You're expecting not to like state Senator Larry Mumper. His press clippings precede him.
The Plain Dealer called his latest bill "un-American." Other papers invoked Joe McCarthy, Joseph Stalin, and Chairman Mao. They used words like "inanity," "zealots," and lots of "chilling effects" -- the last of which is stiff-collared journalistspeak for "Holy Christ, this is getting weird."
Then there's that name, Larry Mumper. It embodies everything we in the north assume about downstate legislators -- the kind of guys who think Winnie the Pooh is into leather, ask God to kill Susan Sarandon in their prayers, and surely entertain amorous thoughts about goats. It's almost fitting as a low-grade slur. As in: "I can't believe Z mumpered that shot at the buzzer."
So you answer the phone, expecting a sociopathic rube -- Ernest Angley meets Son of Sam. What you get is nothing but good cheer.
Larry Mumper wants to do right. He just doesn't understand the world enough to pull it off.
His latest act of self-sabotage is the "Academic Bill of Rights." Larry wants Ohio professors to halt the "indoctrination" of our children "with left-wing issues." He's heard the stories.
There was the ROTC student at Bowling Green who took a course on the Vietnam War. The liberal professor kept singling him out as an imperialist dupe.
There was the business student whose professors bashed Bush and the Iraq war when they were supposed to be discussing commerce.
There was the Christian student who signed up for a theater course, "but it was about the good things involved in being in alternative lifestyles," says Larry. "I think you know what I mean by that."
When you're an old man from Marion, you watch out for nice Christian girls. So Larry launched a bill that would bar professors from discussing "controversial" topics that had no relation to the subject at hand. It would also mandate that professors be hired for their competence, rather than their political or religious beliefs.
It never occurred to him that it was wholly unworkable.
Who, after all, would decide what's controversial or not? While Larry might find talk of "alternative lifestyles" alarming, to much of the state it's no more inflammatory than discussing asparagus. A Columbus columnist chidingly suggested he create the Department of Acceptable Speech.
Nor could one legislate the hiring of competence. If it were that easy, you wouldn't have to wait two hours every time you visit the BMV.
So Larry took a pounding from the Ohio punditry. "They hammered me," he says cheerily. "They just came after me."
More revealing, however, was the insight Larry provided into the downstate mind. Here in Cleveland, we often view the Statehouse as a nut farm, home to people who still get excited by indoor plumbing and keep elderly relatives tied up in their attics.
But Larry's not crazy. He is, in fact, a gentlemanly, pleasant sort of guy. He just comes from a land where weirdness is normal and intellectual curiosity is skinned like varmints at suppertime.
He's prone to calling people "card-carrying communists," unaware that stifling intellectuals is a principal strategy in every commie playbook. The only difference is that Mao and Stalin made transgressions punishable by death, just to make it more sporting.
He wants to stem liberal orthodoxy at public universities, but doesn't understand that his bill would preclude a Christian school from favoring Christian hires. So he has to amend it to exclude private schools.
At one point, he wondered aloud why Columbus would continue to fund universities that brainwash students into voting "against the very public policy that their parents have elected us for." In Larryland, being elected to the Ohio Senate -- which is slightly more prestigious than being named to the produce department at Giant Eagle -- means you've been entrusted to decide how everyone will think.
So despite all the troubles in Ohio education -- the unconstitutional funding of public schools, the routine F's we receive for college affordability, the embarrassment of the charter experiment, where test scores make Collinwood look like Princeton -- he decided that shutting up liberals is the most pressing.
On the scale of problems, it ranks about 196th, well below such fundamental issues as professors who can barely speak English.
All of which is testimony to a mind under siege. Though Larry's kind control both Washington and Columbus, they still feel threatened by the battered remains of liberalism, which are as threatening as a Cub Scout troop from Twinsburg.
The only problem is there's no liberals of consequence left to hunt. So Larry & Co. shoot wildly with their tanks. If they find a wayward professor among the dead, it will all be worth it.
Larry now understands that his bill is likely unconstitutional. He knows that it will hurt his own as much as his enemies. He acknowledges that the words he used to push it were far too political, laying naked the intentions of his pursuit. His bill will be rewritten.
You appreciate him for this. Rare is the politician who admits his mistakes, and Larry does so without a hint of irritation or bluster.
But his admissions also scare the hell out of you. Here is a fairly prominent senator, yet he understands so little about what he espouses -- that freedom of speech is a fairly patriotic thing; that Ohio's curse is an absence of free thought, not too much; and that even nice Christian girls should be exposed to homosexuality, if only to be introduced to that which they loathe.
Then again, you get the feeling that all this hammering has been an education for Larry. He now seems to understand there's a world outside his own.
Besides, the pounding has allowed him to visit the Mecca of his people. "I've been on Fox News network," he says proudly.
And you find yourself feeling happy for Larry.
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