A Look Back at the Year's Irritations, Blusters and Coincidences

Wrapping up my first full year of writing a weekly opinion and analysis column, I’ve come to appreciate the absurdity of politics in a way I couldn’t fully fathom as a news reporter. Oh, sure, I’ve always realized that politics — both locally and nationa

Wrapping up my first full year of writing a weekly opinion and analysis column, I’ve come to appreciate the absurdity of politics in a way I couldn’t fully fathom as a news reporter.

Oh, sure, I’ve always realized that politics — both locally and nationally — really represents the human drama in microcosm, with all of the assorted hopes, fears, foibles and quirks that go along with it. But only in stepping back from the daily rush of events and trying to place them in a broader context does one sense the sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing trends that emerge.

With that in mind, grab a bottle of your favorite liquor or reach for the Pepto-Bismol as we chronicle the highlights and lowlights of 2008, Porkopolis-style.

Competition is overrated: The local Democratic and Republican parties cut an infamous deal last winter that irritated many of their members and disrespected Hamilton County’s 605,000 voters. That’s when incumbent County Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, hatched a plan with Republican Greg Hartmann to eliminate competition in their respective commission races.

Supposedly, Portune crafted the deal because he didn’t want the time-consuming work of campaigning and raising money to distract him from his laser-like focus on the county’s budget problems. Still, when all was said and done, both candidates behaved as if they were in hotly contested races. Portune spent about $243,000 and gave stump speeches across the region, while Hartmann spent more than $322,000 and appeared in frequent TV commercials. Meanwhile, the county budget remained in disarray throughout the year.

Two true mavericks, Democrat Chris Dole and Republican Ed Rothenberg, bucked party leaders and ran against Hartmann and Portune anyhow. Despite not being endorsed by their parties and raising little money, Dole and Rothenberg each captured about one-third of the votes cast in their respective races, proving once again that democracy thrives in the grassroots.

Hail to the king: In a move little reported by mainstream media, President Bush issued another of his notorious “signing statements” in February, this time indicating he believes portions of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act interfere with his presidential powers and reserving the right to ignore them.

Sounding more like a king than a president, Dubya has long claimed that — in wartime — the power of the executive branch knows virtually no bounds. With the latest signing statement, he signaled he would rebuke Congress and continue negotiating to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

The decider-in-chief also said he would ignore provisions of the law calling for an investigation into alleged contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as requirements that U.S. intelligence agencies more quickly submit requested documents to Congress. I suppose anybody can be fooled once, but people who voted for Bush in 2004 must be feeling mighty proud as they review the past few years.

Laws are merely suggestions: Proving that even judges don’t always respect the rule of law, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel in March decided against a tax opponent who sued Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. in late 2007 after the sheriff sent a letter to 1,072 employees asking that they vote for a proposed sales tax increase to built a new jail. The letter also asked employees to lobby friends and relatives for their support.

In his lawsuit, local resident Brian Shrive alleged Leis broke Ohio election laws that prohibit using public money to campaign for or against a political candidate or issue. The laws also prohibit using public money to compensate an employee for time spent on campaign activities.

But Nadel — who, like Leis, is a Republican — didn’t view the action as a violation. The judge said it amounted to public service advertising, which is permitted, although the letter also criticized County Commissioner Pat DeWine for opposing the jail tax.

Regardless of the high-powered whitewash, voters listened to Shrive and DeWine, rejecting the tax.

Paper trails are irritating: Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. is known for his hot temper and disdain for the media. Therefore, he might have popped a vein when CityBeat called his bluff in April.

Streicher assigned the Police Department’s Honor Guard — consisting of 10 police officers, along with several horses and motorcycles — to appear at his aunt’s funeral in late 2007. When confronted by The Enquirer about the expense, Streicher initially denied the Honor Guard was used. Then, after meeting with his boss, the chief wrote a personal check for $1,767 to cover the cost but blustered that using the Honor Guard at a funeral wasn’t uncommon and any citizen could request its presence at a funeral for a fee.

CityBeat requested public records about all funerals in which the Honor Guard was used, from 2005 to the present. After a lengthy delay, the Police Department gave us our answer: There weren’t any, only the funeral for Streicher’s aunt.

Yes, but those guys look like us: The media spent much of spring preoccupied by the GOP’s carefully orchestrated outrage over remarks by Jeremiah Wright, pastor to then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Not mentioned in the barrage of stories, however, was Republican nominee John McCain’s courting of various ministers who advocated for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, proclaimed that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because of the sins committed by gay men and blamed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on feminists and abortion rights activists, among others.

Apparently, statements and associations are outrageous only if your skin tone isn’t beige.

Strange bedfellows: Prominent attorney Stan Chesley is known as a big money contributor to Democratic politicians, but he decided in June to hold a fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, the conservative Republican known as “Mean Jean.” At the time, Chesley was facing legal sanctions over his role in mishandling a $200 million settlement from a Kentucky case involving the diet drug fen-phen.

Shortly afterward, the U.S. Attorneys handling the case gave Chesley immunity in exchange for his testimony. The attorneys were all Republican appointees.

Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]

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