George V. Voinovich Dead At Age 79, Former Republican Often Bucked The System

Former two-term governor of Ohio George V. Voinovich died on Sunday. While a cause has not been released, the 79-year-old passed away peacefully while asleep in his Cleveland home, according to his wife, Janet.

Mr. Voinovich suffered from a medical condition known as progressive sinus bradycardia, which caused his heart rate to slow over a period of years. More recently, other health problems began to plague the lifelong Republican.

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However, Mr. Voinovich remained active despite his health. Just two days before his death, he spoke at a Slovenian Independence Day event in Cleveland and was selected to be a delegate at next month’s Republican National Convention.

In addition to his term as Ohio’s governor, Mr. Voinovich served 12 years in the U.S. Senate. Often in opposition to fellow Republicans, he went up against President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and disapproved of the Iraq war.

In a show of support for Ohio’s large auto manufacturing sector, Mr. Voinovich supported the proposed federal bailout of the industry. He was also one of a very few GOP members that wanted to increase taxes to fund disaster relief efforts.

Mr. Voinovich was a vocal advocate for fiscal responsibility. Under the Obama administration, he voted against a $787 billion economic stimulus package that, according to him, spent too much money on programs that would do nothing to boost the economy.

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“He was a unifier who thought outside the box, never gave up and worked hard for the ideas he believed in up until the very end of his life,” said current Ohio Governor John R. Kasich. “Thanks to that leadership he saved Cleveland, governed Ohio compassionately and responsibly and was a candid voice for reason in the U.S. Senate.”

Mr. Voinovich’s second term in the Senate ended in 2011, and the politician decided not to run again. He was replaced by Rob Portman, a Republican colleague.

Just before his departure, Mr. Voinovich asked fellow lawmakers to look for answers to the country’s dismal fiscal situation. While he disagreed with legislation that prevented an increase of income taxes, he praised government leaders for their willingness to negotiate a compromise.

In 2009, he unsuccessfully fought against a proposed law to allow casino gambling in several Ohio cities. Later in 2011, he campaigned in support of an abortion bill that made it illegal to perform the operation after the first detectable heartbeat.

Many saw him as a model of monetary prudence. Mr. Voinovich was proud to shine his own shoes, always bought clothes on sale, and while governor, banned snacks on state planes to reduce costs.

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In a triumphant election, Mr. Voinovich profoundly beat Democrat Anthony J. Celebreeze Jr. and became Ohio’s governor in 1990. He served two terms as governor, spanning from 1991 to 1998.

During his tenure, Mr. Voinovich promised to reorganize state government. He enacted plans that reduced environmental regulations and sealed long-term agreements with employee unions that offered security, but little state funding.

He managed to shrink Ohio’s budget by $720 million over two years. However, a controversial tax increase in 1993 designed to support the state’s finances was severely criticized by fellow conservatives.

Tragically, Mr. Voinovich’s 9-year-old daughter Molly was killed in 1979 while the lawmaker was running for mayor. She was struck by a speeding van that went through a red light. Molly was the youngest of Mr. Voinovich’s four children.

In the 1970s, Cleveland was an economic mess and most citizens blamed the Democratic mayor, Dennis Kucinich. Mr. Voinovich beat Mr. Kucinich for the mayor position in a landslide victory and remained there until 1989. He was often recognized as saving the city from financial ruin.

Born July 15, 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio, George Victor Voinovich was the oldest of six children. His father was of Serbian descent, while his mother was from a Slovenian family. Mr. Voinovich’s grandparents moved to the U.S. from what is now Croatia.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]