Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Ohio stands for

I was in the Ohio Statehouse yesterday, when I encountered the following quotation, which to me represents the high political ideals that Ohioans have represented through the ages. We would all do well to remember them as we work to rebuild our state and our society:

Let Ohio speak for human rights, for universal manhood suffrage, for fair and honest elections, for economy and purity in public affairs, for honest money and stable government.

Mr. Williams was the first African-American to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives, representing Cincinnati 1880-1881. In his brief life (he died at 41), he was a veteran of the War between the States (having enlisted at 14!), and was a minister, historian, and diplomat. He wrote the first history of African-Americans, and at the end of his life, launched an investigation of the mistreatment of the people of the Congo at the hands of agents of King Leopold II of Belgium. He contracted tuberculosis and pleurisy, and died in England returning from Africa. He is buried in England.

He spoke for human rights, which are enshrined in our Ohio Constitution, adopted in 1851. The Bill of Rights has expanded since then, most recently last year with the adoption of Issue 3, nullifying mandatory health care.

He spoke for universal manhood suffrage, which Ohio, unfortunately, was slow to embrace -- but finally did so with our ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. However, Ohio redeemed itself in 1919 by becoming the sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, extending suffrage to women.

He spoke for fair and honest elections. For most of Ohio's history, particularly during the service of Secretary of State Ted W. Brown (in office 1950-1978) and his successor Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr (1979-1983), Ohio has had an exemplary elections process. More recently, it has been tainted by scandals involving a Secretary of State (Ken Blackwell) who actively participated in the 2004 Presidential campaign while in office, and with problems involving voting machines made by Diebold.  However, his successors Jennifer Brunner and Jon Husted have gradually restored credibility to the office.

He spoke for economy and purity in public affairs. For most of Ohio's history, the state was run economically. As recently as 1991, Ohio ranked very near the bottom of the 50 states in state tax burden. While the continuing recession has resulted in much higher taxes (to maintain steady revenues), efforts of Gov. Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly are managing the budget without further tax increases. When their efforts bear fruit, Ohio will again be working toward economy in public office. Purity in public affairs, however, is one of those ideals that can never be attained, but must always be striven for.

He spoke for honest money. In our history, Ohio has been a leader for a currency that represents value. In 1819, State Auditor Ralph Osborn attempted to enforce a tax on the Bank of the United States, in part because that bank issued currency without backing. "Sound money" is the issue that propelled Ohio's William McKinley to the Presidency. Today, many in the Ohio freedom movement are pressing for a way to protect Ohioans from a future hyperinflation by facilitating the use of gold and silver in payment of taxes and as a currency.

Finally, he spoke for stable government. To me, stable government should be boring. It consistently, day after day, enforces a small number of easily-understood laws to protect the lives, liberties, and property of Ohioans. All things considered, and particularly in comparison to other industrialized states, Ohio has done this reasonably well; but like purity in public affairs, it is a continuing struggle to maintain.

George Washington Williams's ideals are a statement of the fundamental principles of political life in Ohio, principles which we have generally applied well; but of which we must continually remind ourselves as we move forward.

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