For Ohio Governor, Efficiency Means No E-Mail

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft is pushing his $1.6 billion plan to improve Ohio's high-tech economy with handwritten notes, meetings and phone calls.

Taft, 60, has never sent a work-related e-mail as governor, doesn't have a computer on his desk and asks his staff to research information he needs on the Internet.

"I just don't have the time to sit down and go through a lot of e-mails," Taft (pictured, above) told The Associated Press. "For me it's more efficient to use other forms of communication."

Taft, a Republican running for a second-term, frequently backs high-tech initiatives, such as a proposal last week to help provide faster Internet connections to businesses and colleges.

His Third Frontier Project would spend $1.6 billion over 10 years to create a new high-tech industry and high-paying jobs. The proposal includes construction of more research centers and more partnerships between colleges and businesses to convert university research into commercial ventures.

E-mail use varies among governors. Like Taft, Gray Davis of California also doesn't use it on the job, mainly because of his heavy travel schedule. Others, such as Florida's Jeb Bush and Bob Wise of West Virginia, use e-mail daily, if not hourly.

Taft said he occasionally sends e-mails to family on a private account at home.

His communications director said she doesn't encourage him to use e-mail at work because of concerns the messages would be made public under Ohio's open records law.

"The governor should be able to communicate with his aides confidentially," said Mary Anne Sharkey.

Taft regularly sends staff members notes -- which are exempt from open records law -- or calls them, Sharkey said.

"That's his English-major style, to edit things by hand, to send handwritten notes and also just to pick up the phone to call you," she said.

A busy travel schedule isn't a concern for Bush, who receives 250 to 300 e-mails a day and reads all of them, often on a hand-held computer, said spokeswoman Jill Bratina. He encourages constituents to write, often handing out a business card that lists only his e-mail address.

"E-mail helps me help people," Bush said in an e-mail reply to The Associated Press, one of two he sent. The first was sent as he prepared to board a plane.

"It helps me stay in touch with my team while I am on the road (most of the time)," Bush wrote. "It helps me stay connected with the people that I serve. It requires extra work but it is well worth it."

A disclaimer on Bush's e-mail reminds people that e-mail can be a public record in Florida.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise said that he likes the ability to leave messages for any person in state government day or night.

E-mail also frees him for public appearances and meetings, he said.

"What always makes me feel good is when I am e-mailing late and I find the person on the other end is also working," Wise wrote. "E-mail is made to order for people like me with insomnia!"

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker e-mails staff frequently although not daily, said spokesman David La Torre.

"He's on the go a lot and doesn't have the opportunity like many of us to check e-mail on a daily if not hourly basis," La Torre said.

About 65 percent of Americans have access to e-mail through work or home, but it's only been the last four or five years that e-mail has become so prevalent, said Rick Farmer, a University of Akron political scientist who studies the Internet.

For Taft, "At this point it could simply be a lifestyle choice, a management-style choice, an artifact of when he came there four years ago and e-mail wasn't that prevalent," Farmer said. "He needs to get on board, but he's not that far behind the curve."

Tim Hagan, the Democratic candidate for governor, did not use e-mail professionally in his 16 years as Cuyahoga County commissioner. He uses it at home, occasionally getting messages from his 82-year-old mother.

"I don't think you run the state by doing e-mails to everyone. There's much more constructive way of bringing people together," Hagan said. "I'm reluctant to find myself captive to a computer when you've got to have a broader perspective, especially when you're governor of the state."

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