Where are they now: Governor Bob Taft
By Brian Hicks
Students in the University of Dayton’s Department of Political Science have a front row seat to Ohio history. They get to learn, firsthand, what it’s like to govern a diverse state and tackle tough public policy challenges. They also get to learn from their instructor the virtue of true public service and perseverance in difficult circumstances.
As these students will come to learn, there are some politicians who live for the campaign. They feed off the crowd. They can’t get enough of seeing their name in the headlines. But once in office, their passion can wane. Others simply endure the slog of grueling campaigns to get to their real passion – governing and making a long-term difference in the lives of others.
As the old saying goes, “there are show horses and then there are work horses.”
Bob Taft, the scion of one of the most storied political families in Ohio, was certainly the latter.
Taft was always willing to do the hard campaign work necessary to earn the opportunity to govern. He was a candidate in five statewide races, and while no one ever accused Bob Taft of being a natural born campaigner, he was extraordinarily successful.
Governor Bob Taft with President George W. Bush
As a candidate for Lt. Governor on the ill-fated Jim Rhodes comeback in 1986, Taft tasted his only statewide defeat. A Hamilton County Commissioner at the time, Taft performed admirably and built great relations with the GOP rank and file which would serve him well in later years. But the 86-year-old Rhodes was past his prime and simply over matched by Governor Richard Celeste’s reelection machine.
Rhodes - Taft 1986
Taft, however, did not let that ’86 experience keep him down. In 1990, working closely with GOP gubernatorial candidate George Voinovich, Taft beat now US Senator Sherrod Brown in a knock-down, drag-out political fight for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. It remains the only race Sherrod Brown has ever lost. In that race, Bob Taft proved to be a tough competitor and did what was necessary to win.
After two successful terms as Secretary of State, Taft set his sights on the Governor’s office. There was talk about him being challenged in the 1998 GOP primary by then State Treasurer Ken Blackwell, but in the end, Taft had built too strong of an organization, raised too much money, and worked too hard tending to the GOP grassroots to be challenged. Blackwell backed down and there was no primary opposition. Taft went on to defeat former Attorney General Lee Fisher in another competitive contest. In 2002, Taft was reelected in a landslide, winning 82 of 88 counties and 58% of the vote.
As Governor, Bob Taft focused on long-term solutions to age-old problems. As a former teacher in the Peace Corps, he was deeply interested in improving education. He would visit dozens of schools each year and loved spending time in the classroom. He presided over the largest increase in education funding in state history and enacted the most significant school building construction program in the nation.
Governor Taft reading to school children as part of his Ohio Reads initiative.
Taft was able to dramatically restructure Ohio’s tax system ushering in an era of “lower rates and a broader base” with the advent of the Commercial Activities Tax, all while reducing personal income taxes by 21%. He launched the Ohio Third Frontier Project, an effort to invest in technology jobs and diversify Ohio’s economy that still exists today.
As Chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Taft led the effort to negotiate an interstate compact to protect the waters of the Great Lakes from being diverted outside the region.
During his time in office, he served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, chaired the successful Ohio Bush-Cheney campaigns and maintained a close personal and working relationship with President George W. Bush.
He also loved some of the more light-hearted opportunities afforded to governors like Fish Ohio Day. And he eagerly carried on Gov. Rhodes’ tradition of sleeping at the State Fair. The Taft Coliseum at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair was named in his honor in 2010.
Governor Taft at the Ohio State Fair
His administration attracted talented and committed staff, many of who continue to serve Ohio in key positions today, including Greg Moody, Scott Milburn, Tim Keen, Paolo DeMaria and Tom Johnson.
In short, Bob Taft proved to be a workhorse governor.
So what is Bob Taft up to now? He continues to work. He continues to serve.
After leaving the Governor’s office, Taft joined the University of Dayton as a Distinguished Research Associate, The Governor teaches courses on legislative politics and education policy. He also helps to oversee UD's statehouse summer internship program that is now in its sixth year and has resulted in a number of UD students working full time with state government.
Governor Bob Taft with other walleye anglers during Fish Ohio Day.
He served on the Ohio Constitution Modernization Commission and is on the board of directors of Battelle for Kids.
He dabbles in politics, but mostly behind the scenes. As governor, he worked hard to make sure the Ohio Supreme Court was balanced and fair. He remains committed to that cause and it’s worth noting that his first Lt. Governor, Maureen O’Connor, is Chief Justice and his former Chief Legal Counsel, Judith French, also serves on Ohio’s highest court. Taft actively raised funds for the successful Supreme Court campaigns of Justice French and Justice Patrick Fischer.
Now no profile of Governor Taft would be complete without mentioning his better half. Former First Lady Hope Taft is a force of nature. She always has been and always will.
Governor Bob Taft and his wife Hope at Hocking Hills.
Hope regularly leads an army of volunteers to tend to the Ohio Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Bexley. As Ohio’s First Lady, Hope conceived and developed the gardens in 2000 as a way to showcase Ohio's natural history and environment to the thousands of yearly visitors to the Governor’s Residence. Hope has been an active volunteer keeping the gardens in pristine condition since the she and Bob left the Residence in 2007.
Hope also serves as president of the board of directors of the Tandana Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Bob and Hope’s daughter, Anna, that offers intercultural volunteer experiences, scholarships, and support for community initiatives in Ecuador and Mali. Both Bob and Hope have participated in numerous Tandana missions in recent years. The Tafts live on the Little Miami River near Dayton, so naturally Hope founded the Little Miami River Kleeners to keep the river clean and protect its watershed.
Governor Bob Taft and his wife Hope.
Bob Taft and his wife Hope entered public life to serve others and make a difference. Ohio is fortunate that they continue to do so in their private lives today.
Governor Taft and the King share a birthday!
Brian K. Hicks served as Taft’s campaign manager in 1994 and 1998 and as chief of staff to the governor from 1999-2003. He now runs a government relations and economic development consulting firm with offices in Columbus and Washington, D.C.