State Sen. Gayle Manning stepped from classroom to legislative leadership post

Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning studies a piece of legislation. Manning was named Majority Whip this session.

Press Profile
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BY MICHELE MURPHY

Lorain County

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series profiling State Sen. Gayle Manning. Manning’s 13th Senate District encompasses both Lorain and Huron Counties. This week we introduce – or, re-introduce – the senator, who grew up and attended school in Sheffield Village and raised her family, to include Ohio State Rep. Nathan Manning, in North Ridgeville. Next week, we hit the road with the senator as she uses her summer recess to visit with constituents.

When State Sen. Gayle Manning was first encouraged by friends and associates to run for the Ohio Senate six and a half years ago, she hesitated. “I hated public speaking,” she reveals.

“‘You’re a teacher!'” she says her friends chided. “Yeah, a teacher of third-graders!” she laughs, not afraid of poking a bit of fun at herself.

“I took months to decide if I wanted to run,” she relates, and laughs again about taking well beyond the deadline set by Ohio Republican Party leaders who hoped for a quicker response. She says she also recalled her husband and high school sweetheart Jeffrey’s two state election runs and, while both were successful, realized just how hard it was to campaign for office.

Run she did, unseating an incumbent on the pledge she would be more responsive to her constituents. She recalls going door to door in search of support and to learn more about what was important to voters. She says it was plain and simple. It was jobs. “Moms were telling me that they wanted their kids to find good jobs nearby so they could remain close to home,” she says. She adds that, as they chatted and found out she had 30-plus years’ teaching experience, they also wanted to talk about education.

One might think that halfway through her second term and having achieved the position of Senate Majority Whip, that she could or would abandon the labor-intensive, time-consuming practice of walking through neighborhoods and knocking on doors. That is not true. The senator keeps a pair of tennis shoes in the back seat, and when she finds herself with some time between meetings as she travels the district, she still goes door to door.

Manning was raised in Sheffield Village where her father owned a heating and cooling business. She attended Brookside High School, where she met her future husband. She was then off to Kent State, not sure of her major at first. When her dad suggested she could leave school and work for the family business, she doubled down, selected a major and earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary education/gifted education.

She was hired to teach for the North Olmsted City Schools and married Jeffrey. They moved to North Ridgeville as they started their family. In between, she pursued and earned a master’s degree in reading from the University of Akron.

The Mannings had two children, Allison and Nathan. Both are attorneys, like their dad. Jeffrey felt a pull to public service, serving as North Ridgeville law director. He then ran for state representative. The senator says he had just won re-election when Lorain County Prosecutor Greg White was named United States Attorney. Jeffrey was tapped to replace him.

That was in 2003. The following year, Jeff died of an aortic aneurysm. The Mannings were in their mid-50’s. Even though it has been 13 years, she still cries when she talks about him. “We were so close,” she says.

She continues, “I found relief by working.” So she continued to teach. She also served during 2006-07 on North Ridgeville’s Planning Commission as well as City Council, where she was appointed finance chair and Council President Pro Tempore. She retired from teaching in 2009. During her tenure, she was named Educator of the Year by the North Olmsted Council of Parent Teacher Associations and received the Teacher in American Enterprise Award from the Ohio Council on Economic Education.

By 2010, she says she was bored. She missed the children. She felt she still had something to contribute. So she shoved her fear of public speaking in her back pocket, bought walking shoes and began criss-crossing Huron and Lorain counties to meet voters and let them get to know her. She ran during one of America’s worst economic downturns. “Unemployment in Huron County was 16% and more than 10% in Lorain County,” she says. She adds that, at the time she first ran, there was also a huge budget deficit in Ohio that has now been erased.

Folks wanted to hear about what she could do to address these serious economic issues. Evidently, they also needed to know she understood where they came from. This gets to a funny story. She was at a Candidates Night in Huron County. A woman she did not know, perhaps recognizing how nervous Manning was before speaking, advised her she could win over the crowd if she simply pronounced “Huron” the way they did. She went on to coach her that the “h” was silent. Manning stood before the crowd and greeted everyone from “Uron County.” She got a two thumbs-up from her “speech coach” standing at the back of the crowd.

While a lighthearted story to be sure, it also reflects how sincere Manning is about knowing and understanding the people she serves and the issues they care about.

She is proud of the time she spends researching and boning up on an issue. She’s not afraid to speak up, even if that puts her at odds with her Senate colleagues. She uses the research she’s armed herself with to “educate” senators about potential impacts of proposed legislation in their own home districts. However, it is delivered with a soft touch and smile.

It could well be the reason Senate President Larry Oboff asked her to serve this term as Majority Whip. Manning makes it clear she doesn’t push anyone into supporting something they are not comfortable supporting.

Speaking of uncomfortable, Manning says the recently completed budget process this year was, in a word, “awful.”

“It was depressing to cut a billion dollars from the budget in order to balance it as required by law.” She says the hottest topic was Medicaid funding, but they needed to go through the entire budget line by line looking at how to balance it while making cuts she calls “painful.”

“I wanted to do my best to ensure the district received as much funding as possible, knowing the dilemma we faced in dealing with a billion dollar shortfall,” Manning recalls.

While the budget process was tough, Manning finds great joy in her service. One of her favorite tasks is to recognize “the people who do good things.” She makes sure the Senate approves a proclamation honoring such efforts, like Ohio State Highway Trooper of the Year Juan Santiago, from Elyria, who volunteers his time with Operation Open Heart and the Boys and Girls Club of Lorain County. She also made sure there was a proclamation honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Lorain Lighthouse Foundation. Most recently she awarded two proclamations – one to the Lorain County Farm Bureau for work on behalf of their members and another to one of their long-time volunteers. “She was 100 years old and so sharp!” says the senator. “Truly amazing. They give of their time and just want to help.”

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