Strickland, Ryan speak at NEOUCOM

Robert Taylor

Amid the celebration, 16 standing ovations and numerous pats-on-the-back, Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan stressed several issues facing Ohio and the country Friday at an event in Rootstown.

Intended as a “thank you” to Portage County’s Democratic Party, the governor and congressman spoke at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

“I think that the most pressing issue of our time right now is to find a way, with dignity, to get us out of the war in Iraq,” Ryan said to a group of more than 175 people.

Strickland echoed Ryan’s sentiments, adding he receives numerous letters daily from those fighting in the military.

“They are precious sons and daughters of America and Ohio, and we must hold them in our hearts and thoughts,” Strickland said. “This is a sober time in our history and we should always remember to be thankful and send our thoughts and our prayers their way. We are trying to recapture the country from those so stubborn they refuse to listen. We can’t give up, and we continue to fight.”

Strickland also underlined his plans to make college more affordable, noting the sobering facts that it currently costs, on average, 47 percent more to attend a public university in Ohio than the national average, that the average tuition increase per year has been 9 percent since 1996 and that Ohio is 37th out of the 50 states in producing college graduates.

But things are about to change, Strickland said, noting he originally wanted colleges to have a tuition increase of 0 percent the first year, and a 3 percent increase the second year.

“My Republican friends in the House want to reverse that, giving a 3 percent increase the first year and 0 the second year,” Strickland said. “The fact is that it represents a tax cut for every person wanting to send a son or daughter to college in Ohio. We won that argument.”

Strickland also noted that though he hasn’t found a way to solve elementary school funding problems entirely, he feels that the increased per-pupil allocations are a step in the right direction.

Health care is also a major issue facing the country, Strickland said.

“I’m concerned about the fact that when I was first elected to Congress, they said they had about 37 million uninsured Americans at the time, and now they are saying it’s 45 million or more,” Strickland said. “The problem has worsened.”

He also noted he wants to send a message that under a Democratic administration, every person younger than 21 can get affordable health care.

Also of note were Strickland’s property tax cuts for the elderly, and he joked that his Republican friends don’t know what to do with a Democrat who wants to cut taxes.

Many of those attending paid $35 per person or $60 a couple for their seat, with some paying $500 per person or $750 a couple to attend a benefit immediately prior to the event. Money raised will help 2008 Democratic hopefuls in the upcoming elections.

Strickland said he is looking forward to the presidential election.

“The political tsunami will be centered in Ohio,” Strickland said. “Every politician is going to come here, and we will welcome them and ask them to spend lots of money here.”

Contact public affairs reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].