Former Sen. George Voinovich Dies at 79

Well-respected Ohio politician also served as governor, Cleveland mayor

George V. Voinovich served Ohio as governor and senator, and as Cleveland mayor. (Roll Call file photo)
George V. Voinovich served Ohio as governor and senator, and as Cleveland mayor. (Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 12, 2016 at 11:01am

Former Ohio Gov. and Sen. George V. Voinovich has died at age 79.  

Voinovich passed away overnight in his sleep, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported .  

“Sen. Voinovich was a man of integrity and deep commitment to his faith, his family, and those he served in public office. From the mayor’s office to the governor’s mansion to the United States Senate, George had a singular political career but never forgot who sent him there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday of the Ohio Republican, who also served as mayor of Cleveland.  

Current GOP Sen. Rob Portman also weighed in, calling Voinovich, “a great friend and a true mentor.”  

“There are so many signs of his contributions to Cleveland and the state of Ohio, from the Voinovich innerbelt bridge to the Voinovich Bicentennial Park to the George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University, to community treasures like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that would not be here but for his leadership,” Portman said. “But as in all of his public service roles, his intangible contribution was to lift peoples’ hopes.”  

Voinovich, who served in the Senate from 1999 to 2011, was known as a more moderate member of the conference, at times bucking his party.  

For instance, he voted against GOP tax cuts and was one of the first members of his party to call for a withdrawal from Iraq, a position that prompted a near brawl with fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona during a closed-door meeting in 2007.  

CQ Roll Call’s vote statistics show that, during President George W. Bush’s administration, Voinovich sided with his caucus on 83 percent of the votes through November 2008 in which it diverged from Democrats; only six other GOP senators broke from the party more frequently.  

In late 2008, Voinovich also broke with his caucus and joined a bipartisan group of senators from states with significant domestic auto production in pressing for an automaker bailout, which ultimately failed. He had earlier voted in favor of a $700 billion package to shore up the ailing financial services industry.  

Voinovich was a long time member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also served for a time in the generally thankless post of chairman of the Ethics Committee.  

His father was an architect, his mother a schoolteacher. Until Voinovich was 16, he wanted to be a doctor. But, he said, “sciences and I didn’t get along, and I like other stuff better — like Boy Scouts.” He became president of his high school class and was voted most likely to succeed. Friends from that era tell him he predicted even then that he would someday be mayor and governor.  

He made it, and then some. After an early political career that included four years in the state House and four more as Cuyahoga County auditor, he was elected lieutenant governor of Ohio in 1978. The next year, he unseated Cleveland Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich (a future House member) after the city went into financial default on Kucinich’s watch.  

Voinovich lost a 1988 Senate race against the Democratic incumbent, Howard M. Metzenbaum, by 14 percentage points.  

“I was damaged goods,” he said. “But we have a tradition in Ohio. You can’t win statewide until you run and lose.”  

Voinovich rebounded two years later, winning the governorship. During his two terms, he won acclaim for putting the state on solid financial footing. In 1998, when Democratic Sen. John Glenn retired after four terms, Voinovich was instantly his presumptive successor. He retired in 2010.  

Information from CQ Member Profiles contributed to this report.    

Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @NielsLesniewski

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