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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1921 - 1923

Harry L. Davis liked being mayor of Cleveland so well that he returned to that office after serving Ohio as its forty-ninth governor. He previously had served three terms as mayor of the state's great metropolis.

Davis rode into the governor's office on the Republican landslide in 1920 which also sent Ohio's United States Senator Warren G. Harding to the White House. By this victory Davis administered the only political defeat experienced by A. Victor Donahey in his long career as state auditor, governor, and United States Senator.

At the close of his gubernatorial term, January 10, 1921, to January 8, 1923, Davis did not seek reelection. He returned to his insurance business in Cleveland, but kept a weather eye on politics there and in the state at large. He sought the governorship again in 1924, but this time Donahey, who was completing his first term as the state's chief executive, turned the tables on him. Davis stayed in Cleveland where in due time he sensed growing opposition to the city-manager form of government which the city had adopted. He spearheaded this opposition in a successful political battle which tossed out the city- manager system and restored the offices of mayor and city councilmen. In a couple of years he was back in the mayor's office, 1933-35.

Though the 1920 Republican landslide had provided a top-heavy Republican legislature-only thirteen Democrats in a total membership of 169-Governor Davis found the sailing somewhat rough at times. There were rumblings in the senate for an investigation of some administration activities, and the senate and house soon were at logger- heads over tax legislation and the time of adjournment. The impasse reached the point where the governor, exercising a constitutional preroga- tive seldom before used, prorogued the assembly on May 28, 1921. There were charges that the governor had used this drastic method to send the lawmakers home to forestall a senate investigation of certain state contracts.

Perhaps the most unusual and drastic piece of legislation ever enacted by an Ohio legislature was recommended by Governor Davis to cope with economic conditions brought about by a work stoppage of Ohio coal miners. In a special two-day legislative session called by the governor on September 11, 1922, an emergency law was passed setting up a fuel administrator with powers to fix the price of coal at the mines and at retail outlets and to seize and operate the mines if necessary to obtain sufficient fuel for the state's needs. The fuel adminis- trator functioned until December 1, 1922, when the office was abolished by executive order. In the meantime the mines had resumed operation and the coal shortage had dissipated.

A major piece of legislation sponsored by the governor and one which caused much political furor was the state government reorganiza- tion code whereby scores of state offices and departments were combined under directors responsible to the governor. After a bitter legislative battle during which opponents dubbed it the "Davis Ripper Bill," it was passed as an emergency measure, thus preventing a referendum on it. A supreme court battle in which the emergency feature was attacked resulted in a decision that the legislature was the sole judge as to the emergency character of laws and its decision may not be questioned by the courts. That decision has prevented many new laws from being subjected to a referendum of the voters.

Expansion of Ohio State University's physical plant to its present facilities was started by Governor Davis. In his inaugural address he said: "In Ohio State University the commonwealth has an educational institution which should become the largest and best state institution in the United States. This is evidenced by the development of the institution in recent years, and I desire specifically to ask the co-operation of the General Assembly in the effort which I propose to make to help Ohio State University to attain that goal in the not too distant future." On his recommendation the legislature passed a tax levy of one-eighth of a mill for two years to provide a state university building fund. It was divided seventy-two percent to Ohio State University and fourteen percent each to Miami and Ohio universities. A two-year levy of one-fourth mill for a welfare institution building fund also was provided.

State conservation took on a new meaning under the Davis administration. The first state game preserve, the 15,000-acre Roosevelt Game Preserve in Scioto County, was established.

Other important legislation during the Davis regime included acts establishing a prohibition department to enforce the prohibition of the sale of intoxicants, forbidding political subdivisions to incur debts for current operations, and setting a debt limitation on the subdivisions.

One piece of legislation of which Governor Davis was justly proud was that starting the state on a program of aid for special education and the rehabilitation of crippled children.

Governor Davis' public school education had ended at thirteen years of age when he took his place beside his Welsh immigrant father in the Cleveland steel mills. There he toiled until he was nineteen years old, meanwhile attending night school and business college.

Politics appealed to him while he was yet in his early teens, and he soon was active in the Republican party ranks. When his father was elected to the state legislature, young Davis was appointed a page to run errands for his father and other members of the house. He was elected treasurer of Cleveland in 1909 and six years later was elected mayor of the city. His third successive term as mayor was his stepping stone to the governorship.

Governor Davis was born in Cleveland on January 25, 1878. He died on May 21, 1950. He was married to Lucv V. Fegan of Cleveland on July 16, 1902. They had a son, Harry L., Jr. Office of the Attorney General of Ohio


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