Cover Story: Power to the People

Election 2000 finds progressives facing tough choices, third parties on the rise and Democrats ready to break through in Hamilton County

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Progressive-thinking people have several tough choices facing them on Election Day, particularly at the top of the ballot.

By now, of course, we're all familiar with the "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" argument. Also with the clever retort, "A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush," offered by Ralph Nader supporters to point out the scant difference between the two major parties.

Actually, both statements are wrong. There are significant differences between Al Gore and George W. Bush on issues important to progressives: the environment, abortion rights, minority advancement, gay rights, gun control and more.

Unfortunately, the two major parties are essentially the same — small-minded and anti-progressive — on other crucial issues: campaign finance reform, the growth of corporate influence over democracy, health care, Social Security, the military and foreign policy. Nothing proves the Republicats' and Democrans' merging of interests more than their banning all third parties from this fall's presidential debates and specifically barring Nader from attending the Winston-Salem and St. Louis debates in person even though he had tickets to get in.

Still, if the election were between Gore and Bush only, Gore clearly would be the choice for progressives. Nothing good can come of Dubya in the White House. Nothing.

(Unless, as several folks have suggested, Bush flames out so badly that four years from now third parties will have a legitimate shot at winning the presidency. But who wants a miserable four years like that?)

Of course, Gore and Bush aren't the only choices Tuesday. Nader, as is his Constitutional right, is running for president. So are several other third party candidates. And they're doing it for one simple reason: They want to serve their country.

In 1996, CityBeat endorsed the Libertarian Party candidate, Harry Browne, for president. Then, as now, third-party candidates with alternative positions on the major issues facing Americans were shut out of the debates and national news coverage.

Republicats and Democrans talk a good game about "reinventing government," but the truth is the major parties are ultimately interested in maintaining the status quo and their hold on power. Think you're ever going to see real campaign finance reform, tax reform, health care reform or corporate welfare reform passed by the major parties in Washington, D.C.?

Meanwhile, third party candidates offer a wide array of real reform options — some way out on the far right or left — that voters deserve to hear about.

Up until Jesse Ventura's election two years ago as Minnesota governor, most recent third-party candidates have been seen as little more than spoilers or egomaniacs, or both. Ventura's win, however, changed the political landscape dramatically. When he joined the debates, he turned the gubernatorial race upside down. Voter turnout shot up, particularly among young people who were energized perhaps for the first time in their lives about politics.

Third party campaigns — with the right mix of real reforms, populist policies and a star-power personality — can succeed now in the United States. Yes, there still are differences between the Republicans and Democrats, but many progressives are having a harder time recognizing those differences.

Elections aren't always about winning and losing. They're about choosing candidates who reflect your vision for the kind of community, state, country and world you want to live in and leave to the next generation.

If you believe your vote really counts, you can never waste it. Third-party candidates in Ohio, Kentucky and nationally need and deserve your vote, now more than ever.

President: Ralph Nader

An overflow crowd greeted Ralph Nader at UC's Zimmer Auditorium on Oct. 26. All 800 seats were filled, and at least 100 people without tickets waited in line to see if they could be squeezed in.

Nader received thunderous standing ovations at the beginning and end of his talk. In between, looking and sounding like an insurance salesman delivering a lecture on economics, he let loose on the tangled web of "free trade" woven by multinational corporations, U.S. politicians, repressive governments around the world and a compliant media.

His common-sense approach, sprinkled with real-world examples, left the audience both bewildered and energized. Three main thoughts swept the auditorium: "How did things get so bad?" "Why didn't I know about this?" and "What can we do about it?"

The next morning's Cincinnati Enquirer offered a front-page account of Nader's speech, focusing mostly on the Green Party candidate's spoiler role in the Gore-Bush race. The jump page summarized Nader's stands against the World Trade Organization and corporate takeover of our democratic processes.

The lead story on the same front page that morning was about the U.S. Senate's proposal to grant veto power over international trade settlements to Chiquita Brands International and its politically connected chairman, Carl Lindner.

The irony was incredible, though no one at The Enquirer noticed, as they didn't connect the stories for readers. Here was a ripped-from-today's-headlines example of precisely the corporatization of democracy that Nader addresses. And it's centered around Cincinnati, not exactly the hub of international commerce.

The message was clear, even to those who didn't hear Nader speak the night before: The major political parties are slowly but surely chipping away at our individual democratic rights and losing sight of the broader interests of the American people. That, essentially, is the basis of Nader's campaign for president.

He's not the perfect candidate, but who is? He's not even the complete candidate, avoiding much discussion of foreign policy and social causes to focus on domestic issues and world trade. But he's the best candidate and the right person for the presidency.

Gore and Bush, as most major-party presidential candidates do, have rushed to the middle ground to compete for centrist independent voters, which more and more Americans now consider themselves. It's beyond us how Gore — despite the longest economic boom in American history, a plummeting crime rate and no military threat from a superpower enemy, all crucial issues that swing national elections — isn't leading Bush by 10-15 points. Four years ago Clinton handily beat Bob Dole, who had a much better record of public service and personal character than Dubya has in his dreams.

Bush's biggest attraction seems to be that he's not as stupid as he first appeared — although we'd argue with that assessment. His record as a failed businessman and a heartless, gutless governor speaks for itself.

Gore hasn't been able to attract sufficient numbers of middle-of-the-road voters or progressives, and that's not Nader's fault. Gore should be working to convince Bush supporters to vote for him instead of harrassing Nader supporters — that's the only way to turn around Bush's lead in the campaign's waning days.

No one owes Gore their vote. Gore owes us an honest, hard-working government that's faithful to progressive principles. If he's not willing to deliver that, we shouldn't be willing to deliver our votes.

Vote for your hopes and not against your fears Tuesday. Vote for Nader.

Hamilton County Commissioner: Todd Portune

THE THREE MAIN ISSUES IN THIS CONTENTIOUS CAMPAIGN ARE LEADERSHIP, ACCOUNTABILITY AND VISION. LET'S LOOK AT INCUMBENT BOB BEDINGHAUS' RECORD ON EACH POINT.

BEDINGHAUS' CAMPAIGN HAS FOCUSED ON HIS LEADERSHIP OF THE CONTROVERSIAL STADIUM DEVELOPMENTS. IF HE DIDN'T STEP UP AND PUT HIS POLITICAL FORTUNES ON THE LINE, HE SAYS, THE SALES TAX HIKE WOULDN'T HAVE PASSED, A CONTRACT WITH THE BENGALS WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN SIGNED AND PAUL BROWN STADIUM WOULDN'T HAVE OPENED THIS SUMMER. A SIMILAR TIMELINE ALSO WOULDN'T BE MOVING FORWARD WITH THE NEW REDS STADIUM.

IT TOOK COURAGE, BEDINGHAUS SAYS, FOR HIM TO LEAD THE CHARGE FOR NEW STADIUMS. AND LOOK AT THE "REBIRTH OF THE RIVERFRONT" HIS EFFORTS HAVE SPURRED, SO PERHAPS THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS (AND THE MONEY).

WELL, IT TAKES COURAGE TO LEAD A GROUP OF PEOPLE TO WALK IN FRONT OF A SPEEDING BUS, BUT THE RESULTS THERE ARE ABOUT AS DISASTROUS AS THE STADIUM MESS. SURE, IT TAKES COURAGE TO MAKE A HUGE POLITICAL DECISION, BUT IT TAKES WISDOM TO MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION. AND PRACTICALLY EVERY DECISION BEDINGHAUS MADE ON THE STADIUMS WAS WRONG.

TO QUICKLY REVIEW: THE SALES TAX ITSELF WAS THE FIRST MISTAKE. PLENTY OF OTHER CITIES BUILDING STADIUMS RECENTLY USED A BETTER MIX OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC FUNDS AND/OR USED TAXES PAID FOR BY THE STADIUM'S ULTIMATE CONSUMERS (TICKET, PARKING, CONCESSION AND HOTEL TAXES), INCLUDING JACKSONVILLE'S REHABBED FOOTBALL PALACE, WHICH BENGALS OWNER MIKE BROWN CALLED HIS "MODEL STADIUM." BEDINGHAUS INSTEAD PUSHED FOR A SALES TAX, THE MOST REGRESSIVE TAX THERE IS, MEANING THAT COUNTY RESIDENTS WHO'D NEVER STEP FOOT IN THE NEW STADIUM WOULD PAY FOR IT.

BEDINGHAUS WANTED TO IMPLEMENT THE SALES TAX HIKE BY A SIMPLE COMMISSION VOTE, BYPASSING PUBLIC DEBATE. AFTER VOCAL CITIZEN OPPOSITION, THE TAX QUESTION WAS PUT ON THE BALLOT.

DURING THE TAX HIKE CAMPAIGN, BEDINGHAUS SOLD THE TWO-STADIUM PROPOSAL, INCLUDING PARKING AND DEMOLITION OF CINERGY FIELD, AS A $544-MILLION PROJECT. TODAY THE PROJECT IS ALMOST $1 BILLION, WITH THE REDS STADIUM A LONG WAY (AND MANY MORE DOLLARS) FROM COMPLETION.

Bedinghaus ignored the experts when both the city's and the county's planning commissions, in separate studies, determined that Broadway Commons was the ideal location for the Reds stadium in terms of having the biggest economic impact on Cincinnati. He hired an out-of-town consultant, Urban Design Associates, to recommend stadium locations to the county; they didn't. When it became clear that, in public meetings on stadium locations, sentiment was running in favor of Broadway Commons, Bedinghaus stopped having public meetings.

Bedinghaus oversaw negotiations with the Bengals that produced a contract enormously favorable to Brown. And he oversaw stadium construction that, due to tons of changes on the fly (decided in private, not public, meetings), came in at least $45 million over budget.

Bedinghaus — along with his apologists in the Republican Party, the business community and the city's daily newspapers — acknowledges that mistakes were made with the Bengals but that he's learned his lesson and promises to do a better job with the Reds stadium. Well, he couldn't do any worse.

But as that great philosopher Gomer Pyle said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

That's where accountability comes in. Only twice since 1970 has a Democrat beaten a Republican incumbent for a Hamilton County office: when Dusty Rhodes became auditor in 1990 after the incumbent, Joseph L. DeCourcy Jr., was indicted on charges of criminal activity in office; and when Eve Bolton won the 1992 race for recorder after major backlogs in that office were discovered.

In other words, a Republican incumbent in Hamilton County pretty much has to commit a crime while in office to be defeated at the polls. Is this really the kind of government we want? Are our elected county officials really accountable for their actions if they know they can get away with such horrendous mismanagement of public funds as Paul Brown Stadium?

The daily papers reported earlier this year that the majority of financial contributions to Bedinghaus' campaign have come from sources tied to the new stadiums: Brown, Reds owner Carl Lindner, other members of Brown's and Lindner's families and other team executives, lawyers, vendors and employees. Last week came another story that Lindner was donating $100,000 to buy last-minute TV time for Bedinghaus ads.

Again, is this the kind of government county residents want? Is this really what we deserve for passing a sales tax to build new stadiums for our beloved professional sports franchises? Are we so desperate for "major league" status we'll give Bedinghaus a do-over for plunging this community into serious long-term debt?

Which is where vision comes in. One of the promises made during the 1996 sales tax campaign was that the tax hike would be needed for only 20 years. Well, now it's projected to be 30 years or more.

Sure, the new stadiums might bring forth The Banks development, which might produce new hotels, condos and restaurants for tourists and wealthy professionals. Meanwhile, large-scale projects such as light rail and a regional arts commission — which likely will require voter approval in the next few years for tax funding — won't stand a chance in hell of winning at the polls.

Mass transit and the arts, which have the potential to touch every citizen in Hamilton County, are being poisoned in the minds of voters by the stadium funding fiasco, which will live on long after Bedinghaus leaves office. Now that's vision for you.

There are four possible explanations for why the stadium projects went so horribly off-course: Bedinghaus didn't know what he was doing, he didn't care what he was doing, he did the best he could but screwed up or, hey, that's just the way these things go. None of those possibilities are acceptable to the taxpayers and voters of Hamilton County.

Portune, however, is more than acceptable to county taxpayers and voters. His experience on Cincinnati City Council bodes well for his ability to help direct county planning over the next four years.

His record on minority issues, mass transit, home ownership, civil rights and more will be a breath of fresh air on the county commission, and he'll certainly be able to get the city and county to work together more effectively.

Even if you somehow remove the stadium mess from Bedinghaus' record as county commissioner, Portune is the better choice for this seat. Frankly, the idea that any voter is even thinking of letting Bedinghaus off the hook for arrogantly mismanaging the stadium projects is astounding.

Hamilton County is your community. You have to decide what kind of community you want it to be.

We believe this is the kind of community where public officials are held accountable for their leadership and vision — or lack thereof.

Hamilton County Commissioner: John Dowlin

THE PROBLEM WITH POLITICIANS WHO ARE NEARER THE END OF THEIR CAREERS THAN THE BEGINNING IS THAT THEY TEND TO VOTE THEIR CONSCIENCES. WELL, IT'S A PROBLEM FOR ANYONE HOPING TO CONTROL THOSE POLITICIANS.

JOHN DOWLIN HAS A LONG RECORD OF PUBLIC SERVICE, AS MAYOR OF SHARONVILLE FOR 28 YEARS AND AS COUNTY COMMISSIONER SINCE 1990. HE REPORTEDLY THOUGHT OF NOT RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION THIS FALL, UNTIL SOMEONE FROM THE HAMILTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY, HE SAYS, ASKED HIM TO STEP ASIDE. MAYBE I STILL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY ON THE COMMISSION, HE DECIDED, AND HERE HE IS.

HIS ROLE, OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS IN PARTICULAR, HAS BEEN VITAL. HE'S BEEN THE COMMISSION'S LONE DISSENTER, OBJECTOR, MAVERICK AND CRANK ON STADIUM ISSUES — FROM CONTRACTS TO SITE LOCATIONS TO FUNDING — AND, WHAT DO YOU KNOW, HE'S BEEN R

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