Lessons from Senator Voinovich

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Senator George Voinovich when he visited Athens this semester. The Senator also came to my interest groups class to talk about his experiences as a public servant, so this gave me a significant insight into the mind of a veteran of the public sector. I hate to harp on civic engagement again, but it really stood out in my talks with the Senator. The three points that related to civic engagement in our talks were social capital, compromise and herd mentality, and political business.

Social Capital is making sure that peoples’ voices and frustrations are heard by public officials. The Senator was adamant about going to the people when dealing with any political issue. He believes that a lack of social capital today is one of the main causes for lack of trust in our government and why we have divided government today. This is really one of the plus sides of being a faculty or student in the Voinovich School. We as a school have a mentality that we must engage the community on any project we work on. It was one of the things the Senator constantly praised the school for because there are so few institutions that actually use Community Based Participation in their day to day activities. The lesson on social capital is that in order for our country to move forward, we must rebuild the trust that has been lost in the everyday citizen.

Compromise and herd mentality were two points brought up by the Senator on why our government cannot accomplish very much these days. On compromise, the Senator brought up that nobody is willing to ever compromise on issues. He went on to add that very few are willing to do the right thing for our country. It seems that today, everybody has some sort of image they have to uphold instead of doing what is best for our nation… I will talk about this more in a second. The herd mentality goes along the lines that nobody wants to stand up for what they truly believe in because they are afraid of what their peers are going to say. Yes according the Senator, even United States Senators deal with the peer pressure that plagues teenagers’ lives. How can Democracy really flourish if our leaders cannot come to the table and compromise or even stand up for what they believe in even if it’s against their party?

Political business was not a phrase used by the Senator, but a concept that I thought of to explain my last point. The Senator brought up the fact that interest groups, like the Sierra Club, have a certain niche or business plan that makes their existence possible. That is why these polarized groups are never willing to compromise, because if they do their customers or constituents will get upset and stop supporting their group. This is the same concept of why the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world exist; they are filling a niche in the political spectrum that will make them a profit.

These were my takeaways from my talks with the former Senator, George Voinovich. As future or current public servants, we must really remember why we choose the career path we did. It was to actually help some people in this world. In order to help those people, we at times will have to compromise, but also stand up for what is right. It is the principles our democracy is built on, political discourse.

Voinovich Digital Archives Unveiled

Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to meet Senator George V. Voinovich, see the first phase of his digital web archive, and hear him speak very passionately about his time working in politics and public service. The Senator did a guest lecture in Dr. Burnier’s Interest Groups and American Politics course, answering questions posed by students in the class. I was surprised when the Senator shook the hand of each student in attendance, asking each one their names and asking where they were from.

Instead of giving a formal lecture to the class, the Senator opened it up to allow the students to ask their own questions. Many of them were very proper about the national debt issue, reforming the tax code, and the current shape of social security. Each of the Senator’s answers were intriguing and thoughtful stories from how he’s worked with these issues in his personal career. He said, “Sometimes the best way to make a point is to tell a story.” Working with former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Senator Voinovich has countless impressive stories to tell.

The accomplishments of any politician can be overwhelming to list, but when the Senator discussed his work with the Securing America’s Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act that he introduced on the Senate Floor in 2006 and the “Fix the Debt” Campaign, it was great to see the students attentively listening and engaged in conversation. It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience to hear Senator Voinovich speak so enthusiastically of his career.

After the class and a small reception, the Voinovich Collection digital archive was presented to numerous faculty and staff of the Ohio University’s Alden Library and the Voinovich School. The collection encompasses his impressive career in public service as Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and United States Senator. Both the Library and the Voinovich School helped with the digitalization of the collection along with Cleveland State University thanks to an Ohio University 1804 and SEED money from the Senator himself.

After the presentation, I took the opportunity to explore the collection for myself. The collection is an incredible tool and resource full of reports, correspondence, position papers, printed materials, and photographs from his long and impressive career. The digitalization of this collection will provide incredible benefits to researchers and students like me, who will now be able to greatly benefit from the Senator’s vast experience and knowledge.

To explore the Voinovich Collection digital archive, visit www.voinovichcollections.library.ohio.edu.

Long Lives

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to several events with Senator Voinovich and his wife, Speaker Davidson, and other distinguished guests. I dashed around town for two days in business attire so as to look presentable for these engagements. Looking back, I’m glad I dealt with nylons for 18 hours on back-to-back days; it’s good to be well-dressed for moments that change your outlook on life.

Both of these distinguished individuals have dedicated their working lives to this country as public servants. Then, because they hadn’t given enough, they retired and continued to advocate and advise others on behalf of their favorite causes. Not only are their records impressive, their knowledge and dedication are remarkable! I had the esteemed honor of sitting next to both of them through a meal, and I walked away from both occasions affected by the encounter.

With Senator Voinovich, I was inspired by the fact that he is going on 80 years old and still doesn’t feel he has the time to write an autobiography. He taught me to believe that it is possible to continue to “fight the good fight” long after you’ve left the capital city. The conviction with which he spoke about working for the good of his constituents could have roused hard-nosed individuals from either side of the aisle. In addition, he took a sincere interest in every student present, questioning each before handing over a certificate as if they were being interviewed for their own biography.

With former Speaker Davidson, I was awed by her sheer power of presence. She commands respect just through eye-contact. I felt myself striving for her approval and advice all the way through lunch, even congratulating myself after she praised me for having selected her meal of choice (without realizing it before ordering)! Never before has one woman’s praise/ suggestions meant so much to me in the space of an hour. Side note: she has her own leadership academy! I’m adding Davidson Leadership Program to my list of things to look into.

Lessons Learned:

  • Yes, you do use that tiny fork with your salad to start. Every time, no matter what meal.
  • Yes, you may talk with your mouth full as long as you are hiding discreetly behind the oversized cloth napkin. No, autobiographies are not just glorified journals of famous people.
  • Yes, I do want to have something other than a newspaper article written about me.
  • Yes, political history is fascinating. But, living and interacting with the individuals who have shaped political history is even better!

An Afternoon with Senator Voinovich

I was honored this past week to be chosen as a student representative for the Voinovich School to have lunch with Senator Voinovich during his visit. Before lunch, I attended the panel discussion entitled “The key challenges facing the public sector,” where Senator Voinovich was one of the panelists. I found this discussion to be very enlightening and the level of experience that the guest speakers have working in the government sector was very impressive. After the panel discussion, we made our way over to Latitudes restaurant in the Baker Center, and I had the opportunity to sit right across the table from Senator Voinovich. Our table shared some great stories and brainstormed ways that we can expand the Voinovich School and improve the experience for students. I enjoyed being able to contribute my thoughts to this conversation and feel that we came up with some great improvements to make the Voinovich School experience even better than it already is.

On another note, I am FINALLY finished with my thesis. Well….almost. I feel like I have been saying that for the past week, but every day I continue to tweak it and make corrections because I am a perfectionist at heart. My thesis defense date is set for May 28th at 2:30pm in Clippinger. It is open to the public, so please stop by for some peanut butter pie and a talk about the urban composting and sustainability practices in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Edinburgh, Scotland.