An institute the late U.S. Sen. John Glenn helped envision for promoting professionalism, bipartisanship and civility among elected officials was launched Wednesday in his native Ohio.
Its organizers said work began on the State of Ohio Leadership Institute before Glenn’s death in December and that it was not a reaction to the tone of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“Compromise is not a bad thing. Bipartisanship is not a bad thing. Talking with civility is very important,” said Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger. “These conversations, believe it or not? Well before the presidential campaign even started in 2016.”
Rosenberger, a Republican who chairs the National Speakers Conference, said the bipartisan group discussed the importance of giving people elected to office in small and large governments the skills necessary to govern effectively. That includes practical training in areas such as managing public money and guidance on striking political compromise.
Glenn spent 24 years in Senate
Ohio State President Michael Drake said the institute is “entirely in line with the way the senator conducted his life.” Glenn, a Democrat, spent 24 years in the Senate.
“He’s one of the few people who actually looked down on us literally, as well as figuratively,” Drake said, referring to Glenn’s history-making orbit of Earth in 1962. “He really did see the world as a place, as a whole, that could work together to do a better job.”
Ohio State University’s Glenn College of Public Affairs will house the institute. Dean Trevor Brown said it will fill an important gap by concentrating on legislative rather than executive branch leaders.
“It’s an area that I have to admit that schools like ours have, to some degree, been neglectful of over the years,” he said. “Programs in public administration and public affairs have been very strong contributors to improving the capabilities of government, but primarily on the executive side.”
Ohio State’s program, dating back to 1969, has largely focused on training civil servants, Brown said.
Organizers visited the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as they looked to models for the new Ohio institute, which is still in the planning stages.
Disagreement over funding
Start-up funding of $5 million for the institute sparked disagreement in Ohio’s Republican-led state Legislature.
The House under Rosenberger put the money into the state budget and the Senate removed it. The final version of the budget bill, signed Friday by Republican Gov. John Kasich, included the money.
Rosenberger rejected any suggestion that establishing the institute was an effort to provide ex-lawmakers with a place to land after they lose elections or depart office due to term limits.
“That’s about the goofiest damn question I’ve ever heard. No, it’s not the intent for it,” he said. He added he has no plans to work for the institute himself when he reaches term limits next year.
Rosenberger said commonalities discovered among speakers of both parties who were involved in the National Speakers Conference drove the early conversations that led to the institute’s founding.