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Blue States Press

Northeast Ohio ought to reach for the star

By Thomas Suddes
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Published: Sunday, April 8, 2007

All that chit-chat about "regionalizing" local government in Greater Cleveland skirts the real deal: The richest treat the Easter Bunny could bring Northeast Ohio this season is statehood - as the 51st star on the American flag.

Think about it: No more downstate yahoos telling Greater Clevelanders whom to sleep with or what not to read; a state treasury to weld the region's state universities and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine into one great system; and, choicest temptation of all, a way to elude the Fool-Aid that downstate Ohio voters drink at presidential elections (e.g., George W. Bush).

No, statehood for the Western Reserve - an east-west line just under Youngstown reaching to Willard, then turning north 90 degrees toward Lake Erie - isn't a new theme in this corner. Nor, historically speaking, is it crazy: The Western Reserve was part of Connecticut, as, for all practical purposes, were the Firelands - Erie and Huron counties, plus Ohio's islands.

For that matter, Thomas Jefferson envisioned a state, called "Washington," bounded by Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, the Ohio River and Cuyahoga County's western line - drawn straight south all the way to where the Ohio meets West Virginia's Kanawha.

Recent blab about regionalizing Greater Cleveland's local governments makes statehood seem even less odd. Days ago, development mogul Sam Miller called for rethinking Greater Cleveland's fractured governmental structure (fractured, that is, if you discount the emerging supergovernment known as the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority).

True, the discussion about Greater Cleveland government skirts two sticky wickets.

The first: Maybe, just maybe, having 60 police departments in Cuyahoga County is safer - in terms of personal liberty - than having a countywide Big Brother.

The second is race, the chasm in America. To black voters, it can appear - sometimes accurately, sometimes not - that whenever demographics gives them political clout (on, say, a city council or a school board), suburbanites discover the joys of government "reform."

That's not Miller's angle, but still: Black Clevelanders have to wonder if "regionalized" government would dilute the voting power they have struggled so hard to win and keep.

Meanwhile, there's chit-chat about "regionalizing" America itself. For example, in a New York Times op-ed, noted in last Sunday's Plain Dealer, scholar Gar Alperovitz wrote that "the United States is almost certainly too big to be a meaningful democracy."

Alperovitz referred to the (debatable) desirability of grouping states - say, New England - into superstates. Trouble is, Vermont - once an independent republic - would become an independent republic again if some (quite sane) Vermonters could pull it off.

Either way, whether it's Miller or Alperovitz talking, there's discontent not just with government's performance, but with its form and scale. This keyboard's bias is that the closer a government is to voters, the more accountable it is: Voila! America's 51st state - Clevelandia.

Assuming it were composed of the Western Reserve and the Firelands (rather than the far more vast state that Jefferson proposed), our Clevelandia would have:

  • About 3.6 million people - close to the population of Connecticut.

  • Two U.S. senators and five U.S. House members - thus, seven electoral votes.

  • $2.8 billion (as of 2004) in state income tax now shipped south to Columbus.

  • A state bird: Hinckley's buzzard.

  • A state flag: a pair of dice on a field of blue (for Lake Erie).

  • A great seal: an accordion circled by beer steins, or a bagpipe circled by shamrocks.

  • A capital: if heritage were respected, in Hudson; but, realistically, for the campaign donations, in downtown Cleveland.

  • A state song: Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks."

    A unique selling proposition differentiating Clevelandia from Mother Ohio - culture, humor and politics more mature than the glorified Student Council debates that can now gridlock Columbus.

    Suddes, The Plain Dealer's former legislative reporter, writes from Ohio University.


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