A Sunday Chat with Tom Rentschler

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A Sunday Chat with Tom Rentschler - A Sunday chat with Tom Rentschler Former state...
A Sunday chat with Tom Rentschler Former state representative looks back (EDITOR'S NOTE: Gov. John Gilligan says that a top priority in the present legislative session will be an "ethics" bill, a key feature of which would require elected officials to disclose their financial holdings. 'With the legislature much'in the public eye, we sought a conversation with Tom Rentschler, who served in the legislature for two terms, from 1966-70. He retired voluntarily, leaving a seat which has been filled by fellow Republican Tom Kindness. Rentschler is president of The Citizens Bank in Hamilton. He was interviewed in his office by Opinion Page editor John Hyde.) JOURNAL: Why did you decide to quit the legislature? RENTSCHLER: Primarily because of the imposition imposition on my time. I guess you would call me a Jeffersonian. I am a real.strong believer in a citizen assembly. The legislature had gotten to the point 1) where it was profitable for guys to run, because they were making better than $12,000 a year and, 2) the legislators seemed to think you could stay there forever and accomplish greater things. So, we spent alniost nine months in session, and you just couldn't work at the bank and do that too. So, I called it quits. The next session, the 109th, was there for more than nine months, and the one now starting is going to be there the whole year, off and on. Some lawyers can do that, particularly lawyers who work with a firm. Individuals ean't. A lot of my friends are no longer in the legislature, because of that very reason. That was one of the issues in my voting against the pay increase, from $8000 to $12,000.1 voted against it because I didn't think we were worth any .more than eight grand. The money should be just compensation from your local income production, instead of being t a job. JOURNAL: Do you think the legislature .could accomplish accomplish it's work in a shorter time? RENTSCHLER: Oh, no question about that. Politics is a back-scratching game. An awful lot of people put in bills which they know will never pass, with the idea of satisfying the local constituency, campaign supporters supporters or contributors, Bill X or Bill Y. As a result, a bill gets. drafted, it has hearings, and never gets beyond the first house. The leadership doesn't have any intention on it. The sponsor doesn't have any intention. intention. So, an awful lot of time is wasted that way, placating people at home, or mending political fences or laying the groundwork for re-election. It's great to say in your brochure that you were a sponsor of such-and such legislation and the other guys beat it. JOURNAL: Do you think that's true of the federal level, too? , RENTSCHLER: Oh, more so. See, I don't think that a congressman or state senator or legislator has any business being involved in the day to day difficulties of the constituency. · The representative -is elected by the people to represent the people in the legislature.. He is not their representative to government. There There are three houses of government and he only represents them in the legislature. He should deal with their difficulties -- the inability to get a welfare check or conflict with heating and plumbing laws -- if it is helping him analyze difficulties in an attempt to make corrective legislation. If you have problems with the government, you take it up with the Governor. That's the administrative branch. Then if you're not satisfied, you have to go to the courts. The system provides that. But, unfortunately, congressmen and state representatives seem to think they have to take care of local people's problems. You would like to be able to do that. And, people do have a hard time dealing with the administrative branch. But that's not the representative's responsibility. It prostitutes the legislator. He has his interests diverted; he has his priorities dilluted. JOURNAL: Most people think in terms of writing their congressman. Do state legislators get many requests? RENTSCHLER: I got, looking back on it, a fair amount of mail. Primarily teachers, educators. They were the strongest letter-writing group. If you talk to some of the people up there, I got a miniscule amount. I would get, maybe, eight letters, or in an organized campaign 50 letters. My seat mate would say that he got 3,000. Well, I don't believe it. He didn't get 3,000 letters in any way shape or form. Why would the people in Stark County write to their legislator any more than the people of Butler County? He didn't get 3,000 letters. He just told the press that he got 3,000 letters'. But they in turn would respond, sometimes, to every single teacher, with a mimeographed letter. And say: "I am concerned about your problems." I think that's a violation of a trust that is implied, in the expense that the state absorbs. JOURNAL: What about pressures? RENTSCHLER: The pressures that I received were small. I think that I protected myself in advance from those. People pretty well knew in advance what kind of person I was, that I was not subject to pressures or intimidation, that I couldn't have my vote swayed by a steak dinner or a bottle of whiskey. There are an awful lot of votes that are won by dinners and promises of entertainment and vacations, that sort of thing. JOURNAL: Are there many professional lobbiests in Columbus? RENTSCHLER: Yes. Lots. There are two different kinds and they serve two entirely different functions. The really responsible lobbiests are probably, in this day and age, a vital function. They serve as sources of information. We had so many bills that you j u s t - . couldn't keep up with them. You had to go to the special interest groups and say 'what does this mean.' If the guy is true, he'll give you both sides of the picture. Then he would say, but you ought to vote for my side. The other kid of lobbiest was the guy who saw where his most likely votes were and solicited them in an entirely different fashion. Steaks and vacations and promises of help in the re-election campaign. Those kind are informative but they're very selective in who they talk to. Those kind usually didn't talk to me because I made my intentions known to the public, in advance. Some legislators like to play both sides of the fence. A typical example, there was a legislator who put in a bill to -require red, yellow and green lights on automobiles. When you're driving forward the light shows green, · when your foot is off the gas the light shows yellow, and when your foot is on the brake the light shows red. He put it in only to have all the lobbiests come storming down from Detroit and take him out to dinner. He got a couple of weeks of free dinners. He put the bill in every year. 'The public would benefit if the legislature would not go into session for two years' JOURNAL: Are you worried that a true citizen's legislature might limit it to a person who had enough money or a person with a special type of occupation? RENTSCHLER: It might. But that's like the Red Queen, worrying in advance. The legislature now is limited to certain occupations. occupations. It's the greatest advertising a lawyer can get. Promotes his business, no question about it. He's in demand. There are a lot of schoolteachers because it's a very effective lobbying group. There were no physicians, as I recall, when I was in the legislature. No dentists. In my second term, I was the only professional banker. In my first term, there were two. There were many legislators who were on bank boards, but many were put on bank boards after they were in the legislature. Not beforehand. There were some merchants. Retailers. A preponderance were lawyers, maybe 40 per cent. There were no blue collar people. JOURNAL: Do you think lawyers get business because they are in the legislature. In other words, people become clients because they know the lawyer can affect a certain type of legislation. RENTSCHLER: Oh, I'm sure. A lawyer can't advertise, advertise, but there's no difficulty in letting people know he's in the legislature. If special interests want a bill introduced they go to him. Then, in return, he can deal with workman's compensation cases because he knows the right guy to call in Columbus at the right time, -- liquor license, automobile license, trucks . . . JOURNAL: Do you agree with Gov. Gilligan that we need some sort of "ethics" legislation? RENTSCHLER: No. I think it's a sham. JOURNAL: Because it won't, work? RENTSCHLER: I don't think it will work. It won't serve its purpose. The main requirement is that first you you have to say you're going to be ethical, and then you have to disclose your finances, and of your family. That begs the issue. It avoids the problem of the person who is in improper investments before he is elected. Shouldn't all candidates have to reveal their position? Of course they're not going to; it's only after a person is elected. But shouldn't you have the opportunity opportunity to vote for an honest man? Secondly, I'm not so sure the public has the right to know the intimacies of a person's financial position or that of his family. (The only reason the family was brought into it was to avoid the possibility of transfer of assets.) When you say the public has the right to know about financial investments, does the public aiso have the right to know about emotional stability? The Eagleton affair certainly indicates that emotional stability is important. Maybe they ought to have a psychiatric examination to make sure they're capable. And then you ought to have a physical examination, to make sure you don't elect them and they have a heart attack the next day. ,,. . . , In our system, I think we have to be willing to take the chance for a year or two. If a person proves to be absolutely dishonest or incapable, well, don't elect him next time. I don't think the ethics bill is going to produce anything. We can legislate morality. It's one of favorite cliches that legislation is an expression of morality. But I don't think we can, by pronouncement of a statement, ask a person who is inherently dishonest to become honest. There are certainly to get around ethics legislation. JOURNAL: Part of the argument, as I understand it, against disclosure, is the fear that it would drive certain good men from government, who would feel simply isn't worth the trouble. RENTSCHLER: That's right. Or, if it didn't you out, it would make you divest yourself of investments. With the philosophy that we are trying to run citizen's assembly, it's a shame that we would person to divest himself of future gains. We're not asking people to give their entire lives to But that's a difference in philosophies. Most people are not strong adherents of the citizen's assembly philosophy. JOURNAL: Would you approve of some form of disclosure simply within the legislature itself, say committee of some sort? RENTSCHLER: I suppose. But that wouldn't satisfy those who feel disclosure ought to be a record. They would say that they are all looking after other's self-interests. 'I won't tell on you if you tell on rne.' JOURNAL: Part of Gov. Gilligan's argument for ethics legislation is that it would' restore trust in government. Do you think people lack trust in officials? RENTSCHLER: Oh, I think so. JOURNAL: What can be done about it, then? RENTSCHLER: It has to be a grass roots effort. This is the thing that always strikes me about trend toward the independent voter. They sit back complain about the candidates, failing to recognize that it's the independent voter who has no choice selection of the candidates. It's only the registered Republicans and Democrats through their precinct organizations and selection committees who ultimately choose the candidates. " They may be proud of being independents, but they've lost their true voice in government. So, it has to start at the grass roots, and then screening committees have to start choosing better men. Men who are truly dedicated to public service, on a citizen basis, rather than as a full-time career. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a local businessman to spend a couple of years on city or a couple of years in Columbus. JOURNAL: Are there particular laws you think legislature should enact? RENTSCHLER: I think the public would benefit the legislature would not go into session for two There is a tendency when people are there and tired or bored or anxious to get home to pass haste or in the heat of passion. And, when you're and have time on your hands, there is a tendency placate the people at home by introducing frivilous ' legislation. The major budget bills were passed after 24 being steadily awake and having debate and argument. I don't think you can pass sound on that basis. , At the same time, certainly hundreds of man were spent listening to possibilities of state songs. there were bills to make the morning dove a bird. It was a bad joke. There were coos from balcony. It was shameful. JOURNAL: Is the leadership as powerful at the state level as it appears to be-at the national RENTSCHLER: Yes. It was especially true when was there, when all the offices were held by one party. The leadership could do anything it wanted and the minority party could scream and jump down. They would geta little bit of press and that's Even the amount of press they would get could controlled eventually by excluding certain members of the press who were especially inquisitive. JOURNAL: What kind of shape do you think Republicans are in in Ohio now? RENTSCHLER: Pretty weak and pretty splintered. Rhodes' desire to re-run is bringing mixed responses. Some say he's an unbeatable force and the greatest governor who ever lived. Others say he's an old and it's time to look to the future. The Republicans made a serious mistake in letting Roger Cloud run. He wasn't qualified for office certainly wasn't qualified as a campaigner. The Democrats aren't really a strong party. They didn't have sweeping victories by any means. Nixon creamed the state. The Democrats did have some selected victories the legislature, but that's primarily the result of a realignment of the districts. JOURNAL: Do you think Taft and Rhodes are to fight this out to the bitter end? RENTSCHLER: I have a feeling that will be out in some fashion. Although there are a lot of who want to be governor. There is Lukens, and Kurfess, Mike Maloney, Ted Gray, Seth Taft, Keating. That's a pretty good list of people. 1 voted against the pay increase because I didn't think we were worth any more than eight An awful lot of time is wasted placating people home or mending political fences

Clipped from
  1. The Journal News,
  2. 28 Jan 1973, Sun,
  3. Page 8

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  • A Sunday Chat with Tom Rentschler

    cruther64 – 30 Jun 2013

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