Banker turned Ohio Senator discusses his second career

After a four-decade career in banking, Steve Wilson turns his attention to a stint in the Ohio senate.

When Steve Wilson retired in 2016 from day-to-day banking after four decades in the industry, he had no interest in taking it easy. Although he maintained his role as chairman of the holding company’s board, he no longer had day-to-day responsibilities.

“I did not want to retire from life. I didn’t want to go home and sit down,” Wilson said. “I wanted to have a second career. A career that had some meaning, a career where I could make a difference.”

So the former president and CEO of LCNB National Bank in Lebanon, Ohio took a walk – a 330 mile walk. “In Ohio, there’s the Ohio-Erie trail. So I walked 330 miles in 26 days from the Ohio River to Lake Erie,” said Wilson, who spent his entire 41-year career at LCNB National Bank. “And I did that to decide what I wanted to do next.” He ended the walk with eight possibilities on his list. Politics was not one of them.

Shannon Jones, the Ohio Senator for District 7, was running to be a Warren County Commissioner in Ohio. When she was elected, she stepped down from her Senate seat at year-end 2016, two years before the end of her term. The Republican caucus in the Senate then became responsible for filling that seat by appointment.

“On my walk, my cell phone rang. There were some senators that said would I be willing to go for this appointed position. I said no,” Wilson recounted. “Then I walked a little further and I had some constituents call, asked would I go for this. I said no.” When the third phone call came, Wilson said he would look into it. “I discovered there were 33 senators. If I could convince 13 people to start something …  good for Ohio,” Wilson said, “it would be meaningful. I could make a difference.” Wilson figured he would only need to convince half of the Republicans in office to get something moving.

Wilson officially received the appointment on January 17 and was sworn in one week later.

Prior to his appointment, Wilson had held elected positions, but nothing specifically political. In the 1990s, he had served eight years on the local school board. He also has served as chairman of the Ohio Bankers League and the American Bankers Association. “I’ve always been involved with politics from the other side,” he said. “So I have lobbied, been on the other side of the desk for decades, so I kind of understand when lobbyists come to talk to me.”

“I am amazed at how hard the senators work,” he said. “It’s a job that when we’re in Columbus, we work from 8 a.m. to 10 or 10:30 at night. There aren’t many senators so you’re on a lot of committees.” And with that comes a plethora of meetings, sessions, and appointments in 15-minute increments. And while July and August are considered “recess,” Wilson says he hasn’t taken much of a break yet. “I haven’t stopped working because my office is still open and functional” and lobbyists, state departments and constituents still want to talk to him.

His experience as a businessman and banker has definitely benefited his political work. “I bring the business point of view; I bring a fiscally conservative point of view,” he said. And he’s already accomplished some of the things on his senatorial bucket list, the first of which was to be a good and effective senator. Other goals are to reduce regulation, reduce the size of government, reduce taxes and “do good things for my constituents, solve unique and special problems that those in my district have to deal with,” he said.

One of the difficulties Wilson faced when choosing whether to throw his hat into the ring was whether he was willing to step down from the board of trustees of his alma mater, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “In Ohio, you cannot hold two positions,” Wilson said. A trustee at MU is a governor-appointed state position. “I hated to give that up. I liked being a trustee of my university.”

On the flip side, though, Wilson has “been able to use my real life experiences to get some things done.” In May, he introduced legislation aimed at preventing financial fraud committed against Ohio senior citizens.

“Over my 40-year career in banking, I witnessed countless attempts to financially exploit seniors. As a state, we must do more to ensure that our elders receive the protections they deserve,” said Wilson.

Approximately 90 percent of all reported financial crimes against seniors are committed by caregivers or family members. Nationally, seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion to fraud each year. Only 44 out of every 1,000 cases are reported to the authorities.

The legislation seeks to make it easier to report suspected cases of fraud, raise public awareness and education, and strengthen penalties for financially exploiting Ohio’s seniors. This bill would update the list of mandatory reporters of elder exploitation to include employees of financial institutions, which are often the first line of defense for instances of fraud.

Being in the Ohio Senate “is a bit of a different world from the 41 years of banking I was used to, but a lot of it is the same. Constituents are like customers so that’s kind of the same. I have to attend a lot of events, and I always did that as a community banker so that’s not very different,” he said. “I always complained about overregulation. I always complained about over-taxation so to be in a position to do something about that is very gratifying.”

Although it’s early yet into his term, Wilson does plan to seek re-election in November 2018.