Shannon Jones: The Agony and Ecstasy

Dave Ghose
Shannon Jones

The compassionate conservatism of Shannon Jones

In late August, Shannon Jones tweeted a link to a story about a Florida State University football player who decided to eat lunch with an autistic boy sitting alone in a school cafeteria. The gesture touched Jones, a state senator from Springboro in southwestern Ohio. "Kindness and compassion are virtues that seem lost these days," she wrote.

For those familiar with Jones' political career, it's hard not to read something into that post. Jones soon will leave the Senate for a spot on the Warren County Board of Commissioners, even though she has two years left in her Senate term. In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Jones described the commissioner job (in which she faces no opponent in the November election) as a "good opportunity." Perhaps. But it's also something else-an escape from state politics after many draining battles.

Jones was the sponsor of 2011's Senate Bill 5, the controversial attempt to roll back the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. That failure scarred her, says a Republican lobbyist. "She's the only name that was ever on that bill," the lobbyist says. Jones was one of Tom Niehaus' most trusted advisers when he served as Senate president. She was interested in succeeding Niehaus, but her association with SB 5 weakened her support in the Senate, allowing Keith Faber to seize the top job.

Most people associate Jones with the collective bargaining issue, but her admirers say that single piece of legislation shouldn't define her. Though Jones comes from conservative Warren County, tucked between Dayton and Cincinnati, she's devoted much of her time in the General Assembly to helping the most vulnerable people in the state. Picking up on the work of Democratic colleagues, she's led efforts to reduce Ohio's infant mortality rate, using her influence to make it a statewide issue. "What led to the burnout is she takes on issues that are just not easy-poverty, infant mortality, Medicaid and all these things," says the Republican lobbyist. "These things she's passionate about are thorny. You take on a tax credit, and then you see a hundred jobs. It's easy. You take on infant mortality, you're trying to turn a very, very big ship."

A friend describes Jones as very emotional. "Shannon is too passionate about every issue, and it's exhausting," the friend says. What's more, the Senate remains a boy's club (she's one of just three female Republican senators), and Jones has struggled to get support for her ideas from some conservative members of her party. "Shannon's going to be missed a great deal," the friend says.