In the event you've been out of the country, this has been a week of remembrances and accolades for the late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, who died June 27.
Much of the praise for Senator Byrd has had to do with the billions of dollars he brought to West Virginia for various projects, ranging from federal offices (such as the Bureau of Public Debt operations in Parkersburg) to highways and education.
The closest I can find to Byrd in Ohio (and some might consider it a stretch) is James A. Rhodes, who served four non-consecutive terms as governor from the 1960's to the early '80's.
As Byrd was the longest-serving U.S. Senator in the nation's history, Rhodes had one of the longest tenures as governor, and he had the longest tenure in that office in Ohio history.
Much like Byrd, he was instrumental in earmarking state money to various highway and government projects, particularly during the 1960's. Another similarity is that today, his name appears on several of those projects, including route 32 between Athens and Cincinnati, known as the "James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway". He also was a champion for the Ohio State Fair, once a small agricultural fair, which became a major annual attraction.
One difference, however, was that he also promoted private development and the exporting of Ohio products outside the state. My father remembers meeting someone while on an out-of-town business trip who had just heard one of Rhodes' business promotions. His comment to my dad went something like, "your governor couldn't stop talking about his state". Even late in his fourth term, Rhodes was a factor in Honda's opening of an automobile assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio.
Another difference had to do with taxes. Especially during his first tenure, when the state's, and the nation's economy was in good shape, Rhodes refused to support a tax increase. The phrase, "no new taxes" was associated with Rhodes long before George H.W. Bush made it infamous.
And yet, when Rhodes died in 2001, media outlets (at least those outside of Columbus) overlooked most of these career highlights and chose to focus on the most controversial decision Rhodes made as governor: his decision to send Ohio National Guard troops in an attempt to quiet down violence at Kent State University, an order which led to the deaths of four students and the wounding of several others.
There's no question that was a decision with tragic consequences. But compare that to the memorials to other public officials, including Byrd, which endlessly cite their accomplishments. Even when Richard Nixon died in 1994, memorials cited his accomplishments (particularly in foreign policy) rather than just rehashing the Watergate scandal which resulted in his resignation as president.
While I didn't always agree with Rhodes' policies, I understand the impact he had, and still has, on the state...one I believe matches the impact Byrd had on West Virginia we've all heard about this past week.
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