Long-time Ohio elected official Jim Petro retiring

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Republican Jim Petro announced Monday that he'll retire next year after a long career in public service that included 12 years as state auditor and attorney general.

Petro, 64, will step down in February after two years as state chancellor overseeing higher education in the state. He was appointed by Gov. John Kasich.

A Republican from the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn, Petro ran for governor himself in 2006, losing a GOP primary to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

State Republican Chairman Bob Bennett praised Petro as "a courageous and accomplished leader."

"One of his most recent accomplishments was transforming one of the nation's largest higher education systems to bring a more hopeful future for thousands of Ohioans," he said. "Public service and Jim Petro have and will continue to be synonymous."

Petro's announcement comes days ahead of the Ohio Board of Regents' relocation to Ohio Department of Education quarters in downtown Columbus, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 28. The move is aimed at fostering closer collaboration between Ohio's education agencies. Petro has also experienced health issues in recent years.

"He's helped change a system that needed changing and has been a committed advocate for Ohioans of all ages who want to learn, upgrade their skills and make their futures brighter," Kasich said in a statement. "I'll miss working with him, but wish him and Nancy well in this new chapter of their life together."

Petro served as a councilman, commissioner and state representative from Cuyahoga County before being elected Ohio auditor in 1994. He served two terms as auditor before being elected attorney general in 2002.

In 2005, Petro became the first state attorney general in the nation to intervene for the use of DNA evidence on behalf of a wrongly convicted inmate. His work helped exonerate Clarence Elkins, a northeast Ohio man wrongly accused of rape and murder.

The experience prompted Petro and his wife, Nancy, to later write a book on the issue titled, "False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent."

The Petros plan an international tour in retirement to discuss the book and the issue, which remains a passion.

Petro's work on the Elkins case also helped prompt a 2006 rewrite of Ohio law allowing post-conviction DNA testing for some inmates, though the reforms barred ex-convicts and anyone who pleaded guilty from using the tool.

As chancellor, Petro has overseen the University System of Ohio, one of the nation's largest higher education networks.

In the role, he beefed up the state's push to commercialize ideas being generated at Ohio colleges and universities, advocated for new approaches to seeing more students complete college, and streamlined and improved technology available to Ohio institutions.