If You Want Reform, Do It Yourself

Chellie Pingree, national president of Common Cause, visited Cincinnati Sept. 23 to build support for the four state constitutional amendments advocated by Reform Ohio Now (see "All the News That

Graham Lienhart

Sister Alice Gerdeman addresses anti-war activists.

Chellie Pingree, national president of Common Cause, visited Cincinnati Sept. 23 to build support for the four state constitutional amendments advocated by Reform Ohio Now (see "All the News That Fits," issue of Aug. 17-23). The proposals, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, would reduce the size of campaign contributions individuals can give candidates, create an independent board to draw election districts, create a state elections board and permit any voter to cast an absentee ballot during the 35 days prior to Election Day. Common Cause has invested lots of resources in the effort; for example, Pingree visited the state in July and recently wrote a guest column for The Akron Beacon-Journal promoting passage.

"If this package passes, it would be the most significant reform package in the nation," she says. "This is the beginning of a national movement."

Popular distrust of politicians, the electoral system and government operation makes the time ripe for reform, according to Pingree.

"People say, 'Well, what are you going to do? They're all crooks,' " she says. "It's a really great moment when you can say, 'You're right. It's a really rotten system.

Here's a way to fix it.' "

With Gov. Bob Taft recently convicted of violating campaign finance laws, Ohio is in special need of reform, Pingree says.

"There aren't too many states where you can give a legislator $10,000," she says. "Ohio has set itself up to be uniquely bad."

But recent political developments in Ohio aren't all bad. Samuel Gresham Jr., outreach director for Common Cause Ohio's effort to pass the reform package, points to the number of people who turned out to monitor elections last year. In the process, he says two new terms entered the civic lexicon — "voter suppression" and "voter protection."

"We had never heard this concept before," Gresham says. "We put people around the state of Ohio in 2004 to protect people's right to vote. They are the unsung heroes and she-roes."

While Common Cause organizers want to cast the reform movement as a nonpartisan issue, Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper couldn't resist the opportunity to try to score campaign points. In a statement of support for the reform package, he reminded voters that his opponent in the mayoral race, State Sen. Mark Mallory (D-West End), works in Columbus.

Northside Celebrates Voting was one of the many grassroots efforts to encourage participation in the 2004 election. Heather Sturgill, who created the event, plans to do it again this year on Nov. 5, the Saturday before Election Day.

"The focus has been shifted slightly from just a celebration of the privilege of voting to celebration and education — all the candidates have been invited to present their platform — because getting more voters is cool, but getting educated voters is even better," she says.

Four bands will perform, and admission is free. The celebration is at Hamilton Avenue and Lingo Street. For more information about what Sturgill calls the "Ultimate Political Party," visit www.northside.net/~ncv.

Shocking Evidence That Cincinnati Is Changing
Two major Cincinnati corporations — Federated Department Stores and Procter & Gamble — scored very high on the annual Corporate Equality Index. Each year the Human Rights Campaign Foundation rates Fortune 500 companies on policies that respect the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The index studies seven areas, including domestic partner benefits, diversity training and the inclusion of sexual orientation in equal-employment opportunity policies.

A total of 101 companies received the highest rating, or 100 percent, this year. Those 101 companies have 5.6 million employees, according to Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Workplace Project and lead author of the report.

"With 101 companies scoring 100 percent, millions of Americans now have protections they would have only dreamed of a few years ago," he says.

Federated and P&G each received scores of 86 percent. Cinergy scored 71, and Fifth Third Bancorp and the Kroger Co. both scored 57 percent. For the full Corporate Equality Index, visit www.hrc.org.

For more evidence that Cincinnati is fed up with the U.S. war in Iraq, you only had to be in Over-the-Rhine the night of Sept. 23. Hundreds of people turned out for a send-off rally for activists who went to Washington, D.C., for the national mobilization against the war. The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC), which had hoped to fill a 47-person bus for the protest, ended up filling three buses and still had a waiting list, according to Kristen Barker, an IJPC volunteer.

For a full report on the action in Washington, see "Clamoring for Peace" on page 11.

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