Ohio's Finan Follows the Rules: Ohio's Most Prominent Senator May Be Criticized by Some for Being Too Partisan, but Almost Everyone Agrees He Sticks to His Guns. and the Exquisitely Restored Statehouse Is a Case in Point

By Leonard, Lee | State Legislatures, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Ohio's Finan Follows the Rules: Ohio's Most Prominent Senator May Be Criticized by Some for Being Too Partisan, but Almost Everyone Agrees He Sticks to His Guns. and the Exquisitely Restored Statehouse Is a Case in Point


Leonard, Lee, State Legislatures


As state revenues stagnated in Ohio during the last couple of years, the $1 billion rainy day fund became an inviting target.

But would-be raiders were blocked for a good while by Ohio Senate President Richard H. Finan, whose square-jawed approach to government flies in the face of the spend-now, worry-later policies of the new term-limited crowd.

Finan, 67, grew up in an era when people saved for a rainy day. While it was tempting to dip into the pot, the suburban Cincinnati Republican cautioned that the rainy day had not yet arrived.

Finan, whose inflexibility has prompted insiders to joke that he's anchored in cement, held out even against fellow Republican officials. Finally, with no politically viable alternative in sight and the state on its second budget rewrite in six months, Finan reluctantly relented. The rest of the rainy day fund became part of a package of taxes, spending cuts and borrowed money to make up a projected $1.9 billion budget shortage.

Finan reminds anyone who will listen that if not for him, that money would have been long gone. Many Democrats claim that if the money had been spent in the right places, it might have eased the Buckeye State's financial woes. Finan ridicules that notion, pointing out that you can spend rainy day money only once.

Representative Ray Miller, dean of the House Democrats, says Finan's obstinate nature is an asset when he's on the side of right.

"His stubbornness has been extremely helpful in keeping members of the legislature from making some major mistakes," Miller says. "When Dick speaks and keeps people from going down the wrong track, he does so from the point of view of what's in the best interest of the state."

Whether it's managing the state's $45 billion two-year budget or restoring the Statehouse to its 19th century grandeur, Dick Finan sees the whole field and does things for the long term.

Now in his 30th year as a lawmaker, the former NCSL president is the last of an era in Ohio because an eight-year term limit has taken effect. A workhorse throughout his career, Finan was a key figure in bailing out state-chartered savings and loans when they collapsed because of a scam at the flagship institution in the mid-1980s. He also helped pass landmark ethics reforms and authored the re-enactment of capital punishment in Ohio under strict U.S. Supreme court guidelines in 1981.

But Finan's most enduring accomplishment may be his leadership in the restoration of Ohio's 141-year-old Greek Revival Statehouse and its annex, and in creating a unified organization to preserve and maintain all the facilities on capitol Square.

"I passed 81 pieces of legislation, and I think the Statehouse restoration is my finest accomplishment," he says.

Finan was only a lieutenant when Republicans took control of the Senate in 1985, and he was handed the job of refurbishing the 84-year-old annex that some had wanted torn down. He was a natural for the job. He had worked with Nick Clooney--brother of singer Rosemary and father of actor George--to try to save the old Albee Theater in Cincinnati. "I've always liked beautiful old architecture," he says.

The annex, renamed the Senate Building, was almost a minor project compared with the Statehouse restoration, which had been discussed for years. Always, the plans were shelved. "There was a lot of fear that they were going to make plush offices for themselves," says Don Pesich, a longtime Democratic legislative aide who was the first executive director of the capitol Square Foundation. "I think Senator Finan had a lot of guts working ... to get the job done. I give him credit for not going halfway, not doing just enough to get by."

HIGH COST, SPLENDID RESULTS

Some folks cringe at the $121 million cost of the project, but they are usually converted once they see the splendid result. …

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