Governor defends decision to stay on vacation during blackout

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft said he stayed on vacation in Canada during the worst blackout in Ohio and U.S. history to avoid losing communication with his staff while traveling.
He cut his vacation short Wednesday to attend a briefing in Columbus with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
"I spent a lot of time on the phone," said Taft, a Republican. "I still had the authority to act as governor on vacation."
The outage beginning Aug. 14 darkened homes and businesses in eight states and parts of Canada for 24 hours. The blackout affected 50 million people, shut down more than 100 power plants and knocked Cleveland's water supply off line.
Investigators have pointed to three transmission lines in northern Ohio that shut down the afternoon of Aug. 14 as the possible beginning of the blackout.
Taft said he stayed in touch with Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley, his chief of staff Jon Allison, and Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
"There was a real question, if I were to come back by airplane, whether I could stay in constant communication," Taft said Wednesday morning at a Statehouse news conference. Taft and first lady Hope Taft were at a family home in Quebec.
He said staying in touch "was the most important role and place for me at that time during the immediate crisis," Taft said.
Taft wanted to be in Columbus to hear from Abraham about a federal investigation into the blackout and how Ohio could help, he said.
In March 2001, Taft interrupted a trade mission to Brazil to return to Columbus for the funeral of former Gov. Jim Rhodes. In October 2001, Taft delayed a trade mission to Germany because of security concerns after Sept. 11.
In March 1997, then Gov. George Voinovich flew home early from a two-week trade mission to Korea, Taiwan and Australia because of devastating floods in southern Ohio.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)