Frank J. Lausche: The Buckeye State Maverick

Ohio today is a state that leans Republican, no longer purple. This seemed the way of the state in 1944, and Thomas Dewey won the state that year. However, one figure defied the trend, and this was Democrat Frank J. Lausche (1895-1990) of Ohio. State Democrats of this era were not uniformly liberal, with officeholders in the 1930s and 1940s like Senators A. Vic Donahey and Robert Bulkley and Congressmen William Fiesinger, Arthur Lamneck, James G. Polk, and Robert Secrest sometimes to often defying the wishes of President Roosevelt. Lausche was not a change from this and gained fans among both Republicans and Democrats.

In 1941, he was elected mayor of Cleveland and in this post he was known for fiscal conservatism and promoting racial tolerance. Lausche was of Slovenian descent and managed to form an ethnic coalition that loyally supported him election after election. One of his earliest acts of independence was rebuffing Democrats who wanted him to fire Public Safety Director Eliot Ness, a Republican, for a Democrat. He served two terms and won his first statewide election in 1944, when he was the first Catholic to be elected Governor of Ohio. Although the 1946 GOP wave lost him reelection to Thomas J. Herbert by less than two points. However, Lausche triumphantly returned in the 1948 election by over seven points and won reelection in 1950, 1952, and 1954. Lausche maintained as governor his reputation for fiscal conservatism and honesty, much like Grover Cleveland. His reputation was so good by 1952 that both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman (before he dropped out) considered him as a running mate. In 1955, Lausche stated his unequivocal endorsement of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) before the Ohio State Legislature, “We simply cannot live as a free people if we…chip away from any member of our society the guarantees given to him by the Lord…and then reaffirmed…in our Constitution” (Weil). In 1956, instead of running again for governor, he challenged Republican Senator George Bender and triumphed.

In the Senate, Lausche caused some trouble for Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, as he proved an independent vote and was one of the few Democrats outside of the South to be counted among the conservatives. His liberal critics called him “Frank the Fence” for frequently crossing party lines and arguably from a conservative perspective he was indeed preferable to his predecessor. This is backed by both his lifetime ADA score (without counting absences) of 30 as opposed to Bender’s 34 and his higher DW-Nominate score of 0.213, higher than Bender’s 0.179. In 1962, Lausche won reelection by over twenty points.
Lausche voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare but against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. He also voted against organized labor in his opposition to the bill repealing the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act. Lausche supported two Constitutional amendments in 1966, both sponsored by Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) to counter Supreme Court decisions, one of which permitted factors other than population to determine legislative representation in state legislatures, and the other which allowed school prayer. That year, he denounced rioting on Cleveland’s East Side, implying that it was “communist-inspired” and connected to the civil rights movement (UPI).

By 1968, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party was done with Lausche, a man who as a Democrat had crossed organized labor too many times. This resulted in his loss of renomination to former Congressman John J. Gilligan, a liberal who campaigned against him saying that he was “talking like a Republican and voting like a Dixiecrat” (UPI). Lausche subsequently refused to endorse Gilligan, who went on to narrowly lose to Republican State Attorney General William B. Saxbe. He also admitted to voting for Nixon in 1968 and often supported Republican candidates for office after his time in the Senate. By the time of his departure from office he was seventy-three years old and opted to retire from politics. Pope John Paul II gave him the highest civilian honor by naming him a Knight of St. John of Malta. Lausche was proud of his career, stating to a reporter in 1985, “I am thoroughly comfortable in the realization that I gave to the people of Ohio the best that was in me. My deepest contentment lies in the fact that, while I was governor and senator and mayor, government was managed, not by any separate and selfish clique, but always by the will of the people as a whole” (UPI).

In early 1990, Lausche contracted pneumonia and on April 21st, he died of heart failure. He was reportedly until the end of his days mentally sharp. Lausche’s memory is commemorated in Ohio as the State of Ohio’s office building in Cleveland is named after him and the Lausche Building at the Ohio Expo Center.

P.S.: I will be removing my 2019 posts shortly so they can be moved gradually to my other blog for updates and improvements. I am also going to be on vacation for about ten days starting Monday, so I will be posting multiple entries before then.


Frank J. Lausche. Ohio History Connection.

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Frank Lausche, former governor and senator, dies. (1990, April 21). UPI.

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Weil, M. (1990, April 22). Frank Lausche, Ohio Senator and Governor, Dies at 94. The Washington Post.

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