Former Ohio Senate President Bill Harris has passed away after months of battling cancer. Harris was born in Tennessee and got his college degree in Arizona, but his political career was all Ohio. In 1995, he left his car dealership in Ashland after being easily elected, in a heavily Republican district, to the Ohio House. The Marine veteran served there until 2000 when former Gov. Bob Taft appointed him to fill the Senate seat vacated by former Senator Dick Schafrath, who took an administrative position.
Harris was considered a long shot in the race for the Senate presidency in 2005, but he won and served in that job until 2010 when he left due to term limits. Gov. Taft said Harris had exceptionally strong leadership qualities.
“He was someone you could always trust. His word was his bond. He was concerned about others, their situation, their feelings. But he was also focused on moving the ball ahead and getting things done.”
Taft said one of Harris’ biggest accomplishments was shepherding a massive budget reform bill through the legislature in 2005 – a bill that included Taft’s 21% income tax cut phased in over five years.
“I believe he had a passion to accomplish that.”
Current Senate President Larry Obhof echoed his praise for Harris’ leadership skills.
“I think he did a great job as Senate president. I also represent the same area as he did because there’s some overlap between his former district and my current one. And I can tell you from personal experience that he was a pillar of the community here, someone that the people were very proud of, someone you could always look up to, who you always knew was representing the interests of the people of this area.”
“I really remember him as a remarkable, wonderful human being.”
That’s JoAnn Davidson, the first woman to serve as Ohio House Speaker. She said Harris was genuine and widely respected in the legislature.
“I just remember that he was so supportive and standing by to help you in some of the very difficult decisions we had in the legislature. He was a person that you would look to and usually lean on a little bit because of the thought process he used in examining the issue on both sides.”
The Ohio Republican Party’s Blaine Kelly said Harris led a full life in the military, then as a car dealership owner and after that as a political leader.
“You know he really embodied the American dream. Everyone who knew him knew that he had a kind heart and he was committed to serving his constituents.”
As he left the Ohio Legislature, Harris called for cooperation.
“I encourage all of the legislators on both sides of the aisle to talk to one other and work together along with our new Governor, John Kasich, and the new leadership of the Ohio House of Representatives to move our great state forward. The responsibility is yours and I will be watching from my farm in Ashland County.”
Harris had been battling cancer in recent months. He was 83 years old.