A quick cup of coffee with Governor-elect Mike DeWine: Phillip Morris

December 19, 2018

A quick cup of coffee with Governor-elect Mike DeWine: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND -- The near-downtown coffee shop was set to close for the day and the young barista was fidgeting. Looking in the direction of a well-dressed couple who had walked in twenty minutes earlier, she made a polite announcement.

“We close in 3 minutes. I should have told you earlier. I’m sorry,” she said sounding genuinely apologetic.

As the couple rose to leave, I could not resist having some fun. After all, Cleveland’s Artefino Café is well known for displaying the work of local artists and its routine hosting of impromptu political interviews.

“Are you really kicking out Governor Mike DeWine and his wife?” I teased.

Before the embarrassed employee could respond, Mike DeWine smiled at her and simultaneously corrected me on his current job title:

“Governor-elect. And, do you know of any other place around here where we can continue our conversation?” he asked the barista.

The brief coffee shop exchange with the barista Monday afternoon offered an authentic glimpse into an earthy side of DeWine. After eight years of the out-sized television personality of Governor John Kasich, who once publicly called a Columbus police officer an idiot for issuing him a traffic citation, now comes DeWine, an unassuming governor-elect who understands that closing time means just that.

DeWine wears the mantle of modesty quite well. He possesses an authentic country folksiness that likely comes courtesy of his Yellow Springs, Ohio birth pedigree, as well as decades living in the village of Cedarville, Ohio. But, make no mistake about it: DeWine has never lacked colossal ambition.

Few men have ever held unwavering designs on the office of Ohio Governor more strongly than DeWine. In 1990, he challenged Bob Taft and George Voinovich in the GOP primary for governor. The then rural congressman realized he wasn’t ready to govern the state and accepted Voinovich’s offer to serve as his running mate.

Now, nearly three decades later, DeWine will be sworn in as Ohio’s 70th chief executive, boasting one of the most potent political resumes of any Ohio governor, including the two who went on to become United States presidents. He also appears to be crystal clear on his focus and confident in his ability to deliver.

“Watch where I go the first few days. Watch where I put the spotlight. Our agenda is going to be about children. It’s going to be about Ohio’s future,” said DeWine.

When I met with DeWine I anticipated our conversations to center around children’s issues, as well as his plans to continue to battle Ohio’s raging opioid crisis. Those issues were the cornerstones of his bruising campaign against Democrat Richard Cordray. That race was one of the most expensive and closely watched mid-term elections in the nation.

However, it was Fran DeWine, his wife of 51 years, who proved to be equally passionate on the issue of children during the conversation. Her husband listened intently as Fran DeWine, the mother of 8 adult children and 23 grandchildren, described her vision for the governor’s mansion, where the governor and first lady plan to move into early in 2019.

“It’s a home that needs to be lived in. It’s a place that needs children running around. It’s a place that should be inviting, lively and full of energy,” said Fran DeWine, who met her future husband when both were first-grade students in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

During the gubernatorial campaign, DeWine pledged to expand access to early childhood education, increase access to mental health services, and reform Ohio’s inconsistent foster care system. With his creation of a cabinet level post of Director of Children’s Initiatives as his first action as governor-elect, his focus on children couldn’t be more emphatically stated.

As Ohio continues to withstand bruising population loss, and business defection, this incoming governor appears to be relentlessly focused on the future of children, which is the state’s best short and long-term hope.

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