When I was a little boy, I took a special pride in being from Ohio. To hear our former, four-term governor, Jim Rhodes explain it circa 1969, the state of Ohio was a powerhouse, with an economic output that would rank our state in the top 10 among all countries in the world.
Back in those days, Ohioans might well have claimed that they produced more steel than Pittsburgh (thanks to Cleveland and Youngstown), more cars than Detroit (Lordstown, Toledo, Defiance, Warren, Twinsburg and many more), and more tires than anyone else (Akron). Cleveland was home to two dozen Fortune 500 companies. With regard to technology — never mind the Wright Brothers (Dayton) — in the newly-minted Space Age, we had John Glenn (New Concord) who was the first American to orbit the earth and Neil Armstrong (Wapakoneta) who had just made the first footprints on the Moon.
Prosperity was everywhere, and the state shared its largesse, pouring money into new community colleges and medical schools, and “Cadillac” quality social services. Meanwhile, “Rhodes raiders” (the state’s economic development department) were encouraging other businesses to move to what, we then argued, was then called “the best location in the nation.”
And then, it seemed, a century of good fortune for the state began to unwind. In June 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire, playing to national news coverage. What was hailed as the best team ever, the #1 1969 Buckeyes were shocked by Michigan in November. And, on May 3, 1970, an enraged Governor Rhodes condemned the protesters at Kent State University and sent in the National Guard, setting the stage—and the moral tone—for the shootings that took place the next day. Succeeding years saw the departure of many of those Fortune 500 companies from Cleveland, the shuttering and sell-off of all but one of the region’s steel mills, enormous job losses in the auto industry, and the relocation of much of Akron’s tire manufacturing to non-union plants in the South.
As a grew up, I remember the surprise and disappointment reflected by many Ohioans at their shocking changes of fortune as employers, jobs, and hopes disappeared and our state’s status went from that of powerhouse and “best location in the nation” to “Rust Belt.” Many workers, used to the security of a good job, suffered painfully through the late 70s and 80s. Classmates and friends struggled to explain the sudden changes in their family’s fortunes. The scars of this and decades of subsequent restructuring still remain in the shells of vacant industrial and business properties throughout the region.
I’ve thought of my state’s proud history in recent days as our General Assembly considered the state’s latest biennial budget. In yesterday’s vote, Ohio’s legislators — secure in their own generous, state-funded health benefits — rejected the Medicaid Expansion. The only cogent argument against the Expansion was that the federal government might renege on its pledge to provide nearly all the funding. An apparent fix, an amendment that would cancel Expansion benefits to Ohioans in the event of a federal default, was never brought to a vote.