Many Ohioans are unable to name their elected representative or even identify which of the state’s 99 districts they live in.
Despite this lack of recognition, Ohio’s state legislators, both in the House and the Senate, put significantly more time into their jobs than legislators in many other states do, from deciding how to vote to simply finding a way to get to and from the statehouse.
Ohio is one of only 10 states with a full-time legislature. The National Conference of State Legislatures classifies Ohio as having a “Green Lite” legislature, which, like those categorized as “Green,” includes a full-time legislature and a large and well-paid staff. However, unlike Green state legislatures, Green Lite states usually spend less total time in session due to their shorter sessions and smaller districts. Other classifications for state legislatures include Gold, which encompasses part-time, smaller legislatures with smaller and lower-paid staffs, Gold Lite and Gray, which is a hybrid legislature.
Ohio is classified as Green Lite in part because of its fairly large population; only three states (New York, California and Pennsylvania) have Green legislatures, while states with Gold or Gold Lite legislatures are typically more rural and have lower populations.
Being a representative in the Ohio House is considered a full-time job, meaning that although they may not always work full-time in the traditional nine-to-five sense, representatives are required to be available full-time. However, some still find time to balance a second career. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, is a lieutenant commander in the Navy reserve. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, is finishing his Ph.D. in Economic Development at Cleveland State. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, is a realtor and Heather Bishoff, D-Blacklick, co-owns a financial planning firm with her husband. Other representatives have transitioned into political careers after working in a wide range of fields. Some are career politicians, many of whom have served in local government before becoming state legislators.
According to data collected from Ohio House session journals, the House had a total of 124 sessions in 2015. Only 37 of these sessions included at least one vote in which every member of the House was eligible to participate. In total, the entire House voted 200 times last year.
Out of these 200 votes, Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mt. Lookout, voted “no” 60 times in 2015, more than any other representative and more than twice as many times as any other Republican at the time. The median number of no votes for the entire House was eight, and only one other representative in Ohio’s history has voted no more times than Brinkman.
Brinkman, who balances his legislative duties with a second career as an insurance salesman, said his party’s position on an issue or the way the rest of the House votes plays no role whatsoever in the way he chooses to vote on a piece of legislation. Instead, he focuses on three specific areas of legislation.
Brinkman is skeptical of many emergency clauses on bills and said he only votes for them if he perceives that there is actually an emergency situation.
“I think a reason we do so many is because we don’t have our act together and we wait and we screw around and then we call it an emergency because we haven’t done it in a timely fashion,” said Brinkman, who believes that creating emergency clauses unfairly eliminates the opportunity for citizens to referendum.
In addition to emergency clauses, Brinkman is largely opposed to table motions because he thinks the Republican majority in the House shouldn’t table Democratic amendments. “I think their amendments should be heard,” Brinkman said. “I probably would vote no on most of those amendments, but I think that we should at least hear their amendments and give them a yes or no vote.”
Finally, before making his final decision, Brinkman looks at the fiscal note on each bill to see what the financial burden on the state or federal government would be before deciding to vote for or against it.
Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, also makes his voting decisions based on three criteria, but these differ from the ones used by Brinkman. Rather than looking at a bill’s procedural characteristics, Patterson focuses on the pressures he faces as a representative.
“Obviously, I have to look at my district,” Patterson said. “Secondly, I have to factor in the overall party position on the particular issue. And the district and the party position may be at odds.”
The final determining factor in Patterson’s decision is based on his own personal insight gathered from the information given in the bill.
While representatives’ actual work, such as deciding how to vote on legislation, is time consuming, getting to Columbus to do this work is often even more so.
Patterson, a retired teacher, lives further from the statehouse than any other representative in the state; his round trip is about 380 miles. He shares an apartment in Columbus with another representative.
“The snow capital is in my district,” Patterson said. “Sometimes I have to leave early to beat the weather; there’s traffic issues, too. On the other end, sometimes I’ll stay over or come back late if we’re getting out too late and I’m tired or if the weather’s going to be a factor or if there’s been an accident on 71. So I factor in that kind of flexibility.”
Patterson participated in every House vote in 2015. Being a legislator full-time and having both of his sons out of the house have made it possible for him to stay in Columbus if necessary and attend every House session.
While Patterson and other legislators with long drives often opt to stay in Columbus overnight rather than driving back and forth, Brinkman, who has a 205-mile round trip, has not spent a night in the city in the nine years he has served in the House.
“The first eight years I was there, I had a family, kids from age five to 15,” Brinkman said. “I wanted to be home.”
While Patterson and Brinkman have both found arrangements that keep them from missing votes, other representatives have less impressive attendance records. Rep. Christie Bryant Kuhns, D-Cincinnati, missed votes in 10 of the 37 sessions with House votes last year, while Rep. Kristina Roegner, D-Hudson, missed 56 out of 200 House votes, more than any other representative. Neither Kuhns nor Roegner could be reached for comment on their attendance.
Overall in 2015, Republicans missed slightly fewer votes than Democrats, averaging 7.03 and 9.60 total missed votes, respectively. Those with House leadership positions, including but not limited to those with committee leadership, missed eight votes on average.
In the end, regardless of how frequently they do or do not show up to vote, those people are the representatives the people of Ohio have elected to speak and fight for their interests.
“I liken my experience in the House as I would a pig at breakfast. The chicken has an interest in breakfast, but the pig? The pig’s definitely committed,” Patterson said. “I’m definitely committed to what I do and serving my people here and it means a great deal to me.”