Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft shared his experiences as governor and opinions about the current political landscape Nov. 1 with students at Hilliard Bradley High School.
Taft spent about 90 minutes fielding a gamut of questions from students in the Kenyon Academic Partnership government class and an Advanced Placement government class.
His visit was arranged with the assistance of a mutual friend of Taft and Bradley government teacher Rich Clingman.
"I wanted my students to have an even better understanding of state government and policies that can affect their lives," Clingman said.
Taft, a Republican who served as governor from 1999 to 2007, spent about 20 minutes telling students about his political career as an Ohio representative and Ohio Secretary of State, his lineage to great-grandfather Robert Taft, the 27th president of the United Sates, and stories relating to his time as Ohio's governor.
Taft also added some levity by sharing Ohio State Fair stories and quizzed students on the tenets of state and federal law-making and the size of various state departments. Most of his time was spent fielding questions, not all of which related to his time in the governor's mansion.
Taft told students there are instances of excessive government bureaucracy, a trend he combated by streamlining the Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
Taft spoke about the "daunting responsibility" of having the power to grant clemency to prisoners on Death Row.
"The first case I had was "the Volunteer,' " Taft said, referring to the case of Wilford Berry, who was executed by lethal injection in 1999 and became the first man executed by the state of Ohio since the United States re-established the death penalty in 1981.
Berry waived his right to any appeals, earning the name "the Volunteer." Several interest groups took up Berry's case, arguing he was not competent to waive appeals, but the Ohio Supreme Court did not consider the case and Taft did not grant clemency.
"I was on the phone with the director of corrections when (the execution) was carried out," Taft said.
The execution occurred in February 1999, one month after Taft took office.
"I remember thinking, 'I'm the state,' and what a daunting responsibility," said Taft, who commuted only one death penalty sentence to that of life in prison.
Taft said he believes the death penalty will be abolished again.
Concerning the current political landscape, Taft blamed gerrymandering, a poor economy and the media for contributing to the divisive nature of politics and the growing inability for compromise.
Because of the poor economy, there is not enough money to fund all government programs and services, but there was a time when there was sufficient funding to support all programs to one degree or another, he said.
"Now, without enough money, there are some real black-and-white decisions being made about which programs to fund," Taft said.
Students appeared impressed with Taft and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him.
"It was best to hear his point of views in person," said senior Sam Stofferahn, who aspires to a political career.
Junior Lydia Stucki said she enjoyed hearing the governor share his opinions and experiences without it being delivered via media.
"We got to hear everything he had to say ... not just what the news uses," Stucki said.
Senior Abigail Goodhart said it was enlightening to hear about his day-to-day duties as governor, as well as his leadership roles after his two terms as governor.