Ohio ElderLawAnswers member attorney Armond Budish has been named Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, one of the most powerful elected positions in state government. Budish, 55, who was first elected to the Ohio House in 2006, will become the first Democratic Ohio House speaker since 1994 and the first Jewish speaker in state history.
Aided by President-elect Barack Obama's coattails and a woeful economy, Ohio Democrats wrested control of the House from Republicans in the 2008 election, picking up seven seats to give them a 53-46 advantage. Budish, who represents eastern Cuyahoga County, including parts of Cleveland, won by a landslide in his own bid for reelection, garnering nearly 88 percent of the vote. Afterwards, his Democratic colleagues tapped him to be their leader, in part because of his dogged fundraising efforts on their behalf. Budish raised an unheard-of $1.2 million this election cycle.
Although Budish has a low-key style that one political consultant describes as "professorial," his meteoric rise to one of the top spots in the state surprised only those who don't know him well. "He seems to achieve everything he tries to achieve. He just works harder than most people," said Michael Solomon, Budish's law partner for 15 years.
In a recent chat with ElderLawAnswers, Budish talked about the difficult times facing his state, what he hopes to achieve for Ohio's elderly and disabled, the qualities an elder law attorney brings to politics, and why he believes public service is so important.
ELA: How did you manage to become speaker after only one term?
Budish: A number of factors. I worked very hard. I worked for a number of the Democratic candidates, raised money and helped in a variety of ways. My colleagues felt that I would be best suited to be the leader on the Democratic side.
ELA: Did the Democrats in the state benefit from Obama's race?
Budish: Absolutely. The Obama phenomenon in Ohio helped us win seats as well. Their ground game was unprecedented. The Obama campaign's ability to identify Democratic voters and then help get them out to polling places was a huge advantage in this election. It really was astonishing, something we've never seen in Ohio before.
ELA: What do you hope to accomplish in this session?
Budish: We're facing terribly difficult times, and Ohio has been extremely hard hit. Ohio has been dependant on manufacturing over the years and manufacturing is one segment of the economy that's suffered greatly. Ohio is in terrible financial condition.
The number one priority for the state must be economic development. We cannot do the things that I care so much about -- taking care of our older citizens and their families, providing health care for people, making health care more affordable, education -- [without expanding] the economic base.
ELA: Are there any opportunities for helping the elderly in Ohio?
Budish: One thing we must do is look at a unified long-term care budget. This is something being done in many states. It pools all the money for long-term care to provide assistance for people who qualify for Medicaid in a broader array of services and not oriented so completely to nursing homes. We made some strides in the last session and we need to do a lot more so that more of our older and disabled population can get care in the community or at home where that's appropriate. In Ohio, something like three-quarters of the long-term care dollars go to nursing homes. In other states that percentage is a lot less.
ELA: Would you recommend other elder law attorneys go into politics?
Budish: Yes, absolutely. I believe that all attorneys, in fact I believe everyone, should be doing what they can for others. Community service is something that I've always been committed to. I think government service is one way to do it, but certainly not the only way. Many of my friends who practice elder law are doing many things to help their community, whether it's serving the Alzheimer's Association or working in disability organizations. But I do think there's huge need right now and we need to do what we can in the ways that we're most comfortable doing it.
ELA: How did being an elder attorney prepare you for your current role?
Budish: Elder law attorneys by virtue of their practice help families and are very sensitive to the needs of the community. We know the pain that people are feeling and we see the suffering that goes on. It's the experience in elder law that has helped me be a better public official, because I do recognize the issues and problems that face families today.