A Lot to Like on Election Day

Sean Hughes

Come on, admit it: We've all cast a vote in opposition to a stated position by the "other side." It's usually in a race or on an issue we know or care little about, but when we hear who a certain political party, a particular union or the morning newspaper is backing we automatically choose the other candidate.

Some of us do it here and there, and some do it on a regular basis.

CityBeat has always encouraged voting for a candidate or issue rather than against something, as too often people vote out of fear of the unknown instead of embracing the possibility (and probability) that change will be good for us and our communities. Still, all else being equal, it's hard not to fall back on an "anti" vote as a tiebreaker.

This line of thinking comes into play with some of the ballot issues on the Nov. 8 ballot, though thankfully not in the biggest race going, for mayor of Cincinnati. That race offers a rare election situation these days — a very tough choice between two exceptional candidates.

CityBeat offers its first round of election endorsements here; our final endorsements will appear next week along with our much-anticipated "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts gathering all endorsements from the media, parties and political action committees (PACs).

For background on these and other races, check our election archives at citybeat.com/mayor. And don't forget to tune into the final mayoral debate of the campaign Tuesday at 8 p.m. on both CET Channel 48 and WVXU (91.7 FM) — CityBeat is one of the media organizations sponsoring the debate and asking questions of the candidates; get more info at cincinnatimayor.com.

Cincinnati Mayor: MARK MALLORY
Be careful what you wish for, they say, and back before the September primary election we wished for a competitive, issue-oriented, head-to-head campaign for mayor. With Mark Mallory and David Pepper, we got it.

There have been lots of debates, lots of plans put forth and a little personal sniping since September, and all in all the Mallory-Pepper race has been everything we could have hoped for. Frankly, we think the city and the region will benefit from either person as mayor and we won't be disappointed with either result Nov. 8.

The ideal scenario would be for whoever doesn't win to somehow work with the winner to move Cincinnati forward — that would be easier to accomplish, we suppose, with Pepper as mayor and Mallory still at the statehouse. Maybe it could be a tie and they'd be co-mayors?

OK, we've stalled long enough. We have to choose, and we back Mallory to be Cincinnati's next mayor.

He supports many of the key positions CityBeat has advocated over the years for moving Cincinnati to a better future: improved race relations; better oversight of the police department; full rights for all citizens, including gays and lesbians; full support of the arts, including city funding; improved public transit; full partnership with and support of Cincinnati Public Schools; and support for tolerance and diversity.

With his years in the state legislature and as co-chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, Mallory will bring a big picture approach to City Hall. With his contacts in area governments and the business community, he has a good shot at tearing down the economic and social barriers the suburbs tend to build around the city to guard against dangers unknown.

His status as an "outsider" in city politics, derided by Pepper supporters, will actually be a benefit, allowing Mallory to set a new tone and a new direction for council. His statesmanship and legislative experience will help produce better laws from council and improved relationships among council, the mayor and the new city manager.

Don't underestimate Mallory's ability to relate to both corporate CEOs and neighborhood activists, his track record of working with statehouse Republicans, his family's dedication to service and his experiences growing up an African-American male in this city. These traits make Mallory a likeable, approachable, professional politician who would elevate the manner and substance of what gets done at City Hall.

Issue 1 (Ohio Constitutional Amendment for Bond Authority): YES
Here's the classic choice between voting for something and voting against something. On the "for" side, Issue 1 renews a previously passed amendment allowing the state to issue bonds to cover $1.35 billion of infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, sewers) over the next 10 years. It also provides $150 million to develop abandoned or unused industrial sites to make them "job ready" for new investors, presumably high tech companies.

On the "against" side, these worthy goals are paired with $500 million for Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier Initiative, which promotes investment in research and technology across the state. Voters rejected the Third Frontier plan in 2003, in what many people saw as a referendum on the governor's poor budget record. (CityBeat endorsed against the measure, particularly because by law the state can't give public money to for-profit corporations unless those corporations provide a product or service in return.)

Issue 1 would circumvent both the current constitutional restriction on giving public funds to private corporations and the current cap on state debt service. And it clearly hides a controversial plan backed by an unpopular governor inside a popular nuts-and-bolts infrastructure funding measure that's been passed by voters several times before.

Back on the "for" side, various religious fundamentalists — including Right to Life and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell — have come out against Issue 1 because they claim some of the research and technology funds could be used for embryonic stem-cell research, which would amount to state support for that procedure. And then there's the broad support for the issue, from chambers of commerce to labor unions, Republicans to Democrats.

So, in short: Infrastructure is good, Taft is bad, redeveloping industrial sites is good, sneaky ballot tactics are bad. Hmmmm. Hardcore right-wingers against it? We're for it.

Issue 2 (Ohio Constitutional Amendment for Absentee Balloting): YES
Issues 2 through 5 were placed on the ballot after a signature-gathering effort by Reform Ohio Now, joining Ohio with a number of states voting on election reform — California being the other major one. For major arguments for and against the issues, see "Reforming Ohio Elections" on page 16.

The thrust behind these issues is two-fold: make Ohio voters once again trust the election process and break the Republican Party stranglehold on Ohio politics. The first goal is critically important, as Ohio's election system clearly malfunctioned in last year's presidential election and is on the verge of collapse. If we can't trust that our votes count and that partisan officials aren't monkeying around with the system, there's really no reason to vote or even care — which we suspect is one of the GOP's secret goals in supporting the status quo.

Republicans and their friends in the religious right are scrambling to throw doubt into your mind about these ballot issues, arguing that horrible things will ensue if the current system is overhauled. Plus, they say, constitutional amendments aren't the correct mechanism for reforming elections — the state legislature is the appropriate body to pass such reforms.

Well, if Republicans had passed real reform, we wouldn't need these issues. Instead, they passed campaign finance laws last year that significantly increased the amounts of money people could donate to Ohio candidates and parties. And they continue to draw legislative districts that ensure GOP majorities in the state House and Senate and boost GOP Congressional representation. Notice how our Congressional District 1 keeps shifting in order to get Steve Chabot the votes he needs?

So it's time to pass Issues 2-5 and see how they (along with the Republican scandals in Columbus) change the political landscape starting next year. They'll create more competitive districts and better races with more choice; they'll allow candidates without huge financial backing a better shot at winning; and they'll give voters more options for voting and, most importantly, reinstate trust that our votes actually count.

Or not. Maybe the issues won't solve all the problems in Ohio's election system, and maybe political hacks will find their way around the new laws.

Still, there's no way these issues will create a system that's more broken and more dishonest than what we currently have. Unknown possibility vs. known disaster? Go with the possibility.

For Issue 2, that means giving citizens the opportunity to cast absentee ballots by mail up to 35 days before an election, and they don't need a reason (such as illness or being absent on Election Day). Not all that earth-shattering a proposal, but it sounds good.

Issue 3 (Ohio Constitutional Amendment for Campaign Finance Reform): YES
This issue offers new contribution limits for individuals, PACs, candidate committees and affiliated national, state, county and local political parties. Under this law individuals who can now contribute $10,000 to a statewide candidate for governor, for instance, would be allowed to contribute only $2,000; the old limit before legislators raised it last year was $2,500.

Other positive steps under Issue 3 include reaffirming restrictions on contributions from political parties and corporations, limiting contributions from anyone under age 18, prohibiting officeholders and candidates from soliciting contributions for ballot issues and requiring better public disclosure of contributions.

Issue 4 (Ohio Constitutional Amendment for Redistricting Commission): YES
This issue seems to be the keystone for the Reform Ohio Now package, as it creates a State Redistricting Commission to take over drawing legislative districts for both Congressional and State Assembly representatives; the state legislature currently performs that duty, with the party in power controlling the board that determines district boundaries.

Two major criteria the new commission would operate under are that the districts must be "competitive" and that "communities of interest" (geographical, economic or racial) would be preserved when possible. Gerrymandering remains a possibility under this new system, but it's hard to see how it could be any worse than the current system — remember that districts would be drawn to encourage competitive races instead of the current emphasis on protecting incumbents.

Issue 5 (Ohio Constitutional Amendment for New Election Board): YES
This issue takes overall election system responsibility away from the secretary of state and gives it to a new nine-member election board, who would then oversee boards of election in Ohio's 88 counties and make all the rulings on candidates, issues and election equipment. Four of the board's members would be appointed by the governor, four by legislators of the party opposite the governor's and one by the Ohio Supreme Court; members couldn't be an elected or appointed official, a candidate for office, a party leader or a registered lobbyist.

Issue 5 is all about avoiding the kind of terrible situations Blackwell put this state in during last year's presidential race, as he issued rulings on voting procedures while simultaneously serving as President Bush's statewide campaign chairman. The secretary of state would still have a lot to keep him or her busy if this issue passes, which it should.

Issue 8 (Cincinnati Charter Amendment on Council/ Mayor Salaries): YES
Currently the salary of Cincinnati City Council members is three-fourths of the salary of Hamilton County Commissioners, and the mayor's salary is double what council members make. County commissioners receive raises whenever the Ohio legislature grants them, and thus council and the mayor get bumps at the same time.

This issue would force council to vote on such salary increases when they appear, and it would require a two-thirds majority (six of nine votes) to pass the increase. The mayor's salary would increase or not depending on the council vote.

The theory here is that council members would have to cast a public vote to increase their own pay, which would be a tough sell in difficult financial times like this and thus would stifle salary increases. We're not talking about a ton of money, but every little bit helps the city's bottom line — and a council vote is certainly preferable to automatic pay increases.

Issue 9 (Cincinnati Charter Amendment to Eliminate City Property Tax): NO
This issue is a retread of a similar move last fall to slowly starve the city of property taxes, which account for about 9 percent of the city's general fund. The amendment would cap the city property tax at 4.00 mills next year and reduce it by 0.5 mill each year thereafter until it hits zero in 2014. Right now the city's property tax is at 4.98 mills, and what a city resident pays to this fund is a little less than 8 percent of the total property taxes he or she pays.

CityBeat endorsed against this issue last year, and we are against it again now. It makes no sense to cut off city revenues like this with no clear mandate to do so and no plan to rework spending to accommodate the reductions.

Find more coverage of these races and issues at citybeat.com.

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