Thursday, July 7, 2011

Full-service bar coming to the Ohio Statehouse

The Dispatch reports:
"The first full-service bar will appear at the Statehouse on July 11 when the reinvented Capitol Cafe reopens in the lower level of the landmark state building. The cafe is closed for 10 days to accommodate a change in operators, to Milo's Catering and Banquet Services from Catering by Design.
"The big change will be the addition of a full-service bar, "complete with flat screen televisions," according to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, the state agency responsible for the Statehouse and grounds. The bar will host special events and "private happy hours," but it also will be open to the public at times to be designated."
The big question is whether lawmakers will feel the need to liquor up before or after casting their votes.  Maybe both. 

So, who came up with this bright idea? We may not know where it originated, but authority to conduct operations in the Statehouse lies with the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB).  The board is made up of 13 members, five appointed by the governor (including his Chief of Staff);  two members each from the House and Senate, one from each party, appointed by Speaker of the House and President of the Senate; a former House Speaker and Senate President (again, appointed by the current respective leaders); the clerk of the Senate and the clerk of the House. 

It's not a stretch to say these are political appointments, though board members receive no benefits or salary. Governor Kasich appointed his friend, lobbyist Robert Klaffky, to the board in May. The Ohio Revised Code gives the board, "sole authority to regulate all uses of the capitol square. The uses shall include, but not be limited to, the casual and recreational use of the capitol square."  In other words, the board has very wide latitude over use of the capitol grounds. 

Executive Director of the CSRAB, William Carleton, in his annual report to the Senate Finance Committee,  explained the main purpose of the board's operations on behalf of the capitol:
"The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) was created in 1988 to renovate and maintain the historic character and integrity of the Capitol Square complex while providing for the health, safety and convenience of those who work in and visit the complex. "
Well, yes, I suppose providing booze right there in the Statehouse would be a "convenience" to those who work there.  We wouldn't want them stumbling across the traffic on Broad Street following an afternoon of binge drinking at the Hyatt, would we?  

Carleton also briefed the committee about the capitol's visitors:
"The Statehouse continues to be a place for all Ohioans to come and see their government in action. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 75,000 students and visitors who participated in guided tours. In addition, 111.230 individuals attended 422 special events held at the Ohio Statehouse. And an additional 300.000 individuals visited our Capitol to meet with their legislators. attendhearings or participate in an advocacy day. This is a testament that Ohio’s citizens want to visit the "People’s House” and see their government in action."
Will the student tours now include a stop at the bar to see their "government in action"?

It's not like these concerns are unfounded.  See here and here for a list of lawmakers with drunk driving arrests. This seems to be a true bipartisan effort. 

Included in the list is State Rep. Louis Blessing (R) who was arrested for drunk driving in 2002, and State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R), who was picked up in Indiana earlier this year for DUI.

Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder has thus far taken no action to discipline his friend, Rep. Mecklenborg, instead, issuing a concerned statement which includes:
"We are working with Representative Mecklenborg to find a solution that is in the best interests of the representative, his family and all concerned."
I'm not sure exactly what solution would be in the "best interest of the representative," who risked the lives of his passenger and perhaps hundreds of others on the roads, but I'm thinking that keeping the guy  away from the bottle might be a good start.  On the other hand, if he could just walk down the hall to the bar in the capitol, it might keep him off the roads. 

Incidentally, Speaker Batchelder is on the CSRAB and likely voted to put the bar in the Statehouse, so maybe that is his solution after all. 

This is just an all-around bad idea. Aside from the fact that lawmakers have a difficult enough time making good decision, and that the place is usually crawling with children,  the Statehouse should be a place of sobriety. Not just in terms of the absence of alcohol, but a sobriety of attitude.  Important and weighty matters are being considered and legislated in that building.  The atmosphere should reflect the seriousness of the task at hand.  Having a state-sponsored bar a few feet from the important government business being conducted will only serve to give Ohioans one more reason to suspect their government is not working for them. 

Contact information for CSRAB board members: 

Richard H. Finan, Former Senate President and CSRAB Board Chair  email 614.621.7762
Tom Niehaus, Senate President   email   (614) 466-8082
Bill Batchelder, Speaker of the House of Representatives email  (614) 466-8140
Jo Ann Davidson, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives email  (614)224-0777
Eric Kearney, Senator  email  (614) 466-5980 
Stephen Slesnick, House of Representatives email  (614) 466-8030
Beth Hansen, Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor 614-466-3555
Laura Clemens, Clerk of the House of Representatives   (614) 644-6721
Vincent Keeran, Clerk of the Senate
Tom Fries, Representing Ohio Building Authority   email  (614) 628-6937
Neal Zimmers, Representing Ohio Arts Council   email  (614)286-2586
Robert F. Klaffky, Representing the Public-At-Large   email   (614)224-7000
Roderick H. Willcox, Representing Ohio Historical Society  email  (614)334.6146

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