A story in The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, covered the visit by Governor Strickland and two state representatives to a Town Hall meeting organized by the OSU College Democrats on May 14, 2007. I was surprised that the lecture hall was only roughly half full, but the event has not been well advertised; I only read about it less than 12 hours before it occurred. State Representatives Tracy Heard and Dan Stewart also spoke and answered questions. I live in Representative Heard’s district.
I will not repeat what The Lantern has already covered. However, it did not print my question or the answers it garnered. In their speeches the governor and legislators spoke about the need to develop alternative energies, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce our production of greenhouse gasses. In response to this, I asked what policies or strategies they had for making the streets safer for those of us who ride bicycles. I held my bicycle helmet in the air as I asked the question.
The Governor answered by talking about better educating and enforcing laws upon drivers to keep bicycles safe. He also said that he was planning to use some sort of federal bond money to buy more buses with bicycle racks for central Ohio. Representatives Heard and Stewart spoke about the need for a “culture shift” away from individuals in cars to use of mass transit and other alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycles.
Rep. Heard reminded me that such issues are largely local and that the mayor and city council might be good places to start advocating for bicyclists. Rep. Steward explained that he was an avid bicyclist until a recent back injury. He also said that while neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, spend $30-50 per person on mass transit, Ohio spends only $1.50. That explains a lot. In a more humorous moment, he said that alternative transportation needed a song like, “She Thinks my Bus is Sexy.” The Governor responded, “Did you say bus?”
As the Dispatch article reported, Rep. Heard spoke about the need for enforceable sexual predator laws. She explained that this issue particularly concerned her because of the high density of registered sex offenders in her district. Indeed, I discovered a surprising number in my neighborhood.
When the governor discussed the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, he brought a surprising amount of personal experience to the issue. Apparently, he was formerly a mental health counselor in charge of decided whether people should be forcibly committed. He told several stories of his encounters with the mentally ill. He reached two conclusions. First, this nation needs more effective mental health treatment for people like the shooter. Second, in a free society, we can never be totally safe. I agree.
Overall, I was impressed with my state representative. Though he seemed tired, the Governor impressed me by actually appearing and engaging students. Rep. Heard was extremely articulate, and she seemed thoughtful and experienced, despite having been elected to the post only last November. She also seemed to be the least partisan of the three speakers, which I appreciated.