Impressions of Rhodes differ

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Former Republican Gov.

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Former Republican Gov. James A. Rhodes left his imprint on the state he governed for 16 years. He was a politician who elicited strong opinions about whether that imprint was positive or negative.

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His supporters recall a governor who moved the state forward economically by promoting the state in Europe and the Far East and who brought foreign auto-related industries to the state. His detractors blame him for focusing on heavy industry while ignoring the high-tech businesses that are the spark plug of the current economic boom.

Supporters note that Mr. Rhodes used state funding to expand our universities, making them more accessible to citizens in the state. His opponents point out that he allowed our public schools, especially in the urban centers, to decline while funding new campus buildings that were named for him.

During his four terms, Mr. Rhodes used state dollars for office buildings and infrastructure improvements to develop Columbus into the largest city in the state. At the same time, he ignored the plight of the Appalachian counties of southeast Ohio even though he was born and grew up in the region.

His detractors also remember the dark side of Mr. Rhodes – the governor who

sent the National Guard to quell student disturbances at Kent State University in 1970. Four students died when the troops opened fire on the unarmed protesters. Mr. Rhodes also used the National Guard to remove trucks from the Ohio Turnpike during the truckers’ protest of rising fuel prices in the 1970s.

His supporters argue that the former governor had no choice during the Kent

State riots. He had to maintain order. His detractors will never forgive or forget what he did.

Even those who disliked his politics admit that they admired the man who used his folksy ways to build a coalition of Democrats and Republicans that kept him in office for four terms. Perhaps nobody defined "rags to riches" more than Jimmy Rhodes, the son of a poor Jackson County coal miner who became a power in state and national Republican circles did.

In addition to being governor, Mr. Rhodes won several offices in Columbus city government including mayor, and he served 10 years as state auditor.

Up until his death, Rhodes remained active in politics, serving as an advisor and helping to promote Republicans running for office. Just five months ago, Mr. Rhodes sponsored a fund-raiser in Jackson County for U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine.

Mr. Rhodes death on Sunday at age 91 will not stop the debate about his legacy. Had Kent State never happened, Mr. Rhodes would certainly be remembered as one of the state’s greatest governors. The shootings, however, will always cast him in a negative light.