Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger on his history, governing and crafting policy in Ohio


 “I’d never in a million years thought I’d be elected to the house, let alone elected Speaker,” Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger told the Campaign Battlegrounds class.

At 35-years-old, Speaker Rosenberger is the third-youngest Speaker in the history of the Ohio House and is currently the youngest Speaker in the country. Having just returned from a trip to China with other Speakers from around the country, Ohio House Speaker Rosenberger put his career trajectory into context describing his humble political beginnings in Clarksville, Ohio, a town with a population of 450.

“My grandfather always told me, it’s important to give back to the community. He made me run a town parade in Clarksville, and I thought ‘How could anyone be against anything you do in a parade?”  he told the class. Speaker Rosenberger learned quickly that even innocent exercises in civic engagement like parades become a discussion of resource allocation.

Speaker Rosenberger spent 12 years in the Air National Guard, interned with Karl Rove in the Bush White House and graduated from Wright State University. He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2010, representing Wilmington, Hillsboro and Waverly in southern Ohio. He assumed the office of Speaker in 2015 having been unanimously elected.

“You, as Speaker, are not only the head of the party for the House, but you also become a father, a wedding counselor and a lot of other things. You don’t choose who you serve within the Legislature,” he told the class. “However, 65 to 70 percent of my time is spent doing things administratively.”

Speaker Rosenberger suggested consensus and coalition building were of particular importance to his governing style. “You can go out and fight like heck with somebody, but it’s important to sit down with people too,” he said.

On the question of legislative redistricting reform, the Speaker said, “I think [Issue 1] makes the districts fairer. You’ve got an angry electorate – part of the reason is people don’t see their representatives enough.”

On the eve of Gov. Kasich’s State of the State address, where he called for redistricting reform for congressional districts, Speaker Rosenberger told the class, “We are looking at congressional redistricting now. We were waiting for the Supreme Court to make a decision in the Arizona case, and they did. However, comparing state redistricting to federal redistricting is like comparing apples to oranges.”

Ohio House Speaker Rosenberger also noted the similarities and differences of Ohio’s regions.

“In Southeast Ohio, there is a lot of rural poverty. They have a lot of food deserts. For instance, there is no grocery store in Vinton County. In Southwest Ohio, there are infrastructure concerns. Upwards of 150,000 vehicles a day travel across the bridge between Ohio and Kentucky – so there are infrastructure concerns and national security concerns as well. Northeast Ohio has a strong labor tradition with both Democratic leaning and Republican leaning unions. In Northwest Ohio, you have a similar dynamic with labor, but there are also questions on renewable energy out there with the wind farms. Central Ohio, the Columbus area, is a growing and modernizing town. LGBT issues and acceptance are important to the citizens there,” Speaker Rosenberger said.

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Ohio Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole discusses self-driven cars, infrastructure policy, and leaving a legacy of good governance


“Within the next decade, we’ll see self-driven trucking units – probably with detachable cargo modules – carrying goods around the country,” Ohio Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole told the Campaign Battleground class. “The major auto-manufacturers have all pledged to have a self-driving option for every car rolling off the line from model year 2020 on. There will be cars produced in the next five years that are driverless.”

Mr. Cole’s self-described career goal is to “make government more efficient through technology.” Prior to his appointment to the turnpike, Mr. Cole ran his own consulting firm, GovTech Solutions, dedicated to bringing technological efficiencies to government. Following GovTech, Mr. Cole joined State Auditor Mary Taylor’s Office as the Director Audit Services & Technology.

His time at the Auditor’s Office lead to an appointment to the Controlling Board as its president, where Mr. Cole worked as part of a large team to help close an $8 billionstate deficit, create a $2 billion state surplus, and expand Medicaid in Ohio.

“This year, our Medicaid costs in Ohio are a billion dollars below projections. We’re working toward paying for value [of medical procedures] instead of paying fee-for-service,” Mr. Cole told the class. Mr. Cole’s perspectives on government efficiency and budget policy give him unparalleled insight into infrastructure policy.

“Last year, we set an all-time record in the United States for vehicle mileage traveled,” he said, responding to a question regarding the state of America’s roads and highways. “On the Ohio Turnpike, we have 53 million trips – amounting to 3 billion miles – traveled annually.”

Though some states are experimenting with a “Roade Usage Charge” or millage-based tax, Mr. Cole maintains there will be other avenues for funding. “Tolling is a big part of the answer. It has to be. Funding solutions in the future have to include tolling,” Mr. Cole said. Even so, Mr. Cole notes that Ohio maintains, “near the lowest tolls for passenger and commercial vehicles in the Midwest.”

To be successful in politics, Mr. Cole suggests students “have thick skin, short memories, and a very close group of friends.” However, he was quick to remind the class, “There’s a difference between governing and politicking. Real governance becomes your legacy.”

Students and others are encouraged to follow Mr. Cole on Twitter @CRandyCole.

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Ohio plays critical role in a most unusual campaign season

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The current brand of presidential politics has created a historic campaign season that has surprised political experts and the Washington establishment, Dr. John Green told an audience today at the 2016 Power Players Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland.

“In my career, I’ve never seen a presidential nominating campaign like this one,” Green said at the event, presented by Smart Business magazine. Green is director of The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have ridden a surprising wave of anger against so-called establishment candidates, Green said. “I didn’t see it coming either.”

Ohio’s March 15 primary was critical to both Gov. John Kasich and Hillary Clinton but for different reasons, he pointed out. Ohio’s governor had to carry his own state to continue in the GOP race, and Clinton had to regain the momentum she lost when Sanders beat her in Michigan on March 8.

“Kasich and Clinton came into Ohio with must wins,” Green said. “A week ago, Clinton was surprised in Michigan. The Clinton campaign had already begun looking forward to the campaign in the fall. That’s a mistake.”

“For both parties, if you carry Ohio, that bodes very well for the fall election,” he added.

Now, both the Republicans and Democrats can expect a protracted battle for their party’s respective nomination before the summer conventions.

The Republican establishment faces a critical decision, as it has to determine if it will support Trump, particularly if he comes to the GOP convention in Cleveland just short of the 1,237 delegates required for the nomination.

”The GOP leadership has yet to sort itself out,” Green said. The decision could lead to a contested convention that could damage the Republican Party.

“Donald Trump has the potential to scramble the usual electoral coalitions that we have in the United States,” Green added.

Among Green’s other observations on Trump:  

  • He is effective at using social media: “Donald Trump is a better Tweeter than any other candidate.”
  • He has an ability to overcome seeming adversity and bad publicity: “He just seems to shrug everything off.”
  • His campaign represents a decline in the nation’s civil discourse: “It may well be that America has reached a point of greater tolerance for disrespectful discourse. More and more, people are rewarded for breaking those kinds of rules.”
  • “This is an unusual candidate, who whether rightly or wrongly, and I think wrongly – is being held to a very different set of standards.”
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State Representative Emilia Sykes visits the Bliss Institute


Image from Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission

Campaign Battleground welcomed House Representative Emilia Strong Sykes (D) to our discussion this month. A graduate from Kent State University, Rep. Sykes returned to northeast Ohio in 2014 to take her father’s seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Rep. Sykes earned a master’s degree in public health from The University of Florida, and has experience serving as an administrative adviser in the Summit County fiscal office. As a representative of the state’s 34th District, Rep. Sykes works to provide quality healthcare to her constituents, in particular advocating for infant mortality rate reductions.

“There are two zip codes in Akron where the infant mortality rate is double the national average. We need to address this problem on a number of levels,” Rep. Sykes said.

In addition to her work on public health issues, Rep. Sykes  strives to empower the community and improve the education system in order to create good paying jobs. She also has become involved in voting rights issues. Rep. Sykes discussed whether or not 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the Ohio presidential primary and commented on a recent lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State John Husted.

“John Husted has yet to win a single voting rights lawsuit. Not one,” Rep. Sykes noted.

Though our time with Rep. Sykes was brief due to a prior engagement, the class very much enjoyed her discussion and look forward to her bright political future.

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Pollster John Zogby discusses NASCAR Dads, the evolving Latino voting population and the potential of a Trump-Clinton presidential race

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“I ran for mayor in 1981, and thankfully I didn’t win,” pollster John Zogby told the Campaign Battlegrounds class. Mr. Zogby began as a self-described “left-wing political activists” before migrating to professional polling.

In the mid-1980’s Mr. Zogby began polling local races, something unseen in the field at the time but is now considered common practice. By 1994, Mr. Zogby was conducting polls for Richard Murdoch, generating information for Fox News and the New York Post . Two years later, Mr. Zogby was polling for Reuters and NBC News.

Zogby was the first pollster to coin the term “NASCAR Dads.” He explained, “Weekly Wal-Mart shoppers are one of the key groups, when they are with Obama his approval rating is good. When they are against him, his approval rating is not.”

For this election season, Mr. Zogby suggests the most decisive demographic will be what he terms, “First Globals.” Coined “millennials” by others, Mr. Zogby suggests, “There is a clear demarcation on foreign policy attitude at the age of 50. Those older than 50 believe in ‘American Exceptionalism’ – the idea America plays an exceptional role in foreign policy. Those below 50 are more cautious about foreign policy.”

Mr. Zogby also discussed how the Latino participation has evolved. “In 1992, Latino voters were 4 percent of 92 million voters . Now they are 10.1 percent of 132 million voters,” Mr. Zogby explained. During our discussion, Mr. Zogby also commented on the decline in support for Republican candidates among Latinos.

“George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote, John McCain won 31 percent, Mitt Romney won 29percent. In 2010. Latino voters turned out at 70 percent and voted 80 percent Democrat,” Mr. Zogby shared.

On the phenomenon of Donald Trump, Mr. Zogby said, “I thought he would be a summer fling. All the rules have been broken and anytime he breaks the rules he does better.”

On Hillary Clinton, Mr. Zogby said he has met her several times and has personally told her, “I don’t really know who you are.” He further suggested, “It’s easy to see how [a Trump-Clinton race] becomes competitive. Not trusting a candidate,” he told the class. “is powerful.”


Akron Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger discusses journalism with Campaign Battleground


Doug Oplinger of the Akron Beacon Journal visited our class on February 9, 2016. Specializing in public policy and community engagement reporting, Mr. Oplinger has been involved in editing and contributing to three Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces and has won several national awards for his directive role in the Beacon’s The American Dream: Hanging by a Thread series, which examined the difficult economic forces causing anxiety in the middle class during the recent recession.

“Before we get started, I want you to give me one word that describes a journalist,” Akron Beacon Journal Editor Doug Oplinger asked the Campaign Battleground Class. Mr. Oplinger then began to move about the room with a tape recorder and students gave their responses, “story…nagging…educated…embellishers…facts.” “I have very thick skin,” Mr. Oplinger suggested, “so if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”

Mr. Oplinger told the class he wanted to go into politics as a kid. He began attending city council meetings and started asking questions in the hope of getting involved. Eventually, Bill Hershey, a journalist for the Akron Beacon Journal had a young Mr. Oplinger attend a city council meeting and record the proceedings. Mr. Oplinger did so and reported back to Mr. Hershey. In doing so, Mr. Oplinger earned his first byline.

Mr. Oplinger explained the journalistic process, “You finish your story, put your feet up, eat some cold pizza, then you walk down three flights of stairs. You watch them put the plates on the press and start the presses, and there your story is reporting on Democracy in Action- it works again! And you were a part of it.”

Mr. Oplinger noted the two Pulitzers the Beacon Journal had won during his time there, as well as the four total the paper had won over its history. He noted that one, earned for the Beacon’s coverage of an attempted takeover of Goodyear Tire and Rubber in the 1980’s. He suggested, “The trucks would pull up to the factories after work and sell out of papers on the spot.”

Mr. Oplinger also discussed the changing business model of print media. He noted that advertisers have moved to the internet. The current reach of the Beacon Journal, he contends, is about 500,000. For comparison, they sell about 70,000 print copies of a given paper. Demand has also shifted for free audio and free video content. These business model changes are preceded by changes in consumption of news. “Confirmation bias is a tremendous problem for journalism and Democracy,” contended Mr. Oplinger. He pointed to Breitbart as an example of aggressive journalist quick to the scoop but often slanted in their view.

Asked if the days of quality journalism are over, Mr. Oplinger replied, “I sure hope not.” However, he did note that “The Beacon Journal is no longer the best paper in the state.”

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Elections analyst Henry Olsen shares his thoughts on the GOP presidential candidate race


“There are four factions of the Republican Party,” Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) shared with our class, “you have your moderates or establishment candidates, the evangelical voters, very conservative seculars and then your somewhat conservatives.” According to Mr. Olsen, it is the movement and allegiances of these four factions that dictate the outcome of Republican Primaries. The 2016 Primary fits this model, with one exception.

A self-described “political junkie,” Mr. Olsen analyzes elections for the EPPC and blogs for the center as well as the National Review.

“Trump doesn’t quite fit. He is attracting people on a class base, not ideological,” Mr. Olsen said. “Senator Rubio appeals to ‘somewhat conservatives’ – whereas Kasich appeals to ‘moderates.’” Not surprisingly, Gov. Kasich did well in New Hampshire, a state Mr. Olsen described to the Campaign Battlegrounds class as 45 to 49 percent moderate and the most moderate of early voting states.

Throughout our conversation, Mr. Olsen shared his insights on many recent events, including the Iowa Caucuses. Mr. Olsen noted that the polls were largely accurate. However, the voters’ capacity to change their minds was underestimated, resulting in a surprise win for Senator Ted Cruz.

On Governor Bush’s campaign, Mr. Olsen referred to a blog post he had written comparing Jeb to Rip Van Winkle, suggesting Governor Bush had taken a twenty-year nap, entering the 2016 campaign prepared to run in 1996. Clearly, the Jeb Van Winkle problem was real, contributing to the governor’s suspension of his campaign following the South Carolina caucus.

In our discussion, Mr. Olsen also cautioned against stereotyping Southern Republican primary voters as exclusively Evangelicals.

“John McCain beat Mike Huckabee in Texas in 2008,” Mr. Olsen reminded the class. Suggesting those Southern states are not necessarily committed to the most religious candidate.

As for the current state of the GOP race, Mr. Olsen noted “three candidates are still viable.” Updates to Mr. Olsen’s interpretation of the current primary process can be found on his blog for the National Review.