The Representative's Corner
“Bipartisanship is dead.” That is an easy assumption to make with plenty of evidence these days in our states’ and nation’s capitals. However, my experience, thus far, as a newly elected member of the Ohio House of Representatives gives me hope that reaching across the aisle is still within reach. Our first three major votes over the past two months inform my position.
First, in January, 22 Republicans joined all 32 Democrats to elect Jason Stephens as our Speaker of the House in a contested race, with 43 Republicans voting for the other Republican candidate. Later in January, in a similar vote, we approved our rules of procedure, allowing us to begin our work.
Even more encouraging, this past week, the Ohio House passed House Bill 23. HB 23 is the $12.6 billion, two-year transportation budget. This is the largest transportation budget in state history. It passed 74-21 with 43 Republicans and 31 Democrats voting yea and 21 Republican nay votes. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate.
HB 23 is the quintessential bipartisan bill and proves that, when members of both parties work together, Ohioans benefit. It includes billions for job-creating bridge and highway construction, funding for public transit, measures to improve rail safety, cuts to fees for plug-in hybrid vehicles, allowances for Amtrak expansion, and permits Ohioans to travel to neighboring countries with a “Real ID” driver’s license or ID card rather than a passport, among many other provisions.
In an interesting twist of events, the bipartisan HB 23 represents a 25% increase in spending over the current transportation budget due, in large part, to funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by U.S. Congress in late 2022.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve. There are many bills currently pending that will, no doubt, lead to many bitter confrontations, and I may eat my words. However, if my colleagues and I remain willing to seek common ground, Ohioans will see how the fruits of our labor work for them, and even our most partisan members and constituents may begin to see the wisdom of the members of both parties working together and get on board the bipartisan bandwagon.
I am of the opinion that the root of the partisan divide in our states and nation is hyper-gerrymandering. It has caused candidates of both parties to meander toward the extremes and taken away the incentive to work together, lest be labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) or DINO (Democrat In Name Only). I applaud the words of former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor who has indicated that she may be leading a ballot initiative to create a truly non-partisan redistricting commission. Recent comments by Governor Mike DeWine indicating that allowing politicians to draw political maps is not a good idea are also encouraging. To ensure the momentum we are seeing in the Ohio House, placing this issue on the ballot should be aim number one of everyone who wants state government to work for all Ohioans.
Some may say it is too early to come to my conclusion or that I am an idealistic newbie. However, as a social studies teacher for three decades, I know that we have been here before and I know that we can return to normalcy again. After all, according to our state motto, borrowed from Matthew 19:26, “With God, all things are possible.”
Sean Patrick Brennan
Sean Patrick Brennan