Times Reporter

November 9, 2006

Dem wins shift state's power

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

CLEVELAND – Rep. Ralph Regula, who is routinely ranked as one of the most powerful members of Congress, stands to lose clout as a result of the Democratic takeover of the House.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is among a handful of key Ohio Republicans who are losing power as a result of what Sen. George Voinovich, D-Cleveland, described as a Democratic electoral “tidal wave.”

Voters ended more than a decade of Republican domination of the state’s government and politics Tuesday.

Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, wrested control of the governorship from the GOP, while Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, unseated Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville. Dover Law Director Zack Space, a Democrat, won the congressional seat vacated by convicted Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath.

The political sea change also promises to increase the importance of Ohio as a presidential battleground and create more hospitable terrain for Democratic presidential candidates in the state in 2008, lawmakers and political experts said. Two years ago, Ohio tipped the presidential race to President Bush.

In the past several years, Regula has used his position as a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee to bring tens of millions of dollars in federal projects to his congressional district and the state. Regula is chairman of a subcommittee that funds medical research, education and job training programs.

Now he will play second fiddle to senior Democrats on the committee when it comes to shaping federal spending and looking after his district.

But Regula said he still expects to have an “active voice” on the committee, especially if Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., becomes chairman.

Obey is currently the ranking Democrat on the committee. The long-serving Regula is viewed as one of the most bipartisan members of the House, and he has enjoyed a cordial relationship with Obey.

“I was always sensitive to his concerns,” Regula said. “I always took pretty good care of Obey.”

He said as a member of the Republican minority for 22 years, he managed to work with Democrats to get things done, such as establishing the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Regula said it’s unclear whether GOP leaders will choose him as the ranking Republican on the committee.

He ranks No. 2 in seniority among Republicans on the committee, after Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla. The current appropriations chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., ranks lower in seniority but had been elevated to the post by Republican leaders.

Brown’s defeat of DeWine costs the state its only member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

During the campaign, DeWine bragged about using his position to steer more than $1 billion in federal dollars to Ohio.

But with Brown, the state gains a Democratic senator. And with Democrat Jim Webb defeating incumbent Virginia Senator George Allen, Democrats have captured control of the Senate as well as the House.

Another powerful Ohio lawmaker, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester, will lose the No. 2 position in the House through the Democratic shake-up. But it’s possible Boehner could partly make up for the loss if he chooses to run for Republican minority leader, as expected. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., took himself out of contention for minority leader Wednesday.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said losses in Republican clout in the state could be offset by gains in Democratic clout.

“Every Democratic candidate for president will be buddying up to Ohio and its agenda,” he said.

Stephen Brooks, acting director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, sees the possibility that lawmakers will shift their attention away from divisive subjects and toward issues such as education, where they can find common ground.

He said exit polls indicated voters “are disgusted nobody’s addressing the issue of what the country really needs.”