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Former governor, Silver Star recipient Gilligan dies

Aug. 27, 2013 - 08:56AM   |  
John J. Gilligan
Former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, a Silver Star recipient whose creation of the state income tax was his most lasting accomplishment and also the undoing of his political career, died Aug. 26. He was 92. (AP)
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COLUMBUS, OHIO — Former Ohio Gov. and U.S. Rep. John J. Gilligan, a liberal Democrat whose creation of the state income tax was his most lasting accomplishment and also the undoing of his political career, died Monday. He was 92.

Gilligan’s death was confirmed by his caregiver, Frank Kennedy, who did not provide a cause of death.

Gilligan’s daughter Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, in 2009 became Health and Human Services secretary under President Obama.

“Jack Gilligan lived his life in service to his fellow Americans,” Obama said in a statement.

“Kathleen followed in the high tradition of public service that Jack set, and they became the first father-daughter team of governors in American history,” Obama said.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Gilligan “served with honor and distinction” and ordered flags lowered to half-staff until the day of Gilligan’s funeral.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner offered his condolences to Gilligan’s family.

“Governor Gilligan served our state with passion and was a committed public servant,” Boehner said in a statement. “Ohioans of all political stripes are saddened by the news of his passing.”

Gilligan, a teacher, became the state’s 62nd governor in 1970, a year in which Republicans suffered from a loan scandal in the state treasurer’s office.

He inherited a school funding problem in which 24 districts had closed for lack of operating money and more were expected to follow suit.

Gilligan persuaded legislators to enact the state’s first corporate and personal income tax in 1971 to raise money for dealing with those and other government priorities.

During the tax battle, he closed state parks to save money. The move may have turned up heat on legislators, but it also caused a public uproar.

Gilligan also presided over creation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, passage of strip mine reclamation laws and division of the prison and mental health agencies into separate departments.

As he headed into a campaign for a second term, he claimed a 57 percent increase in state funding for primary and secondary education, a 60 percent boost for mental health, and hefty spending increases for treatment, education, and law enforcement programs to cut drug abuse.

But the income tax issue continued to dog him. An offhand remark at the Ohio State Fair was one of Gilligan’s most memorable.

When a reporter asked if the arriving Gilligan was going to shear a sheep on the fairgrounds, the governor said: “I shear taxpayers, not sheep.”

In the 1974 race, former two-term Republican Gov. James A. Rhodes hammered at Gilligan for raising taxes and scored an upset of about 11,000 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

Gilligan was born March 22, 1921, in Cincinnati. He served as a Navy gunnery officer in World War II, earning a Silver Star for saving several crew members from the destroyer Rodman after enemy shells set it ablaze off Okinawa.

Before his military service, he graduated from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind. After the war he earned a master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati and started teaching literature at Xavier University.

Gilligan’s political career began in 1953 with his election to Cincinnati City Council, where he was re-elected five times. Later in life he returned to local public service as a school board member.

Gilligan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 1st District in 1964 but lost re-election two years later and returned to Cincinnati City Council. In 1968, he defeated U.S. Sen. Frank J. Lausche for the Democratic nomination to the seat but lost the general election to Republican William B. Saxbe.

Gilligan won the May 1970 Democratic nomination for governor and defeated Republican Roger Cloud in the general election.

After leaving the governor’s mansion, Gilligan was a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and led the Agency for International Development for two years.

He returned to teaching, spending 12 years at Notre Dame, where he also headed the university’s Institute for International Peace Studies. He returned to the University of Cincinnati in 1992, where he was director of the College of Law’s Civic Forum.

Some observers saw Gilligan as arrogant and aloof; friends described him as witty and intellectual.

He delivered a thoughtful speech at a reunion of his administration’s officials in 1993. Gilligan said the United States never would recover the millions of good-paying jobs lost in the relocation and downsizing of American industry.

“What’s going on now in American industry is called re-engineering, redesigning whatever their product or service is, redesigning how they produce it to eliminate, insofar as humanly possible, human labor,” he said.

“We will develop new industries and new types of employment hitherto unknown, or our economy will continue to decay and deteriorate. All of us and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences,” Gilligan said.

Gilligan and his wife, Mary Kathryn Dixon, had four children.


Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.

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