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The 'Other Ohio' Foments Rebellion

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 24, 1995



TOLEDO, OHIO

JOHN ROBINSON BLOCK has had it with the Three C's.

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''Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati control the money, infrastructure, politics, and legislative agenda of this state,'' says the publisher and editor in chief of The Blade of Toledo, a northwest Ohio newspaper. ''The rest of us want our fair share.''

Holding forth with raised voice and flailing arms in executive offices here, Mr. Block decries what he calls the ''hugely disproportionate'' amount of the state's resources that are funneled to Ohio's three biggest cities, to the detriment of half the state's population which lives elsewhere.

Block is a founder of what has been dubbed the ''Other Ohio'' movement - a citizen's rebellion that is the latest manifestation of a decentralization push nationwide. This push gained momentum as early as the 1960s and has accelerated with the Republican ''revolution'' in November 1994. It represents a type of new regionalism. Even as Washington prepares to shift more power and resources to the states, many areas within states are lining up to get their fair share.

As they do, it is leading to new conflicts between rich and poor areas, urban and rural ones, big cities and small.

''This movement stems from the central fact of mounting distrust of government that has been growing for 30 years,'' says William Schneider, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Noting similar efforts in California, Colorado, Iowa, and Illinois, Schneider says: ''People want to take back power, money, and influence from those who are in some distant capital and have forgotten or ignored their concerns.''

Block began organizing elected officials, community leaders, and newspaper executives from cities such as Youngstown, Lima, Canton, Steubenville, and Dayton. The movement gained momentum after well-attended public conferences in Toledo, Youngstown, and Marietta. A fourth meeting is scheduled for October in Chillicothe, and in January 1996 adherents head to Columbus to present leading state politicians with a few ultimatums.

''The state department of natural resources should be near our largest resource [Lake Erie], not 200 miles away in the state capital [Columbus],'' says Tom Walton, editor of The Blade. ''And why shouldn't the Department of Agriculture reside in the richest farm county?''

Block and Walton first started running editorials on decentralizing state government and distributing tax dollars more evenly several years ago. But they were met with snickers from public officials who called their arguments petty. Recent public conferences have fueled support that has led to passing a House bill that would permit the state to move government offices out of the most central county, Franklin.

The group also wants:

* The Ohio Senate to approve an 18-month study of the decentralization of state government, and the governor must sign it into law.

* A new funding formula that provides state monies on a per capita basis to every county in Ohio regardless of population. ''This way, Cincinnati couldn't climb on the backs of the taxpayers to build a new stadium for the Bengals, nor Cleveland for the Browns ... without enlisting political support from the entire region,'' says the manifesto.

* An ''Other Ohio'' caucus established in the Ohio General Assembly to mobilize on behalf of the region.

''Because of computers and telecommunication advances, every other institution in society is decentralizing,'' says Phil Burgess, president of the Denver Center for the New West, who advocates that governments at all levels be more responsive by moving operations closer to the people they affect. ''This [Ohio effort] is a very legitimate attempt to get government to do the same.''

Block and Walton run the organization ad hoc out of their offices here. But they have also hired Roy Meyers, one-time press secretary for US Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, to organize conferences, develop mailing lists, and nurture a network of newspaper editors, mayors, county commissioners, academics social organizations such as Kiwanis Clubs.

''We don't want to be seen as extremists who are touting the balkanization of Ohio, either,'' says Dennis Magnan, chief editorial writer for the Youngstown Vindicator. Noting that there are many hurdles besides legal issues - from cultural resistances to union rules - he says: ''There is certainly every indication that these are legitimate moves to even out some of the power and clout.''

Part of the agenda has been to lay out clearly where state monies have gone over the past decade and to show the inequities.

''No matter how you cut it, the corridor that includes Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati comes out way ahead,'' says Gil Peterson, analysis director of the Youngstown State University Center for Urban Studies. He produces charts showing the inequities in per capita allocations over five years: $558, $598 and $524 for the home counties of the Three Cs, for instance compared with $355, $371, and $321 for the three least-funded counties.

One goal of Other Ohioans is to pressure key politicians, namely Gov. George V. Voinovich (R), who they feel has not lived up to campaign pledges on decentralization. In a Columbus interview, Mr. Voinovich said he is well aware of the Other Ohioans and has tried to respond by making 57 visits to their communities since taking office in 1991.