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STATUE OF Governor James A. Rhodes (1909–2001) stands in front of the Columbus, Ohio, government building that also bears his name. Assuming that no one else would erect a monument for him, Rhodes had the state legislature authorize the statue while he was still in office. One journalist cleverly remarked that the statue was “a tribute in bronze to his brass.” That writer nailed Rhodes’s penchant for self-promotion. Yet Rhodes, and not the reporter, has managed to define the meaning of the statue. When asked once what people should remember about him, Rhodes answered with a reflective wisdom: “Nothing,” he said. “Why should anyone push anything upon themselves? Ten years from now they’ll look at that statue and say, ‘When was he governor?’” Rhodes was right, but not because he fails to merit our retrospection. Rather, citizens of Ohio have forgotten Rhodes because his ideas, once innovative, have become the conventional wisdom. When Ohioans do remember Rhodes, they usually recall specific, unrelated actions rather than the complex patterns and long-term consequences of his policies. Positive stories, for example, include his crisis leadership during the blizzard of 1978 and Rhodes’s Raiders, the development team he sent to other states and nations to attract business to Ohio. In contrast, the most important negative event was the May 4, 1970, tragedy at Kent State University. Rhodes sent the Ohio National Guard there to quell campus unrest. His attempt to restore order resulted in four deaths when guardsmen fired on antiwar protestors and bystanders. As even May 4, 1970, recedes in the memories of Ohioans, however , Rhodes becomes less than real, distorted even, much like his 22 284 James A. Rhodes and the 1960s Origin of Contemporary Ohio WILLIAM RUSSELL COIL  A vantne_3rd_chap22.qxd 11/10/2003 3:35 PM Page 284 statue. Affecting a too-trim physique, a button-down business suit, and an ever-present briefcase, the “tribute in bronze to his brass” subdues his spontaneous, earthy vitality and his forceful, constant motion. Just as the statue hides the real Rhodes, the most commonly repeated anecdotes fail to suggest his subtle legacy. Rhodes oversaw a crucial change in Ohio’s political economy. Often dismissed as a quaintly entertaining relic of Ohio’s rust belt past, in reality Rhodes changed long-standing political and economic relationships, those intangibles that shaped the civic priorities of Ohio voters. In four terms under Rhodes, from 1963 to 1971 and 1975 to 1983, Ohioans linked freedom and progress to material abundance and consumer choice. To achieve these goals, Rhodes created a strong, centralized administrative apparatus. In building this new state, Rhodes redefined how federalism worked in Ohio, reshaped the priorities of the public and private sector, and redesigned social policy to fit within the narrow parameters of economic growth. Rhodes was certainly a bricks and mortar, pork barrel politician, a politician 285 JAMES A. RHODES FIG. 18 James A. Rhodes. Courtesy of The Ohio State University Archives. vantne_3rd_chap22.qxd 11/10/2003 3:35 PM Page 285 whose tangible achievements—highways, parks, and buildings— Ohioans use everyday. Rhodes remains significant, however, because the way he exercised state power in the 1960s still limits public policy choices today. Three factors shaped the childhood and subsequent political career of James Rhodes. First, his working-class parents searched for middle-class economic stability, modeling ambition for the young Rhodes. Second, his father died when Rhodes was nine, introducing instability into this search. Third, and finally, his youth consisted of small-town, working-class, coal-mining culture, steeping Rhodes in the disposition, desires, and demands of the common man. Rhodes began political life in 1934 with a successful run for ward committeeman in Columbus, Ohio, and finished active politics in 1986 with an ill-advised attempt to win a fifth term as governor. Through six extraordinary decades, Rhodes campaigned and governed in ways that proceeded from these three factors. James Rhodes Sr., the father of the future governor, strove to improve his status in life and the lot of his family. When the younger James was born on September 13, 1909, the elder Rhodes worked as a coal miner in the southern Ohio town of Coalton, in Jackson County. The son, later in life, recalled that his father also participated in local politics. The coal-mining industry, however, declined. In 1910, Rhodes Sr., in search of better economic opportunities, moved his family to the small town of Jasonville, Indiana. Located in Greene County, a hilly...


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