When Gov. John Kasich decided to break with tradition and deliver this year’s State of the State address in Steubenville, rather than in the State Capitol, political observers wondered if there was more to the story than the governor’s wanting to highlight the success of a public elementary school.
Now, with Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum scheduled to spend Tuesday night in Steubenville watching Ohio’s primary election returns, the question again is, why? There could be a myriad reasons, but one that seems most relevant to Santorum’s “values” candidacy is the presence of Franciscan University of Steubenville, which has been in the forefront of the anti-abortion movement.
Santorum is a Roman Catholic who has made his conservative beliefs, especially on social issues, the centerpiece of his campaign.
His claim to the Republican Party’s values voters would certainly get a big boost if he were perceived to embrace the ideals of Franciscan University.
Those ideals are well known to the Youngstown area, which has been the site of anti-abortion demonstrations by faculty and students. Indeed, in the summer 1989, Youngstown made national news when almost 50 “activists” from Franciscan were arrested for launching Operation Rescue against a women’s center that performed abortions. Among those nabbed by police were then Steubenville Bishop Albert Ottenweller and then president of the university, Michael Scanlan.
The city prosecutor at the time was Maureen Cronin, who went on to become a Common Pleas Court judge and subsequently was imprisoned for taking money from a Youngstown businesswoman and not reporting it.
One of the defense lawyers for the 48 accused was David Betras, now chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party.
Steubenville is in the 6th Congressional District, which Republicans control with Congressman Bill Johnson, and will go all out to protect in the November general election. The Democrats are also focusing on the district, with former Congressman Charlie Wilson attempting a comeback.
At some point, the Democratic Party chairmen from Mahoining, Trumbull and Columbiana counties will join forces, which means Betras could find himself battling students from the university he once defended.