LIMA — Bob Cupp understood the difficult job he inherited when colleagues elected him Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Cupp, R-Lima, said all he really wanted to do was work as a representative on public policy, especially redesigning Ohio’s school funding system. The House had been rocked when his predecessor, Larry Householder, was arrested in a bribery scandal surrounding House Bill 6, which aided Ohio’s nuclear power plants. People distrusted the people leading the legislative branch of the government. Things seemed impossibly broken.
“You mean putting Humpty Dumpty back together?” the 72-year-old Cupp said dryly during a visit to The Lima News last week. “I think you lead responsibly. You try to do things the right way.”
That might be the best way to look back at Cupp’s long tenure in politics, where he’s been elected to or running for a position every year since 1980, when he unseated an incumbent for Allen County commissioner. He went on to serve four terms in the Ohio Senate from 1985 to 2000, back before term limits stopped you at two terms. He served as an appellate judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeals. He won statewide election in 2006 as a Supreme Court justice before losing in 2013 to William O’Neill. He then returned to the state legislature as Allen County’s representative for the past four two-year terms.
He gained a reputation as a reasonable man who could truly “work across the aisle on topics that matter,” state Rep. Jessica Miranda, a Democrat from Hamilton County, said during the Dec. 15 session of the House. She described Cupp with the words integrity, honesty, humility and wisdom.
“You don’t have to agree with someone all of the time or even some of the time to respect them,” Miranda said. “That’s Speaker Cupp: Always listens, always is kind, always cares.”
Cupp’s rise to the top of the Ohio House coincided with the rise of another Allen County Republican, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima. Huffman was effusive in his praise of the mild-mannered Cupp, a fellow lawyer by trade, who he called a statesman and a genuine person.
“Here’s a guy who’s from the same town, who’s in the same profession, who you’ve known for 35 years and, on top of that, he was in the Ohio Senate for so many years,” Huffman said. “He was a Supreme Court justice, local county office, a judge… I mean, if I had to write on a piece of paper, here’s the best guy for the Speaker of the House, it would have all those attributes.”
That knowledge from working in all three branches of government served Cupp well, Rep. Scott Oelslager, a Republican from Stark County, said during the Dec. 15 session, when Cupp delivered his farewell remarks.
“Very few people in the history of this great state have done that, have had the confidence of the people of their communities as well as the state,” Oelslager said.
His legacy will be closely linked to the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan he helped introduce, now called the Fair School Funding Plan, which rewrote how schools receive funding to make it more equitable. He said he was also proud of his efforts to reform Ohio’s slow worker’s compensation system in the 1980s when he was in the state senate and funding for many new school buildings throughout the state.
He acknowledged he may be remembered for being a part of the legislative map-making commission that stumbled in its first effort after a constitutional amendment passed, saying, “We always remember the last thing that happened, right?”
Cupp couldn’t run again due to term limits, and redrawn maps have state Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, now representing Allen County and Lima. Cupp still has one more official duty, to call the House to order Jan. 3 for the swearing-in of a new House Speaker.
After that, he has no firm plans, he said, other than to work on “30 years of personal backlog,” including spending time with his wife, Libby, his two sons and three grandchildren. They rescue llamas at his family’s farm, and he said he looked forward to tending to his gardens, which didn’t get much attention over the last three years.
A long tenure of public service all started with the urging of an eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Huffman, who is no relation to Sen. Huffman, who planted the seed of wanting to serve in government, Cupp said.
“As a kid growing up on a farm in northern Allen County, we had no connections of any kind whatsoever,” Cupp recalled. “… To be able to be involved in the big public policy issues in the state, to serve on the state’s highest court, it really is a great honor. And I’m very grateful for all the folks that helped me do that.
“Hopefully, it will provide an inspiration to others who would like to do that.”