We are looking forward to hosting the State of the State address,” said Sen. Lou Gentile, a Democrat from Steubenville. “There is much enthusiasm about the opportunity to showcase our great part of the state. ”

House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, said he did not expect the move to lead to any additional cost, though lawmakers will have to pay for extra mileage out of pocket.

The House, he said, would provide no additional funding for travel, other than allowances already made that cover the distance between lawmakers’ homes and the Statehouse.

Batchelder also said he did not expect the governor to give future State of the State speeches away from the Statehouse.

Senate President Tom Niehaus said his chamber is still considering whether to provide additional mileage reimbursement for members or, possibly, renting vehicles to drive senators to the site.

Many lawmakers are supporting the governor’s taking the speech on the road.

“I wonder why someone hasn’t done this a long time ago,” said Rep. Matt Huffman, a Republican from Lima. “It’s a good idea. I hope they come to Lima.”

He added, “This is a good opportunity to show folks not just in Steubenville but around the state that it’s not just about what happens in Capitol Square. The rest of the state counts, too.”

The House adopted the joint-session resolution by a vote of 52-42, and the Senate followed suit, 24-7.