CityBeat's 2012 Endorsements: First Half

We at CityBeat take election endorsements seriously, and you should too! Our writers spent considerable time researching 2012’s candidates and issues and what each means to the future of Cincinnati and America. (We also figured out what the Hamilton Coun

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:06 am

We at CityBeat take election endorsements seriously, and you should too! Our writers spent considerable time researching 2012’s candidates and issues and what each means to the future of Cincinnati and America. (We also figured out what the Hamilton County coroner does besides chopping up bodies...) This is the first half of our endorsements — the entire collection will be available in our Election Issue Oct. 31. Read ’em and weep, voter suppressionists!

President & VP: Barack Obama & Joe Biden

On March 4 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially became president of the United States. At the time, the new president faced a massive financial crisis and depression. The nation had an outstanding 24.9 percent unemployment rate, and faith in the financial system was nearly nonexistent. But with a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and 64 percent Democratic majority in the Senate, FDR managed to pass a series of laws within 100 days of inauguration that helped set the economy on track.

Fast forward to Jan. 19, 2009. Barack Obama officially became president of the U.S. The new president faced a massive financial crisis, and U.S. was close to a depression. The nation had an 8 percent unemployment rate that would eventually climb to 10 percent by October. The financial system was in shambles after being rocked by a housing crisis and the result of derivative trading that was far too risky.

Unfortunately, Obama did not have the legislative majority FDR had. He did have a majority in the U.S. House, but he did not have the 60 Democrats required in the Senate to break the filibuster — a procedural tool used to block legislation. Despite that massive disadvantage, Obama managed to react to the crisis with some “soft landing” policies that guaranteed the country would not slide into depression. 

In his first year, Obama passed a $787 billion stimulus package that helped boost the public sector to make up for the private sector’s economic struggles, and he used bailout funds to rescue the nation’s — and Ohio’s — auto industry. In his second year, he passed the Affordable Care Act, a law that reforms the U.S. health system to make it more affordable and sustainable, and Dodd-Frank, which reformed financial regulations to help ensure such a terrible financial crisis never happened again. That same year, he also repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and continued pushing stimulus policies that ensured the country would remain in a steady recovery.

Then, in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. He also used executive orders to get past congressional gridlock and enact policies that help the children of illegal immigrants, who were dragged into the U.S. and live in fear due to no fault of their own, by creating a path to permanent residency and even citizenship.

Has he been perfect? Arguably, no. Most economists argue that while the stimulus helped, it did not go far enough; in particular, liberal, Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman previously suggested that $2 trillion in stimulus was necessary to fully dig out of the recession hole. As Obamacare and Dodd-Frank deal with unexpected problems and bumps on the road, it’s become clear more health care and financial reform will be necessary in the future. The deficit will also become a major problem as the economy recovers. But what Obama did is start the process of recovery and reform. Here at CityBeat, we believe that process should be continued.

Plus, what Obama started is infinitely better than the alternative. Mitt Romney still hasn’t explained how his massive tax cuts will be paid for. He still hasn’t explained why cutting programs that help the poor and elderly should help pay for programs that disproportionately benefit the rich. Trickle-down economics should have been put to rest when the financial system crashed in 2008, but Romney’s policies do not reflect that shift at all.

That’s why we endorse President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for re-election.

U.S. Senate: Sherrod Brown

Remove Democrat and Republican for a second. Assume there are two candidates outside of partisan labels. Candidate A is the current sitting senator. He has a clear record and policies to run on. Candidate B is the challenger. He has little record and policies, and he’s been caught being dishonest time and time again — to the extent that one major newspaper gave him an award for lying so much.

Candidate A is Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. Candidate B is Republican challenger Josh Mandel.

Mandel has been anything but honest. His campaign, which has been funded mostly by conservative groups outside of Ohio, has earned so many “Pants on Fire” ratings from PolitiFact Ohio that Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer felt the need to award Mandel the “Pants on Fire” crown. And even when he isn’t dishonest, he’s dodgy and misleading. In one encounter with a WDTN reporter, Mandel refused to answer a question about whether he supported the auto bailout; instead, he smiled and said, “Great seeing you.” A similar encounter with the Youngstown Vindicator editorial board found Mandel dodging the bailout question for five straight minutes. Mandel never gave an answer.

On the other hand, there’s Brown. He supported the auto bailout and stimulus package, which helped lead to Ohio’s solid unemployment numbers. Due partly to the auto rescue and stimulus efforts, Ohio was ahead of the nation’s 7.9 percent in September with its own 7 percent unemployment rate. Brown has also repeatedly pushed clean energy initiatives, and the senator has proudly touted his support for clean energy programs that created manufacturing jobs in Ohio.

And while doing all that work, Brown was mostly honest. He only has one “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact Ohio — a stark contrast to Mandel’s six. In total, 74 percent of Brown’s statements reviewed by PolitiFact have been marked “True,” “Mostly True” or “Half True” — another stark contrast to Mandel’s abysmal 47 percent.

Beyond party politics, Brown is the clear choice for Ohio.

U.S. Congress, First Congressional District: Rigged

Rigged? Wait, what?

Truth be told, CityBeat would love to endorse a Democrat for the First Congressional District. Generally speaking, we do not support Rep. Steve Chabot. We don’t like his opposition to Obama’s jobs bills. We don’t like how he went along with the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011 that nearly brought down the entire economy and led S&P to downgrade the U.S. credit rating from a AAA rating to a AA+ rating. We don’t like how he amended a transportation law to make it so Cincinnati can’t get streetcar funding from the federal government. So we would love to endorse a Democratic opponent to contrast Chabot.

Unfortunately, we can’t. For starters, Jeff Sinnard, Chabot’s opponent, doesn’t even have a campaign website. When a candidate doesn’t take himself seriously enough to have a campaign website, it’s difficult for CityBeat to take him seriously.

But what’s really sad is we can’t fault Sinnard or the Democrats for not taking the race seriously. With how Republicans have rigged congressional districts (see: Issue 2), Democrats have almost no chance of winning in the First Congressional District. The 2010 congressional race between Chabot and Steve Driehaus was already handily in Chabot’s favor when Chabot won 51-46. In 2012, redistricting gave Chabot a massive boost with new support from Republican-leaning Warren County. There’s almost no way a Democratic opponent could win now. 

So the verdict for the First Congressional District isn’t in favor of Chabot or Sinnard. Instead, the verdict is against a corrupt political system that lets politicians draw district boundaries to secure elections.

Ohio Issue 1: No

Under the Ohio Constitution, voters are asked every 20 years, “Shall there be a convention to revise, alter, or amend the constitution?” That’s what Issue 1 is all about. If voters approve Issue 1, the General Assembly, which is currently controlled by Republicans, will set rules for how constitutional delegates are elected. The delegates will then go to the convention and decide what, if any, constitutional amendments should be suggested to voters. The process essentially bypasses the petition system for constitutional amendments, which requires constitutional proposals obtain a certain amount of signatures from registered voters before being put on a ballot.

That might seem innocent enough, but there are a few problems: First, the state’s budget is tight. Is this process, which will cost taxpayers money, really necessary with the petition system in place? It’s not like the petition system has outstandingly failed recently. It’s allowed redistricting reform to come up this year, and even a gay marriage amendment will be taken up with support from FreedomOhio as soon as 2013.

Also, bypassing the petition process would let radical conservative groups legitimize their extreme ideas with amendments. To be clear, voters would still have to approve anything passed in the constitutional convention, but at CityBeat we don’t feel comfortable with a personhood amendment that bans abortion or anti-gay rights amendment on the ballot under any circumstance. It’s just not worth the risk.

Ohio Issue 2: Yes

Ohioans might not realize it yet, but Issue 2 could be the most important item on the ballot in 2012. If voters approve Issue 2, it would place redistricting in the hands of an independent citizens commission. Currently, elected officials handle the redistricting process, and they have used it time and time again for politically advantageous ways.

Take the First Congressional District, which contains Cincinnati. It was redrawn by the Republican-controlled process to include less of Cincinnati’s urban and suburban core and now actually includes Warren County. If that seems inexplicable, it’s because the only real explanation is political. Warren County contains more rural voters, and they tend to vote Republican. Cincinnati also contains more urban voters, and they tend to go Democrat. Throw in a Florida-esque slice of Cincinnati’s wealthiest, most pro-GOP neighborhoods, including Indian Hill and Madeira, and no wonder Republicans redrew the district in such a twisted way.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans have come out against Issue 2. For them, there’s no reason not to support the status quo. With the way the First Congressional District is drawn, there is little chance Rep. Steve Chabot can lose his seat in the U.S. Congress. (Republicans probably remember all too well Chabot lost his seat in 2008 to Steve Driehaus; he only reclaimed it in the 2010 election.) Plus, with the way the districts were redrawn in northern Ohio, Republicans managed to oust Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who had been in office since 1997. 

In their opposition, Republicans have touted some dishonest claims. In fact, the claims were so dishonest that Republicans admit they were misleading and agreed to stop using them. Everyone from PolitiFact Ohio to the Ohio Elections Commission has told Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and the Republican Party that their claims are not true. The commission will not have a “blank paycheck,” and commissioners will not be able to take bribes without punishments. Those Republican claims are outrageously false.

Districts should not be mutilated for political gain. Districts should be redrawn to reflect population trends and focused constituencies.

Local Issue 42: Yes

CityBeat recently covered Cincinnati Public School’s (CPS) financial problems and what makes the levy renewal a necessity for the school (“Battered But Not Broken,” issue of Oct. 3). Under the broken state funding system for schools, CPS has to rely on levies to sustain and improve its education program. If CPS doesn’t get this levy renewed, it will be down $51.5 million — or approximately 11 percent of its budget — in 2015. That’s a hard hit to take after a decade of budget cuts at CPS. The school district has already cut about 22 percent of its total staff in the last 10 years and closed down 17 buildings. It shouldn’t have to do more.

One criticism brought by the levy’s opponents is that the levy, which expires in 2015, is being brought to voters a full year too soon, which makes it harder to evaluate whether CPS deserves the continued funding. But the school has already made drastic cuts, and it claims education will be impacted if the levy is not approved. Holding CPS accountable by worsening the education of children is senseless. Plus, passing the levy early gives the school district breathing room to worry more about improving education and less about budgets.

To be clear, Issue 42 does not raise taxes. It simply maintains the status quo. All it does is provide a little financial stability for a school district that has been plagued by local, state and federal budget cuts and a recession that greatly reduced property tax revenues.

Local Issues 50 and 51: Yes

Issues 50 and 51 are levy renewals, so there’s no tax hike, and mental health and senior services stay the same. These are levies that even fiscal conservatives have not opposed. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has taken no position on it.

Even with the levy, Hamilton County services will still face cuts due to falling property values around the county. Even with the levy, senior services will still see a $7 million reduction from $104 million to $97 million, and mental health services will drop $17 million from $187 million to $170 million. 

Commissioners decided not to allow a levy that would have kept each department’s funding the same — at an annual cost of $5 per $100,000 home valuation. But at least renewing the levy keeps some funding. That’s a lot better than nothing.

CityBeat will publish its full slate of endorsements, along with an in-depth look at Ohio’s Senate race and the always-helpful Who’s Endorsing Whom chart, in the Election Issue Oct. 31.