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End of an era: Bill Batchelder's legacy in Ohio House spans 38 years


Staff and wire reports

After nearly four decades as a state lawmaker, House Speaker William G. Batchelder III has laid down the gavel in the job he had long sought.

The 72-year-old Medina resident presided over his last voting session as leader of the Ohio House on Wednesday. Term limits are forcing the legislative fixture and influencer to retire.

Still, the Republican lawmaker leaves with the second-longest tenure in the House at 38 years.

The son of Medina County Prosecutor and county Republican Party chairman William G. Batchelder Jr., he graduated from Medina High School in 1960. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1964 and a law degree from Ohio State University College of Law in 1967.

The following year, at age 25, Batchelder fulfilled his ambition of elected office, winning his House district.

He served for 30 years before term limits forced him out in 1998. The following year he was elected Medina County common pleas judge but served only briefly before being appointed by Gov. Bob Taft to the 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron.

Batchelder returned to the House in 2007, representing the 69th District, with the desire to become speaker. He finally took the top job in 2011 after two years of Democratic control.

To Batchelder, serving in the House has been the pinnacle of his public service.

“I’ve always said the Ohio House of Representatives is the highest office there is,” he told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I mean, we can really deal with problems. I’ve been involved so often when we were there.”

One such time was in 1985. Democratic Gov. Richard Celeste tapped him for his financial expertise when Ohio faced a crisis in its savings and loan industry. Batchelder helped write legislation to solve it but declined to vote for it on philosophical grounds: He cringed at government intervention.

That experience along with others during the Vietnam era taught him about governing in times of turmoil.

“I’m a history major,” Batchelder said. “And one of the things you learn is that when people’s lives and property are threatened, government better be in a position to move quickly.”

Batchelder often weaves history lessons into debate and conversations, frequently invoking favorite Ohioans, former President Ronald Reagan or 18th-century economist Adam Smith, author of “The Wealth of Nations.” He proudly shares an affinity for Smith with his son and young granddaughters, who, he said, once burst into tears during a visit to Smith’s grave.

“There are probably very few children who have been raised to the point that they are so much Adam Smith fans that they would cry upon learning that he’s no longer with us,” Batchelder said of his granddaughters.

Despite his success on the state level, Congress never really appealed to Batchelder.

“The process in Washington is obviously screwed up,” he said. “But more importantly, their ability to solve things is not what they think it is. How in the hell can you decide that Wyoming and New York ought to have the same laws?”

Batchelder exits the House after having bolstered the Republicans’ majority. The GOP will have a record 65 seats in the 99-member chamber next year.

That’s quite the shift from the more than 20 years he spent in the minority, most in the iron grasp of a man simply called “Mr. Speaker” — Vern Riffe, a Wheelersburg Democrat. Batchelder, who was then a member of the staunchly conservative “caveman caucus,” felt so left out of the process that he once wore a dog muzzle on the House floor.

Rep. Bob Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, said he sees some similarities in the two speakers’ approaches, contending Batchelder took few Democratic bills seriously.

“But he was always gentlemanly. He was always respectful as he screwed you over,” Hagan said. The pair has served together for more than 20 years and disagreed on almost all policy matters. Though Hagan praised Batchelder for bringing order to the chamber.

Batchelder’s absence next year will extend beyond the lack of his signature dark-rimmed glasses and seersucker suits.

The speaker’s extensive knowledge of the Ohio Revised Code and state Constitution is unmatched, said Rep. Jim Buchy, a Greenville Republican who has served with Batchelder since the 1980s. “He knows so much of the Ohio Revised Code chapter and verse. I mean, he can quote it.”

Batchelder’s departure doesn’t leave a hole, Buchy said. “It’s a crater. It’s huge.”

His 69th District seat in the House will be filled by another Republican, Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley, who defeated Democrat Richard A. Javorek in the November election.

Batchelder lives in Medina with his wife, Alice, who serves as a federal judge on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, and maintains an office in Medina.

His plans for the future included teaching next year at Cleveland State University and the University of Akron.

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