In The Statehouse Basement

Tonight the Ohioana Library Association presented the annual Ohioana Awards.  This year the ceremony was in the vaulted basement of the Ohio Statehouse, an interesting old building that is full of nooks and crannies.  The backdrop to our ceremony was the darkened Statehouse Museum, with a very cool backlit depiction of the Great Seal of Ohio.

There was a great crop of Ohioana Award winners this year, and as usual it was particularly interesting to hear writers talk about their craft.  These days our state may be known to the nation as “Battleground Ohio,” but at its soul Ohio is a quirky, creative place that is home to many fine writers, poets, and artists.  It’s nice to see that reality affirmed every once in a while.

Congratulations to all of the winners of this years Ohioana Awards!

Savoring A Taste Of Indian Summer

When you’ve had a wet and cooler than normal autumn, a few days of Indian summer — and I recognize that is not a very politically correct term, but it’s the only one I know — is very much appreciated.  Yesterday and today, the good citizens of Columbus, Ohio enjoyed daytime temperatures that hovered around 80 degrees, nighttime temperatures in the 50s, and clear, sunny skies.

Of course, Indian summer never lasts long; you have to enjoy it while you can.  For us, it’s ending all too soon.  Tomorrow, showers and cooler temperatures are in the forecast, and then the weather is supposed to get worse as we move toward November.

An Update On “Occupy Columbus”

Yesterday was a beautiful, spring-like day, so after lunch The Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to take an extended walk. To our surprise, when we walked past the Ohio Statehouse we learned that “Occupy Columbus” is still there.

To be sure, the tents have moved since I last visited Statehouse Square months ago.  They used to be right in front of the McKinley statue in the middle of the block; now they’ve been repositioned down the block to the south.

The “Occupiers” have a large white party tent, carefully taped to keep out the weather.  On the front is a big sign advertising their website, as well as an ersatz American flag in which the fifty stars have been cleverly replaced with corporate logos like McDonald’s and Chevron.  (Does that mean that corporations are taking the place of the fifty states, or that corporations are the true stars of the country?  The message could be misconstrued.)  I tried to check out the “Occupy Columbus” website shown on the large sign, but when I did Firefox sent me a warning saying that the website connection was untrusted and that I would be proceeding at my peril — so I decided the prudent course was to not satisfy my curiosity.

There were two people sitting behind the tents, enjoying the lovely weather.  Other than that, there seemed to be nobody there, and there was no other activity to be seen.  In short, “Occupy Columbus” is still there, occupying their little patch of Statehouse Square, but that appears to be about it.

Checking In On “Occupy Columbus”

This morning I walked over to the Statehouse to check out the “Occupy” protest, Columbus version.  It’s changed a little since my first visit.  Big doings were planned today for the Occupy Wall Street folks in NYC, so I thought the Columbus chapter might also be kicking into gear.  That turned out not to be the case.

As the photo I took indicates, the Columbus encampment is small and shabby — a few tents, a few wooden pallets, a cooler or two, a few garbage cans, and some stray signage fastened to steel fencing on the sidewalk in front of the Ohio Statehouse.  At least one of the tents was occupied, but no one was out chanting or doing anything else.  It was cold, so maybe the Occupy protesters decided that tapping on their laptop keyboards inside the tents was the smarter course.  The people waiting at the nearby bus stop, who far outnumbered anybody huddled in the tents, were trying to stay warm in a brisk wind and weren’t paying much attention to the Occupy folks, anyway.

The whole point of the Occupy protests still seems pretty obscure to me.  The signage at the Columbus camp didn’t provide much clarification, either.  Here were the signs that were visible this morning:  “The finest democracy money can buy,” “Monopolies kill off competition,” “Kill your TV and Do Your Research,” “Integrate the Federal Reserve,” and “Commercialized Culture TV, Radio, Music, Art, Religion.”  Is there a common, articulable theme in those signs, other than reflexive opposition to whatever might attract their attention?

Help Needed In Showcasing Columbus

We’re being visited for the weekend by a friend who is new to Columbus.  They are from an urban, East Coast location and have never been to the Midwest, so they already are enjoying the charms of backyards, green grass, white fences, and rolling countryside.

But what distinguishes Columbus from other Midwestern towns that have those same features?  How do we showcase our fair city?  Having never been to Columbus as a tourist, I don’t have the slightest idea of what tourists do when they visit.  We’ve suggested Easton Town Center, the Wexner Center, the Short North, and German Village.  It’s not football season, so an OSU game is out.  The Ohio State Fair hasn’t started yet.  What else?  The Ohio Statehouse?  The Arena District?  The Park of Roses?  It makes me realize that so much of what I really like about Columbus is not showy landmarks, but instead the people and the pace.

Am I missing anything?  I’d appreciate any suggestions!

Senate Bill 5 Moves On

By a one-vote margin, the Ohio Senate today passed Senate Bill 5, the controversial legislation to modify the collective bargaining rights of public employees.  The vote came as pro-union demonstrators again flooded the Ohio Statehouse and its grounds to try to stir up opposition to the measure.  The union protesters manage to get six Republicans to break ranks with leadership and vote against the bill — but they needed seven defections to kill the bill.  The measure now moves to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.  Governor John Kasich supports the bill and would sign it if it makes it to his desk.

I respect the public employees who came to Columbus to exercise their free speech rights and oppose Senate Bill 5, but I believe it is a necessary measure.  Ohio is facing a huge budget deficit, and many Ohio municipalities also are facing budget shortfalls.  A significant part of the state and local governmental budgets are devoted to public employees compensation and benefits.  Senate Bill 5 seems like a reasonable step to deal with those costs.  Public employees could still bargain about wages, hours, and working conditions, but not health care, pension benefits, or sick time.  Public employees also would not be able to strike.  The move should allow Ohio state and local governmental entities to bring public employee health care and pension benefit contributions in line with the prevailing approaches in the private sector, and the savings produced as a result will help to make up the budget shortfalls.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves, however.  Senate Bill 5 is not going to fix Ohio’s budget gap by itself.  Our legislators need to roll up their sleeve and continue to look carefully, and skeptically, at state programs, state departments, and state agencies and decide whether they truly are needed, and if so at what funding level.  What services are critical, and which provide non-essential services that we simply cannot afford any longer?  Public employees in Ohio should not be the only group that bears the brunt of necessary budget cuts.