A group of Cleveland State students, who participated in the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education’s “Columbus Seminar” class, led by Dr. Meghan Rubado spent their spring break in a rather unconventional way; getting up close and personal with Ohio’s government and legislative process. Meeting every other Friday over the course of the semester, these students prepared to meet with numerous government agencies and officials.
Arriving in Columbus on Sunday, the students started their trip with a tour of the Statehouse where they bumped into Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima). The students finished their day with a conversation over dinner with CSU Alumni that work in government in Central Ohio.
The first half of the day had an executive branch focus. Monday began with a visit to the Ohio Arts Council, an executive agency that had great interest among the students. Seminar Students Amy Bahre (Nonprofit Administration) and Alicia Brown (Organizational Leadership) both asked very thoughtful and detailed questions. Meeting on the 33rd floor of Rhodes Tower – an executive office building in Columbus- the students met with the Public Affairs Director of the office, Justin Nigro. They then dropped down to the 17th floor to have a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson and then they went back up to the 35th floor to learn about the executive side of the state budgeting process at the Office of Budget and Management.
The back half of day two started with a meeting with Susan Willeke of the Ohio Ethics Commission. Her lively demonstration left a lasting impact on the students and even Rubado who embraced WIlleke’s mannerisms later in the week. The next stop on their trip was the Legislative Service Commission (LSC) which, arguably, helped several students figure out what they wanted to do when they grow up – myself included. The LSC is the office that non-partisanly writes bills for the Ohio General Assembly (GA). They offer great fellowship opportunities for recent graduates to work with legislators. Several individuals throughout the seminar expressed to the students that the LSC Fellowship is a great “in” to state government. Their day ended with yet another conversation over dinner with Ohio House legislative staff. One of which is a CSU and Columbus Seminar Alumus, Grace Flajnik.
On Tuesday, the students made the freezing cold trek to hear a presentation by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The presentation was given by PUCO Commissioner Dan Conway and PUCO Director of Public Affairs Matt Schilling. They highlighted what PUCO does and ended with a conversation regarding the recent Norfolk Southern disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, a conversation led by Seminar and Masters in Public Administration (MPA) Student Roger Sikes. The students then returned to the Grant Hearing Room at the Statehouse to hear from Raphel Davis-Williams, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio. This one was a student favorite. Seminar Students Rachel Harriman and Kayla Szynal are both pursuing JD/MPA programs and expressed interest in either working for or working with the ACLU as well as expressing gratitude for the work that the ACLU does.
The next stop on their trip was down the hall from the Grant Hearing Room, at the Governor’s Ceremonial Office. Here they heard from the Governor’s legislative staff, including a returning visit from CSU Alumnus Fred Moore who works for Governor Mike Dewine as a Legislative Affairs and Policy Associate. The Seminar then moved back down the hall to the Grant Hearing Room to meet Statehouse News Bureau Journalist, Jo Ingles, in an amazing experience that Sikes documented on Twitter saying, “CSU journalists engaging with [Jo Ingles] about the importance of student journalism.” During this meeting, Cauldron Contributors Victoria Fields (Early Childhood Education) and Cael Shaw (Political Science and International Relations) asked several questions regarding student journalism, something that Ingles supports through and through.
CSU’s campus rests in Ohio Senate District 23 which is represented by Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). The Seminar students had the opportunity to sit down with the Minority Leader in her office at the statehouse where Antonio was able to tell her story and share her experience of representing our senate district.
The next guest speaker is CSU’s own Timothy Cosgrove, a member of CSU’s Board of Trustees and partner in Cosgrove Jonhenry LLC. Cosgrove is a longtime lobbyist in Central Ohio and provided great insight and advice to the students about being involved with state and local politics without being in state and local politics. The last meeting on Tuesday was between the Seminar students and the House minority party legislative staff. The students met with a mixture of legislative aides, caucus staff, an LCS fellow, and media staff. The Seminar students found the contrast between the two caucus staff very interesting.
The headliner for Tuesday was the Legislative Reception hosted in the Statehouse Crypt by The Levin College of Public Affairs and Education. This event allowed the students to rub elbows over Hors d’oeuvres with state politicians, legislative staff, agency staff, etc. The event lasted two hours and provided the students with a great networking opportunity. Several Ohio politicians attended the event including but not limited to, Representative Dan Troy (D-Willowick), Senator Kent Smith (D-Euclid), Senator Bob Hackett (R-London), and Minority Leader Antonio.
Wednesday began with an hours-long shadowing experience. Each student was paired with a State Representative or Senator to see what “a day in the life” looks like for the members of the GA. I cannot speak to other students’ experiences as I was paired with Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland). My day started in the Harding Hearing room for a press conference where Cirino, Sen. Sandra O’Brien (R-Ashtabula), and Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) announced the introduction of now controversial Senate Bill 83 regarding higher education reform. Afterward, I traveled with Cirino and his two aides to his office where I had a one-on-one meeting with Cirino while his staff monitored Twitter and the Columbus Dispatch for outrage over SB 83. After the meeting, I had the privilege to sit in on a meeting between Cirino and representatives from the Pepper Pike Orange City school district. Finally, Cirino had a Higher Education and Workforce Committee hearing, which I attended. Through Cirnio, I was able to set up two additional meetings with Senate President Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) and Senator Louis Blessing (R-Colerain Township) to discuss a project I was working on for the class regarding Senate Bill 3 – Tax credits for community revitalization projects.
Wednesday afternoon, the Seminar moved to the Ohio Supreme Court where they met with Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner to talk about the duty of the court and the history of the court. In a surreal experience, Brunner invited the students up to the bench where she showed them a mouse carved into the wood of the bench. The students ended the day with the third and final conversation over dinner with Greg Lawson from the Buckeye Institute – a right-wing think tank – and Guille Bervejillo from Policy Matters Ohio – a left-wing think tank.
Starting the day on Thursday was a meeting with Mike Duffey, the Senior Vice Chancellor of Higher Education where he got into an in-depth discussion with Seminar students over student debt cancellation. The final speaker on the trip was the President of Gongwer – an Ohio politics news website that the students had access to throughout the semester – Scott Miller. Gongwer is a source that many of the students wish the CSU Library would offer for free so long that we are on school wifi. It is a source that can only be described as, “Heavenly.”
Throughout the course of the week, the students were each assigned a role as a “senator” to discuss a hypothetical recreational marijuana bill in a “committee” chaired by MPA student JB Baker. Throughout the week, the “committee” debated and implemented amendments to the bill so that on Thursday the students could take to the Senate floor – something the Senate allowed CSU to do by adopting Senate Resolution 31 – to debate and vote on the bill. Some students like Javonté Bray (Urban Studies and Political Science), Fields, Isabella Veri (Criminology), Taviana Carr (MSUS), Mike Cunnington (MPA), Patrick Semmens (Criminology), myself and so many more got into the role play aspect of the floor debate. The hypothetical bill passed with “bipartisan” support. It included provisions for taxation, expungement, and age restrictions. After the session ended, many students were back on their way to Cleveland while some spent the remainder of their break in Columbus.
All-in-all the CSU Columbus Seminar provided the students with an in-depth look at the ins and outs of state government in the great state of Ohio. Hopefully, the program opened the students’ eyes as much as it did mine. I would venture out and say that this experience has been life-changing for me. I also hope that Dr. Rubado will let me return on the trip as a TA once I start graduate school!