As Wayne Hays tells it people keep coming up to him at the Citizen's National Bank here and asking him to solve problems that are simply beyond the powers of a bank director, which is what he now is. As many as a dozen people a day. "I can't turn them away," he said yesterday, so he tries to get the government to help.
But recently the former chairman of the powerful HOUSE Administration Committee, who used to be courted for his favors and feared for his caustic tongue, came to an important realization.
"Bureaucracy responds more slowly to somebody without a title than somebody with a title," he said in a telephone interview from his office at the bank yesterday.
"I like to do things for people. And if I'm going to help them, I've got to get back into politics."
Hays quit politics and Congress in 1976 in the middle of investigations into charges that he had kept Elizabeth Ray on the public payroll although she did no work beyond serving as his mistress.
But yesterday morning he started calling reporters to announce his candidacy for one of the 100 seats in the Ohio House of Representatives. The 99th legislative district represents Belmont, Monroe and Nobel counties -- a small portion of the 18th Congressional District that was his for 28 years.
Although his possible return has been rumored for months, some Democratic sources apparently were surprised. Among them was Rep. A.G. Lancione of Bellaire, who announced last month that he was retiring this year after 16 terms in the 99th district seat.
Lancione, who has not been on friendly terms with Hays, told reporters. "I don't think he'd be an asset to the state of Ohio because the press would get after him and revive the scandal. Of course, he bringing it on."
Another Democrat likened Hays to an "old war horse who smells the battle smoke and wants to get in."
Hays, who returned to his farm near Flushing with his second wife, Pat, after his resignation from Congress, insists he doesn't mind the sedate life of a bank official in a small southeastern Ohio town. But at various times he has talked of a comeback and has been as feisty and plain-spoken as ever in discussing other political matters with reporters.
The other day he criticized the Carter administration for not moving sooner to resolve the coal strike, saying: "Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell may be nice guys, but they don't know a coal mine from a grounding hole."
Hays was asked whether he would be happy as just one of 100 Ohio House members, representing a sparsely populated, economically stricken farming and strip-mining district, after his years of power in Washington. He suggested that much of his power was a myth promoted by newspapers, and said he would be happy to be a state lawmaker because he thought he could make a difference in Columbus.
He also seemed airily unconcerned that his re-entry into politics would revive the Elizabeth Ray case.
"It was all blown out of proportion," he says. "Sure it's going to come up again. But what the hell, I was single when it happened."
Some of his probable opponents in what may be a six-way Democratic primary say they are prepared to carry the fight to Hays.
Bill Dematte, 24, an aide to U.S. Sen. John Glenn who has taken a leave of absence to campaign for the Columbus seat, say Hays is kidding when he talks of wanting to help people.
"I question whether he wants to help anybody," says Dematte, who has been endorsed by Glenn "He's running to "indicate himself rather than to be of service to the district."
Dematte also wondered whether Hays has any political clout left, in light of the problems that drove him from Congress. "Influence is built on respect, and it's a rhetorical question whether he has any respect," said Dematte.
But Hays again dismissed any serious voter reprisal because of the Ray case. If he had thought otherwise, he said, "I wouldn't run."