by Marc Kovac, Capital Bureau Chief
It's a poignant scene, preserved in the state's video archive.
Senate President Bill Harris, standing at his post with gavel in hand, calling for the sergeant of arms, and then-Sen. Bob Hagan, off screen, shouting at the top of his lungs for the good of his Youngstown-area constituents. The Democrat's hometown was (and still is) hurting -- shrinking employment opportunities, a murder rate that topped the state, senior citizens taking buses to Canada or splitting pills because they couldn't afford needed medication.
And Hagan didn't think that Ohio's Republican-dominated Legislature had done anything in its two-year operating budget to ease the burden.
"My people are hurting!" he shouted (a necessity since his microphone had been turned off and Harris was raising his own voice and gavel in an attempt to quell the outburst). "... (And) I'm sick and tired of listening to you people talk."
That was June 2005, the last time state lawmakers finalized biennial appropriations.
The budget bill being debated at the time comes to a close at the end of this month; the state Senate is expected to put the finishing touches on a new one, covering the next two fiscal years, this week.
There probably won't be any shouting or threats of forcible removal from the chambers this year. The Ohio House unanimously approved the budget (first time in decades that's happened), and the vote in the Senate should be favorably lopsided.
Democrats, at least publicly, have been complimentary about the process.
"This version reflects a number of improvements that we were very concerned about," Sen. Dale Miller (D-Cleveland) said after the Senate released its substitute appropriations bill last week. "We believe that some of the details need to be fleshed out, but that's what we're here for."
Part of the difference is the presence of a Democratic governor, a first in the state's recent history. Hagan, a 20-year office-holder now serving in the House, said the threat of a veto and a change in state leadership have helped prompt more cooperation between the parties.
"There's more opportunities for bipartisanship," he said. That wasn't the case two years ago. Hagan was nearly escorted from the chambers. Democrat Sen. Marc Dann (now attorney general) was gaveled for asking pointed questions about investments in race horses. 'Out of order' was the mantra of the day.
"We were Democrats, (and) we knew that we were being ignored," Hagan said. "Eventually, you have to just speak up. ... It was high drama, it was loaded with frustration of not being able to play any part in the budget process or, for that matter, state politics for two years."
So what advice would Hagan give to lawmakers unhappy about the new budget bill?
Insist that issues of importance back home are recognized.
Continue to reach across the aisle.
Criticize those who choose to neglect the needs of the state.
And, if it's necessary, raise the roof.
"Should they yell and scream when the time comes? Absolutely," Hagan said. "Don't worry about it. Fight for the people that you represent. ... Who the hell cares if you're out of order when you're not being listened to about issues that are important to so many people?"
Marc Kovac is the Dix Newspapers Capital Bureau chief. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.