Bush Returns To Ohio To Promote Domestic Agenda

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - President Bush's seventh trip to Ohio since he took office had a similar theme as his earlier visits -- promotion of major parts of his domestic agenda.

Bush returned to the state Monday, less than three weeks after delivering the commencement speech June 14 at Ohio State University.

Because Ohioans' attitudes usually mirror those of the country, the politically important state has become a place for Bush to test-market his domestic agenda.

Bush's 35-minute speech at a theater at the city's Playhouse Square Center touched on themes of encouraging home ownership, charitable giving and school choice. The president got his most sustained applause when he praised the Supreme Court's ruling last week on Cleveland's voucher program.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the program is constitutional because it is "neutral in all respects toward religion."

Bush praised Cleveland's voucher program, which gives mostly poor parents a tuition subsidy of up to $2,250 per child at parochial and other nonpublic schools.

Bush called the court's ruling "a great victory" and said the voucher program is "a constructive approach to improving education."

"There's got to be a multiplicity of approaches. The people of Cleveland and the state of Ohio decided one of the approaches they wanted to take was to encourage a voucher system to be implemented," he said. "The (Supreme Court) gave a great victory in upholding a decision made by local folks here in the city of Cleveland, Ohio."

More than 2,000 people waited several hours for Bush's speech, which was attended by a bipartisan group of politicians and charity workers. Even people who said they are not Bush loyalists said they came out to support the president.

Saye Benson, 50, of University Heights, stood in the back row of the large theater.

"It's my patriotic duty to support the president, even though I don't necessarily agree with him," she said.

Bush pointed out that the Supreme Court decision was based on a program developed by state and local officials in Ohio.

"The Supreme Court of the United States gave a great victory to parents and students throughout the nation by upholding the decision made by local folks here in the city of Cleveland," he said.

Pictures of Bush's last visit to Cleveland in May 2001 hang prominently in the rectory of St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church.

The director of St. Augustine's charitable programs acknowledges the president's visit last year had little lasting impact.

"There's been no difference," Sister Corita Ambro said. "This has been a very tough year since the 9/11 situation. Any charitable institution this year has been suffering."

St. Augustine's charitable programs include a soup kitchen, a summer camp for needy children and a school for mentally disabled children.

"I don't think anything has come through on the faith-based initiative," Ambro said, but that isn't Bush's fault. "I think 9/11 put a stop to so many of the things that were going to get started ... even the good ideas that the president had at one point kind of got pushed under the carpet because of the horrific things that happened.

"Needless to say, we did enjoy his visit."

Bush's visit to a Toledo community center in September had a more direct benefit, helping it overcome a budget crisis.

The Aurora Gonzalez Community Center had one-third of its budget cut by the state in the months before the president stopped in to play basketball and foosball, a table soccer game.

But in the months following, the center more than made up for the loss with new grants and donations from the community, director Cyndy Meacham said. The center added English and computer classes and expanded tutoring programs.

"The president didn't bring us a check," Meacham said. "But that story got out there. They heard about us and sent money to help out."


Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)