John J. Gilligan, former Ohio governor, dies at 92

John J. Gilligan, a former Ohio governor and Democratic congressman whose most lasting accomplishment, the state income tax, was also the undoing of his political career, died Aug. 26 at his home in Cincinnati. He was 92.

The death was confirmed by his caregiver, Frank Kennedy, who did not provide a cause.

Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan in 1972. (AP Photo, File)

Gallery

Mr. Gilligan’s daughter Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, is health and human services secretary under President Obama, who issued a statement honoring Mr. Gilligan.

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

Mr. Gilligan, a teacher, was elected governor of Ohio in 1970, a year in which Republicans suffered from a scandal in the state treasurer’s office. He inherited a school funding crisis in which 24 districts had closed for lack of operating money, and more were expected to follow suit.

Mr. Gilligan persuaded legislators to enact the state’s first corporate and personal income taxes in 1971 to raise money for dealing with those problems and other government priorities. During the tax battle, he closed state parks to save money. The move may have turned up the heat on legislators, but it also caused a public uproar.

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

As he headed into a campaign for a second term in 1974, he cited increased state funding for education, mental health services and programs to reduce drug abuse. But the income-tax issue continued to dog him.

When a reporter asked at the Ohio State Fair whether Mr. Gilligan was going to shear a sheep on the fairgrounds, the governor said: “I shear taxpayers, not sheep.”

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

John Joyce Gilligan was born March 22, 1921, in Cincinnati. He served as a Navy gunnery officer in World War II and was awarded the Silver Star for saving several crew members of his destroyer after enemy guns set it ablaze off the island of Okinawa.

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

Mr. Gilligan’s political career began in 1953 with his election to Cincinnati City Council. He was reelected five times.

Mr. Gilligan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, but his run for reelection two years later was defeated by Robert Taft Jr. (R).

He returned to Cincinnati to serve on the City Council. In 1968, he defeated U.S. Sen. Frank J. Lausche for the Democratic nomination to the Senate, but he lost the general election to Republican William B. Saxbe.

In 1970, Mr. Gilligan defeated Republican Roger Cloud in the general election for Ohio governor.

After leaving the governor’s office, Mr. Gilligan was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, and he led the U.S. 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. In 1992, he joined the University of Cincinnati, where he was director of a civic forum at the law school.

From age 78 to 86, Mr. Gilligan served as a school board member in Cincinnati.

In a 1993 speech, Mr. Gilligan said the United States would never recover the millions of 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,” he said, “or our economy will continue to decay and deteriorate. All of us and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences.”

His first wife, the former Mary Kathryn Dixon, died in 1996. In addition to Sebelius, they had three other children. Other survivors include Mr. Gilligan’s wife of 12 years, Susan Fremont.

— Associated Press

 
Read what others are saying