In 2006, a room in the Taggart Law Library was dedicated in honor of Frank B. Willis, ONU graduate, professor and politician.
Frank Willis was born in 1871 in
Following the 1896 election, Willis conducted a successful house to house campaign for a seat in the state legislature three years later. As a young Republican serving a traditionally Democratic district he soon created much favorable comment concerning his political future. One veteran statehouse observer wrote, "Although but 31 years of age he is already well-known throughout the state, and during the recent session of the ... General Assembly, the attention of the commonwealth and the country as well, was drawn to a tax bill bearing his name." The Willis law provided for a tax on corporations chartered by the state and foreign corporations operating in the state. It required the payment of sums equal to a fixed percentage of the capital stock of the various corporations.
In 1904 the young lawmaker tried to secure the Republican nomination for a congressional seat, but his efforts were defeated and he returned to Ohio Northern. During this entire period, Willis had been studying law. He took the bar examination in 1906 and passed with the highest score. For the next four years his teaching was centered primarily in the field of law. College work could not hold Willis, however, and he reentered politics in 1910. After obtaining the party's blessing, he defeated his Democratic opponent in a struggle for the eighth congressional seat. In 1912 he was one of three Ohio Republican congressmen returned to their posts. Three years in
Willis was nominated for the gubernatorial race under the terms of the new direct primary law. The first Republican so selected, he demonstrated his popularity with the party organization and the voters. Willis was a clever and challenging campaigner. A handsome man of imposing stature, he was at his best at informal party rallies, church socials, and rural get-togethers. He had a rich, booming voice which could be fashioned to meet any demand. Perhaps his greatest political asset was his uncanny ability to remember faces and names.
The progressive spirit which engulfed the American people during the early years of the twentieth century influenced the official Republican declarations during the 1914 campaign. The party favored increased compensation for injured workmen, and endorsed "the eight-hour system of daily labor wherever practicable." It also went on record as recognizing "the wider claims of the people upon their government for legislation to promote social justice," and pledged full cooperation "in the broader movement for human welfare." The campaign itself was a three-man race with the spotlight focused upon Governor James Cox and Willis. The Progressive candidate pursued a hopeless cause; Willis emerged the victor with a plurality of the votes cast.
In his inaugural address Governor Willis spoke at some length on the challenge of executive centralization to the proper functioning of free government. He concluded his plea for respect of the traditional "division of governmental functions" with the hopeful assertion, "It were folly to say this system is the acme of perfection, yet it is only the plain truth to state that according to the judgment of the intelligence of the world it is the best system yet devised by man."
The 1916 gubernatorial contest was a comparatively quiet affair, overshadowed by the presidential race. Willis lost to former Governor Cox as both men stressed economy and tax reform. A third attempt to gain the governor's chair in 1918 likewise resulted in a defeat for Willis, with prohibition playing an important role in the decision. At this low point in his career he found an opening for a higher honor. Competing for Warren G. Harding's senate post, Willis overwhelmed his opponent, W. A.
Frank Willis vaulted into national prominence with his smashing victory and his important role in the Harding campaign. As a senator he favored a high tariff and veterans' aid and opposed the
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