Ohio Family and Children First – The Line in the Sand

“Our aim is to make an unprecedented commitment to one priority that I believe ranks above all others – the health and education of our children… The only way to do it is to pick one generation of children – draw a line in the sand – and say to all: ‘this is where it stops.’ Today, we draw that line” (1991 State of the State Address, Senator Voinovich).

Senator Voinovich made this promise to all of Ohio at his first State of the State address in 1991, and this promise was not one he made lightly. Rather, ensuring that all children were well cared for became one of the largest initiatives throughout his years as Governor. To achieve this goal, Senator Voinovich created the Ohio Family and Children First Council through an executive order in 1992 (Riffe, 1999). By 1994, the initiative became a statewide implementation with the goal of the OFCF Cabinet being, “A partnership of state and local government, communities, and families that enhance the well-being of Ohio’s children and families by building community capacity, strategically coordinating systems and services, and engaging and empowering families.” The multiple partnerships were essential to achieving the goal to life all children and family up, as supporting these individuals does not fall under one sphere.

One of the main actors in working to achieve this goal was Senator Voinovich’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Jacqueline Romer-Sensky. Romer-Sensky was charged to essentially take the challenge Senator Voinovich created and make it real for families all across Ohio; families that deal with incredibly different issues. Romer-Sensky, and the rest of her organizational team and key agency leaders, realized that dynamic and worked to involve a variety of actors: “Trying to lift children up is a multifaceted issue. It is not the domain of any one particular part of government. It’s also beyond government and the only way to tackle some of these really complex issues is to set a table where all of those different components are at the table, including the family’s voice.” To bring in all of these factors effectively, OFCF created councils across Ohio that worked within their specific communities to find out what families need and how to address these issues with the support from the Council at the state level. Together, these groups worked to achieve Senator Voinovich’s motto: “We need to work harder and smarter and do more with less. Together, we can do it.”

Much of this was able to occur because of Senator Voinovich’s passion for supporting children and his recognition that families face different challenges and may need differing types of support. Voinovich was up for the challenge and, as Romer-Sensky expressed about Senator Voinovich, “Ultimately, this is a guy that will do what he thinks is right… This was his passion and he just wanted this to happen. He cared about these kids.” Through the work of the councils, program partners, local groups, and families themselves, OFCF was able to make incredible achievements. The combined effort during the Voinovich Administration resulted reducing infant mortality, increasing the amount of adoptions by 59%, fully funding state Head Start and supporting the growth of publicly funded child care from 18,000 children to 82,000, as well as increased use of Medicaid waivers for home care for medically fragile families and increasing access to Individual Education Plans (JRS_GVV Reflection, 2016; Riffe, 1999). Supporting families and children has continued to be a priority in Ohio even after Senator Voinovich left the governor’s office and is an instrumental part of his legacy.

Voinovich Supported Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream of Equality

The renowned civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a central role in the United States’ civil rights movement, and even after his passing in 1968, his legacy has remained impactful to future generations. It fell to his supporters and public servants to carry on his legacy. One such public servant was Senator George Voinovich who played a role in furthering the civil rights movement in Ohio by ensuring that all people were treated equally.

George Voinovich’s support began in 1975 when then Representative Voinovich, voted for the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Ohio; it became a state holiday more than eight years prior to the federal holiday. Further, in 1981, Mayor Voinovich supported the development of the Annual Commemoration in honor of MLK, an event that is celebrated to this day (MLK Jr. Holiday Commission’s 8th Annual Commemoration, 1.14.1993). Each year, Mayor Voinovich played an active role in ensuring the celebration was a success. Voinovich spoke at the various events regularly to encourage others to heed the call of MLK and his use of civil disobedience, and Voinovich encouraged other cities to celebrate Dr. King’s Holiday while President of the National League of Cities (Commemoration of Dr. MLK Day, 1.18.1986). It was through this work that Senator Voinovich was honored in 1989 with the Distinguished Service Award by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (MLK Jr. Holiday Commission’s 8th Annual Commemoration, 1.14.1993).

Senator Voinovich continually reiterated that while the United States had made major and important changes, the work was never fully complete. He expressed in a speech given at a Cleveland Baptist Church in 1989, “In spite of great progress in certain areas, his work is not done, and if we are honest, it will never be done. There will always be something more we can do” (Community Worship, 1.16.1989). Voinovich continued his work as governor with the 1992 Governor’s Challenge Conference, which focused on being proactive in the civil rights area, equal treatment for all, and addressing the riots that were occurring in other cities at the time. Governor Voinovich addressed the many improvements that had taken place in Ohio, such as the Cleveland Roundtable, race relations training for business leaders, updated police training for community engagement, as well as goals to increase diversity in city departments. Governor Voinovich also created the Ohio Family and Children First initiative to encourage equality at the beginning stages of life and education. His work was substantial enough that Dr. King’s widow, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, attended and spoke to gathered Ohio representatives at this conference to reiterate the goals of MLK and encourage them to follow his legacy (Governor’s Challenge Conference, 6.2.1992).

Senator Voinovich continued the mission of MLK once he was elected to the United States Senate. He presented a bill in 2004 called the Uniting Neighborhoods and Individuals to Eliminate Profiling Act of 2004. He urged his fellow senators and the president to address the issue of racial profiling and bring together communities that had been “torn apart by racial unrest” (Racial Profiling Floor Statement, 2.25.04). While the bill did not pass, Senator Voinovich had made a statement that racial equality was still an important topic all of the United States should address and work towards. Throughout all stages of political life, Senator Voinovich continually supported the work of Martin Luther King Jr. through his own goals and accomplishments in public office, and always encouraged citizens to do the same.

Senator George Voinovich and the Progression of the War in Iraq

By Ellenore Holbrook

Beginning in 2003, the United States became involved in an armed conflict in Iraq as it attempted to remove the government of Saddam Hussein and potential weapons of mass destruction. As a part of the War on Terror following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11th, more than 1.5 million soldiers were deployed to Iraq to perform combat operations and train Iraqi forces. While the war was initially supported by both houses of Congress, including Former Senator George Voinovich (Statement of Supplemental Spending Request for Iraq and Afghanistan, 2003), the support for the war began to sway in 2004 and 2005 due to multiple issues including the amount of United States military causalities, increasing costs and a failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

The future of the engagement in Iraq changed in June 26, 2007, when Senator Voinovich wrote a letter to former President George W. Bush presenting a plan to begin disengagement from Iraq (Bush Correspondence, The Way Forward in Iraq, 6.26.07). Senator Voinovich, in collaboration with a small group of Senators and Representatives were with the first prominent Republicans to openly address the issues of the Iraq War and look for potential changes in the future. The step in addressing and reevaluating the war was an important move for Senator Voinovich who stated, “Conducting oversight of the government, the administration, and the war is not only our responsibility – it is our duty” (Press Release, Report on Iraq Redeployment Planning).

One of the primary reasons this statement Senator Voinovich made was so integral is because it was one of the first times that such a prominent Republican elected official appeared to be breaking with the administration on Iraq. While Senator Voinovich had avoided supporting another bill in Congress that addressed the war because he believed they could be seen as an attack on President Bush or move to abandon Iraq in general, he knew the Iraq War had to be addressed (Sen. Voinovich Statement on Biden-Hagel Iraq Resolution). Senator Voinovich had a strong history of supporting veterans’ affairs both in the state of Ohio but also at the national level (Dinner with Veterans, 2003), and did not support sending more troops into Iraq (Warner Resolution and the Future of Iraq Speech, 2007). As such, Senator Voinovich worked to find a compromise that would support troops overseas and the veterans who had returned (Iraq Plan Talking Points, 07.24). In his letter and plan to President Bush, Senator Voinovich focused on the cost of the war, the lives lost to military operations, and how continued dangerous environments were limiting potential success of troops in the region (Bush Correspondence, The Way Forward in Iraq, 6.26.07).

Senator Voinovich stressed maintaining stability in the Middle East and stated that a premature withdrawal from the region could destabilize the region and put key allies in jeopardy (Iraq Resolution Speech). Rather, Senator Voinovich’s proposed plan included goals to, “develop a plan for Iraq that can be endorsed by all of Iraq’s neighbors and key international organizations,” while developing a timeline for slow disengagement and, “focusing more energy on refugee assistance, humanitarian aid, and reconstruction aid” (Bush Correspondence, The Way Forward in Iraq, 6.26.07).

Senator Voinovich’s continued dedication to veterans, the safety of the domestic and international spheres, and the ability to work across party lines were evident in his push for change in 2007. While his plan was never made into an official resolution, Senator Voinovich’s stance on the issue was ahead of the curve and put pressure on the Bush Administration and Congress to begin disengagement and a change of force in the region.

The Lucasville Prison Riots: Protecting Lives and Looking Forward

By Ellenore Holbrook

Lucasville began an organized attack on correctional officers as a form of protest against conditions within the facility. Known as the Lucasville Prison Riots, this event took place during then Governor Voinovich’s first term. After the riots ended on April 21, Governor Voinovich worked to address the issues within the Lucasville prison as well as the Ohio Correctional Facilities as a whole. Utilizing the Voinovich Collection, a number of documents tell the story of what happened in April 1993, how Senator Voinovich handled the situation, and the impacts the riots had on policy development in Ohio.

Utilizing a report sent to Governor Voinovich by two staffers in 1999, we can follow the chronology of the Lucasville riot in great detail. The Lucasville Prison Riots began at 3 p.m., when inmates took hold of the L Block within the Lucasville Correctional Facility. By the evening, inmates were holding eight guards hostage and they started negotiations of their 19 demands. The standoff between prisoners and negotiators lasted 11 days, with 10 people killed in the process, both inmates and prison officials.

On April 14, at the request of prison officials, Governor Voinovich ordered 500 National Guardsmen to arrive at Lucasville to help support other police forces in deescalating the situation and providing safety to those nearby. However, the following day the inmates murdered one of the hostage prison guards in order to push for their demands. On April 20, after negotiators and inmates began to consult with one another, the standoff ended and all prisoners and hostages were removed from the L Block.

Voinovich turned his focus to altering and reconstructing the Ohio Correctional System to see why this event had occurred and look to ways of prevention. In his press conference given on April 21, 1993 after the last hostage was released, he announced the creation of the Select Committee on Corrections. This Committee which would evaluate what happened leading up to Lucasville as well as improve the operations statewide. Within the Archives, multiple memos, discussions, and findings from this first plan discuss its goals and outcomes in detail. The goal was to encourage community corrections for non-violent offenders so prison space could be utilized for criminals that must be removed from society.

While the entire final report from the Committee on Corrections can be found on the digital archives, the main findings included a need for change within the prison system and offered recommendations in the areas of prison crowding, diversion programs, substance abuse, mentally ill inmates, and prison security. Governor Voinovich added to this through his own personal notes on the physical document by requesting special reports regarding substance abuse, mentally ill inmates, as well as addressing the issue of racism in the prison system.

Throughout the Lucasville prison riots, Governor Voinovich worked at monitoring the events as they occurred and supporting the experts handling the event. After, Governor Voinovich focused on continuing to develop the Ohio Corrections Facilities to prevent an event like the riots from happening again, while improving the system as a whole. More information about this event, and its impact on future decisions the governor made can be found in the collection.

Exploring Voinovich’s Impact: The Voinovich Collections

By Ellenore Holbrook

Former Senator George V. Voinovich served as a public servant of Ohio for more than 45 years and was elected to more offices than any other person in Ohio’s history. Throughout his career, he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, served as the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, as Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and finally US Senator. His life and work in government, his meetings, memos, decisions, policies, communications and more have all been saved, organized and archived.

The Voinovich Collections are archives comprised of the Mayoral Collection, the Gubernatorial Collection, the Senatorial Collection, and the Campaign Collection. The best way to begin learning about the archives and all it has to offer is through the online portal, which can be found at www.voinovichcollections.library.ohio.edu. While the online tool is not all encompassing of what the archives have to offer, it provides a helpful search feature as well as digital renderings of some of the documents located in the physical collection.

The goal of the archives and the website is to help disseminate the collected materials and the knowledge that can be gathered through them. Senator Voinovich impacted millions of people during his service, and with the preservation and use of the archives, his impact can continue to live on.