Suddes: Catch up Ohio. State behind Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia in electing women

Outgoing Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich and incoming Gov. Nancy Hollister share a light moment as Voinovich prepares to sign paperwork making Hollister the 66th governor of Ohio just prior to the swearing in ceremony in the atrium at the Statehouse, December 31, 1998.

Tuesday was International Women’s Day, a salutary reminder that gender equity has a way to go in state politics in Ohio.

Ohio has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate. And only one woman, Marietta Republican Nancy Putnam Hollister, has served as governor of Ohio, and then by succession, rather than by election.

More: Women’s History Month exclusive: Ohio’s first woman governor reflects on political career

As lieutenant governor, Hollister succeeded to the governorship for the 11 days between Republican Gov. George V. Voinovich’s December 1998 resignation to take a U.S. Senate seat and the January 1999 inauguration of Republican Gov. Bob Taft.

Thomas Suddes

Greater Cleveland Republican Maureen O’Connor is chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, the first woman elected to lead Ohio’s judiciary.

Earlier, O’Connor was lieutenant governor. Today, including O’Connor, four of the high court’s seven justices are female. The other women on the court are Justices Jennifer Brunner and Melody Stewart, both Democrats, and Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy.

Notably, soon after women gained the right to vote in Ohio in 1920, Greater Cleveland independent Florence E. Allen was elected to the Supreme Court in 1922 – the first woman in the United States on any state’s highest court. Later President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Allen to the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Allen was the first woman named to any circuit of the federal Appeals court.

Despite Allen’s pioneering election to judicial office – she had also been Ohio’s first female Common Pleas judge – not until 1970, 50 years after women gained the right to vote in Ohio, was a woman elected to statewide executive office: Democrat Gertrude W. Donahey, daughter in law of one-time governor and senator A. Victor (Vic) Donahey, was elected state treasurer. She served through 1982.

On the General Assembly side, gender equity is improving in Ohio. At the November 2020 statewide general election, Ohioans sent a record number of women to the state Senate and Ohio House.

All told, according to Legislative Service Commission data, 41 women were elected to the combined 132 seats in the Senate and House – or about 31% of the legislature’s seats Not bad, but for the fact that the census reports that 51% of Ohio’s residents are women.

More: Ohio women bond through beer for International Women’s Day

And in the 102 years since women were guaranteed the right to vote, only one – Reynoldsburg Republican JoAnn Davidson – has served as the Ohio House’s speaker (1995-2000). Meanwhile, a woman has never served as president of the Ohio Senate, though in the years before the Senate presidency took its current form, Cleveland Heights Democrat Margaret A. Mahoney held the predecessor post – Senate president pro tempore-majority leader – in 1949 and 1950.

Bottom line: Ohio has been improving in the gender equity department, especially in the legislature, and notably in the state Supreme Court. But neighboring Michigan and Kentucky have elected women to governorships, and Michigan and West Virginia have elected women to the U.S. Senate. Ohio has some catching up to do – in Columbus as well as in the U.S. Senate.

Footnote: At this writing, yet another pro-gun-peddler bill is awaiting a gubernatorial decision – sign it, veto it, or let it become law without a signature – by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The bill on the governor’s desk is Substitute Senate Bill 215. The measure would end current Ohio law’s training and licensing requirements (enacted 18 years ago) for carrying a concealed handgun in this state. That is, SB 215 is a permit-less carry bill.

More: Ohio passes bill to end gun training requirements for concealed carry, eliminate permits

The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio opposes the bill. Hamilton County’s sheriff, Charmaine McGuffey, opposes the bill.

The Catholic bishops of Ohio oppose the bill. And the bill further intrudes on the home rule powers the Ohio Constitution promises the state’s cities and village. But the Statehouse’s relentless handgun lobby is all for it – which suggests that one way or another, SB 215 will become law.

But meanwhile – please – don’t try to carry a concealed handgun in the Statehouse, where the General Assembly meets. That’s illegal: Our state senators and representatives have shielded themselves from the dangers that concealed-carry creates for all other Ohioans – including police.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Suddes: How many women have held offices in Ohio government?