Portage County voters have a favorite-son candidate to watch in the Democratic primary this spring.
Mark Hatch, who is making his first statewide political run, is a 1982 graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent. He's seeking the Democratic nod May 5, running as lieutenant governor candidate with millionaire Bruce Douglas who is running for governor.
"But if you look in the yearbook for that year, you'll find me listed as Mark Weiner," he said. Hatch's name changed at age 19 when his mother remarried.
The Douglas-Hatch team is emphasizing a more extensive solution to the school funding issue than what recently passed the Legislature.
"There are other issues, but it all comes back to a highly educated workforce. So we need to fix public education," the Columbus resident said.
The plan for a one-cent hike in the sales tax, to be split between schools and property tax relief, doesn't meet the court's test in the DeRolph decision, he said.
"The court made it very clear. They said they wanted a complete, systemic overhaul of the education system ... these (Legislature) plans do not get us anywhere near that." Their solution is outlined in a report, "Money Where It Matters" from the New Ohio Institute, founded by Douglas.
The fact they're running against the state party's endorsed candidate, former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher, hasn't slowed the Douglas-Hatch team down. Also on the Democrat primary ballot is Canton teacher, Robert R. Smith.
"I'm a loyal Democrat," Hatch said. "I think it's healthy for the Democratic Party to have ideas lead the campaign from a variety of sources. I think it's healthy to have a primary" and let the people decide.
Hatch's family _ stepfather, Tom Hatch and mother, Jan Lentz Hatch _ still lives in Kent, as do his wife's parents, Joyce and Fred Gross.
At Roosevelt, Hatch ran cross country and was on the 1980 and 1981 state championship varsity squads.
Hatch, in town Friday for a combination family visit and campaign stop, said his early years in Kent put him on the path to public service.
Hatch and Douglas met because of a mutual interest in public education through Douglas' New Ohio Institute.
"In December we had this great conversation about values and goals and having to make decisions based on what's right and not just on what is politically acceptable," Hatch said.
Douglas already was talking about making a run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but Hatch said he didn't know Douglas was looking for a prospective lieutenant governor.
Hatch has had a long interest in public policy. He was a member of the Amigos de los Americas, a group that sponsored summer service trips by American teens to Central and Latin America, he said.
Hatch studied political science at Ohio State University. While a student, he did internships at the State Senate and later with U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart in 1984. From 1984 to 1988 he worked for the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and as a legislative aide for a state representative from southeast Ohio.
"I got great experience in learning about government issues," and how they progress through legislatures, he said.
He also was involved in Columbus city issues, exploring his interest in how communities can improve themselves. In 1990, he co-founded Community Crime Patrol Inc., a community-based crime prevention program which provides teams of citizens trained by law enforcement.
"It started out in the OSU neighborhood, because of the crime rates in that area," he said. "It worked so well the city asked us to expand it to three other neighborhoods."
He also was elected to the Columbus city school board in 1993. In 1996, he was elected by his fellow board members to two, consecutive one-year terms as board president.
Hatch called it "a wonderful experience, intense. We took the Columbus city school system through enormous changes."
The board restructured the student assignment system, ending cross city busing among 144 schools. The districts 64,000 students were assigned to neighborhood schools, or given a choice of attending other, special interest schools.
After that experience, Hatch said, "it's painful to watch what's
happened in Cleveland and in other large city school systems." A key of
Columbus' success was strong community support for the schools, he said.
"Enrollment is going up, test scores are going up. Our whole focus is to
make it the best public school system in the nation. We refuse to
believe we can't be the best just because we're a public system."