News media, residents and political activists spend a lot of time watching Cincinnati City Council. Downtown boycotters believe they can find justice for disadvantaged citizens by putting an economic squeeze on the business district and therefore the city's ruling class.
But many of the key decisions about education, health care, transportation, the justice system, economic development and many other topics are made 90 miles away in Columbus. State legislators preside over about $23 billion in spending each year, compared to about $312 million spent by the city of Cincinnati.
But the Ohio General Assembly receives far less attention than City Hall. Scant local media coverage of state issues, particularly in The Cincinnati Enquirer, makes it more difficult for people to understand how Statehouse votes affect their lives.
Hamilton County has 11 representatives in the Ohio House and Senate. The House has 99 members, including eight serving at least part of Hamilton County. The Senate has 33 members, including three serving at least part of Hamilton County.
House members face election every two years and Senate members run every six years.
Three House districts comprise each Senate district
Three local candidates — Sen. Mark Mallory, Rep. Michelle G. Schneider and Rep. Patricia Clancy — are running unopposed. Schneider is in the 35th House district, covering eastern Hamilton County and the eastern half of Warren County. Mallory's 9th Senate district runs through the heart of Cincinnati, and Clancy's 29th House district includes northwest Hamilton County.
Democrat Dan Kenneweg technically opposes Clancy. However, Kenneweg says the Democratic Party was supposed to replace him with another nominee, but didn't. Then he became business manager of Local 212 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
"Now I simply don't have time," Kenneweg says, adding that he would resign if he were elected.
The 34th House District race between Republican incumbent Tom Brinkman Jr. and Democratic challenger David Schaff was profiled several weeks ago in Party Poopers.
This year legislators are still grappling with a 1991 school-funding lawsuit, a challenge to the inequality of the state's school funding system, which relies on property taxes. Twice the Ohio Supreme Court has sided with the majority of Ohio school districts who filed the lawsuit.
On top of that, the state is facing $4 billion budget deficit this year and has been criticized over its lax regulation of charter schools, some of which have wasted thousands of dollars.
In the Tri-state, sprawling development has some citizens concerned Cincinnati is going to be the next Detroit, while a campaign is underway for the $2.6 billion MetroMoves plan, which would begin a five-line light rail network and countywide expansion of the Cincinnati Metro bus system.
House District 28
Jim Raussen narrowly lost to Ohio Rep. Wayne Coates two years ago. This time the two are competing in a new district with thousands more Republican voters, so Republicans are counting on Raussen to come through.
Raussen, who handles claims for Great American Insurance, says the state could probably save a lot of money by dropping the two-license plate requirement to just one, which is what most states require.
Consolidating the state's insurance department with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles could save more money, he says.
Raussen supports putting video lottery terminals in horse tracks to pay for education. He also believes the seven largest school districts in Ohio would do a better job if they weren't so large. They spend too much on administration, he says.
Raussen also wants school districts to consider more public-private partnerships, such as Cincinnati Bell's technology training at Taft High School. Vocational schools should be the next partners, he says.
Raussen is open to reforming the property tax system for funding schools, but not to getting rid of the property tax.
Raussen also likes MetroMoves, but he's not sure the tax increase is a good idea now.
Raussen would like to put a hold on the death penalty and examine how it's distributed among the population.
"I really am torn on the issue," he says.
Raussen supports charter schools, but only when public schools are not serving students.
Raussen, a Springdale resident, is very concerned with the number of young people leaving Ohio.
"I'm the youngest person in my neighborhood by 25 years," he says.
Real estate broker Wayne Coates, a former mayor of Forest Park, is a conservative Democrat who strongly supports services for senior citizens, mental health care and education. Coates voted for many Republican bills during his first term.
University tuition increases should be limited, possibly by ending $150 million in aid to foreign graduate students, according to Coates.
The state could also raise a lot of money by selling the Ohio Turnpike, he says.
A member of the Ways and Means Committee, Coates is critical of the budget decisions made by Republican leaders. They've given far to many perks to their friends instead of making good investments in the future, he says.
The budget situation is so bad that the state government had to withhold payments to local governments at the end of the fiscal year in June, so there's already a built-in deficit this year. That's on top of $345 million the state borrowed last year to balance the budget.
"It's not all recession and it's not all 9/11," Coates says.
The state needs to reform the property tax school funding system and stop fighting the Supreme Court, according to Coates. School choices such as vouchers and charter schools aren't going to help, either; and they "fly in the face" of the DeRolph decisions, he says.
Coates supports regional planning efforts without government mandates. But he doesn't support MetroMoves, in part because the sales tax is badly timed. He also resents the fact that Cincinnati Metro wouldn't provide direct access to Forest Fair Mall despite his repeated requests.
"I just don't trust them," Coates says.
Taft's Third Frontier Program to support high tech businesses should have begun a long time ago, Coates says.
"Hell, he's 10 years too late," he says.
Coates supports the death penalty, saying technology ensures accuracy in convictions.
House District 30
Republican Bill Seitz, an attorney and former Green Township Trustee, is seeking a second term in Columbus. Five of the bills he sponsored passed, including a bill prohibiting same-sex marriages, a sex-offender notification bill and a bill prohibiting lawyers from using state inspections in lawsuits against nursing homes.
Seitz says the General Assembly has done more for education recently than people might realize. It has added $1.4 billion to the education budget and positioned the state to receive several hundred million more federal dollars by aligning state and new federal standards.
The legislature is willing to work with the Supreme Court, Seitz says.
"But we don't like doing it under a shotgun from the Supreme Court," he says.
The school districts aren't going to be happy until they get everything they want, Seitz says.
"I will not vote for an income tax increase," he says.
But he would support "circuit breaker" legislation giving property tax refunds to people who don't earn much money but face large property tax bills. Seitz says property taxes need to be part of the education funding system, because they are more stable than income and sales taxes.
Seitz also supports ending the automatic property tax rollbacks schools have dealt with for years. Unlike cities and counties, school districts' tax collections don't increase as property values do. That's why so many are forced to ask voters to pass levies.
Seitz supported a plan by House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) that would have put video lottery terminals — basically video slot machines — in horse racing tracks.
People already gamble at these tracks, Seitz says, so this would help the tracks and keep dollars from going to Indiana casinos.
Seitz supports charter schools. They haven't performed as well as public schools because many of them are teaching kids who left or got kicked out of public schools, he says.
Seitz backs the death penalty but might support a commission to study whether or not it's being applied accurately and fairly.
Part of the city of Cincinnati's problem is that it has traditionally been the focus of the region and has been able to get anything it wants, according to Seitz. But now the city represents less than one-third of the region's population. Seitz is willing to work with the city on regional issues, such as convention centers and water service, but only if the city doesn't behave like a bully.
Seitz is more forgiving to SORTA and MetroMoves. He sat on a planning committee that worked on the project. He says SORTA made a good effort to get widespread public input on the project.
"I would say that Metro did a pretty good job soliciting public input," Seitz says. "I think there is much in the plan that is meritorious."
However, Seitz doesn't take a public position on the project. Instead he wants the people to decide for themselves.
Seitz would rather see Hamilton County grow than the region meld with the Dayton suburbs. He wants balanced growth in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
The city has been losing people because of its high taxes and fear of crime, he says
So far the townships have been "saving the day" for Hamilton County because of their lower taxes and leaner regulations. That's why he tends to fight for the rights of townships.
Seitz says he's willing to explore regional efforts at cooperation on economic development, such as sharing the growth of certain taxes. But he strictly opposes growth boundaries and other similar regulations.
Seitz also supports a Democratic call to reexamine income and corporate tax breaks for businesses, which now amount to $10 billion per year. Some of them might not be doing Ohio much good, according Seitz.
Last spring Seitz and others backed a mortgage broker bill that increased regulations on lenders and created a commission to study the issue for further regulation. But watchdog groups criticized the bill because it removed all local regulations for lenders, some of whom have pushed predatory loans that stripped unsuspecting citizens of their largest asset — their home equity. They also say two years is too long to take on this issue because unscrupulous lenders are hurting people every day.
Seitz says greater disclosure in mortgage paperwork, such as putting the interest rates in clear language, won't help because no one reads all the paperwork anyway.
"I don't think that two years is ... too long of a time to study the issue," Seitz says, adding that he supports a Democratic bill to mandate some level of financial education in schools.
Democrat Bob Klug has spent 50 years running small businesses, including a school bus company, a restaurant, a service station and carry out, an ice cream parlor and a liquor store. He was on Cheviot City Council from 1959 to 1965.
Klug says the state needs some reforms, such as getting out of the liquor business. For example, the state sets the prices for liquor and only allows a 6 percent retail profit. Kentucky has no such controls.
"They don't set the price," Klug says. "You set the price."
Despite his business background, Klug says he will fight any attempt to limit lawsuits, such as Seitz's bill barring lawyers from using state inspections in lawsuits against nursing homes.
"If the nursing homes are run right, they won't have to worry about lawsuits," he says.
Klug also supports video lottery terminals to fund education. He thinks off-track betting on horse races is a good idea and even believes people should be able to legally use bookies.
"If they want to gamble, let them stay home and gamble," he says.
Klug doesn't believe Ohio ever had a $900 million rainy day fund or $600 million in tobacco lawsuit money that has since been committed. He thinks legislators were lying about it.
Klug says charter schools are just getting cheaper teachers. His daughter attended one for a while. "You're not going to get good teachers on the cheap," he says.
Klug thinks the death does no good.
"The death penalty, to me, is regressive," he says.
The same goes for simple, "tough on crime" stances. About 30 percent of the people in prison are there for drug crimes. He supports state Issue 1, which mandates that courts offer drug treatment for first-time, nonviolent drug offenses.
"Jails never cured nothing," Klug says.
People are leaving Cincinnati because they're afraid they're not getting their money's worth in city services, according to Klug. Some fear for their safety, but that's not really a problem to be afraid of, he says.
He supports an expanded convention center in Cincinnati and says the city must be strong for the region to do well.
"It's important to see that Cincinnati is taken care of," Klug says.
At the same time, the city needs to streamline its bureaucracy to make it more business-friendly.
"I think Indianapolis did a hell of a job," Klug says. Indianapolis merged its city and county governments to offer more efficient services. Of course, Indianapolis didn't have to contend with 48 other political jurisdictions, some of which are fiercely independent.
However, Klug says it doesn't make sense for every little city or village to have its own police and fire department.
Klug likes rail transit in general, but doesn't think the MetroMoves plan has been studied enough. He also doesn't think enough people know about it.
Old enough to remember Cincinnati's old streetcars, Klug says the lines were a great way to move people, but the city's downtown streets weren't wide enough to handle the streetcars.
Klug thinks the county would be better off if it sold the stadiums to Mike Brown and Carl Lindner.
He says he will be a strong defender of civil liberties.
"We're losing our rights that we've worked so hard to get," Klug says.
House District 31
Democrat Steve Driehaus is asking voters for a second term in the House. Like many Democrats, Driehaus is pushing hard for the legislature to reexamine corporate tax breaks. Today they cost the state $10 billion; they've increased by $1.5 billion in the past three years.
"Some of them are very good and some of them I support," Driehaus says.
But with a $4 billion budget deficit looming, the state can't afford anything that isn't clearly helping the state's economy, he says. He wants all of the income and corporate tax breaks to end, forcing businesses to re-apply and document the impact of the break they were receiving.
"We don't know (the impact)," Driehaus says. "We don't measure it."
Ohio is 47th in the nation in new businesses start-up and job growth, so something isn't working well.
"As far as I'm concerned, the return on the investment has been abysmal," Driehaus says.
State spending has doubled under the past 10 years of Republican control in Columbus, rising to $23 billion every two years, according to Driehaus.
He also criticizes the $2.5 billion in income tax breaks handed out by Republicans in the past six years.
"What kind of economic growth did we get?" Driehaus says "Not much. They've sacrificed the long-term economic vitality of the state for short-term political gain."
Gov. Bob Taft strongly supports the $50 million Ohio Reads program, which provides grants to schools for professional training, materials and after-school reading programs to help fourth-graders pass proficiency tests. Driehaus wonders if that is a function state government should support separately from education.
"You go into the budget and find program after program like that," he says.
Driehaus wonders how the state can afford Taft's Third Frontier economic development proposal. It would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans to a wide range of businesses, from high-tech industries to start-ups to businesses with innovative techniques.
Taft is pushing to extend the state's debt limit to pay for the Third Frontier program. Right now the state's debt can't exceed five percent of its general budget.
"Again, he's taking us down the wrong path," Driehaus says.
The city needs to investigate the effect of quick-buying, quick-selling housing speculators who treat neighborhoods as nothing more than short-term investment opportunities, according to Driehaus.
People have been leaving or avoiding Cincinnati for bigger homes and lot sizes.
Supporters of light rail don't fully appreciate the long-term costs of maintaining such a system, Driehaus says. It's more important to repair the Sixth Street Viaduct, he says. However, he does like the bus expansion proposed in MetroMoves.
Driehaus doesn't support the death penalty or legal abortion.
An education should always include art classes and extracurricular activities such as band and sports, according to Driehaus. He says public schools need more community partnerships, such as the high tech curriculum Cincinnati Bell provides at Taft High School.
Driehaus sits on the financial committee of a local parochial school, but he's leery of charter schools.
"What I don't like is some businessman coming in and saying 'I know how to run schools," he says.
Vouchers don't really address the whole educational environment, according to Driehaus. Poor school performance is as much about the school as it is the community, he says.
Driehaus says every local religious school provides financial assistance to some of their students. That doesn't meet every need, but it means poorer students already have some school choice. Parochial schools sometimes have better results because they attract students with parents who care enough to pay for their education, he says.
"Vouchers don't get you there," he says. "Vouchers get you to the classroom — that's it."
Driehaus says his first priority is getting the state to do a better job with community development and redevelopment. Parts of the state are engaged in a "cannibalizing" type of development that builds new businesses and housing at the expense of older businesses and housing, he says.
Driehaus supports using video lottery terminals at horse tracks to pay for education, but believes the state lottery preys upon the poor.
Sheryl Ross grew up in Chicago and has lived in Cincinnati for most of the past 35 years. She's a career transition consultant who wants to apply her skills to the Ohio workforce.
She supports Taft's Third Frontier program, but says the state also needs to offer incentives to keep from losing skilled people. Perhaps the state could forgive a percentage of student loans for teachers who teach in the state for a certain number of years, she says.
Ross isn't sure about Driehaus' idea to end some business tax breaks.
"I think it's a hard time to really come down hard on businesses," she says.
Ross believes in school choice. Students should be able to take the $4,000 to $5,000 or so the state spends per pupil and use it to attend the schools they want, she says.
She believes in the death penalty.
People have been leaving Cincinnati because "they're concerned about their personal safety," among other reasons, Ross says.
A fan of mass transit and city living, she used to ride a commuter rail 40 minutes into downtown Chicago from the suburbs. Ross says she will probably vote for the MetroMoves sales tax increase.
"It may not pass this time, but then it may in the long-term," she says.
Politics runs in Ross' family. Her mother served 16 years as a Republican in the Illinois House of Representatives.
House District 32
Born in 1976, Randy O'Hara has been involved in politics since 1996, when he began volunteering for the Republican Party. The next year he was elected to the student senate at the University of Cincinnati.
O'Hara worked for U.S. Rep. Rob Portman (R-Terrace Park) in 1998 and the Bush campaign in 2000.
He works as a clerk in the Hamilton County Recorder's Office while studying political science at UC.
O'Hara was a foster child from ages 15 to 18. His firsthand experience with state services makes him want to reform Ohio's bureaucracy. The Ohio Department of Family Services, for example, has a cookie cutter approach to children, he says.
"The system tried to treat every child the same," O'Hara says.
He believes some state systems, such as mental health care, are very inefficient.
O'Hara also has a strong interest in education. Good teachers made a difference in his life by taking an interest in him, even helping him after school, he says.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today (without a good education)," O'Hara says.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) has great potential as a district but is held back by poor funding and management, according to O'Hara. He says private schools spend about half per pupil what CPS does and produce better results. He supports charter schools and vouchers so parents are in control.
"It's their tax dollars," he says. "It's their child."
People have been leaving Cincinnati because its taxes are higher and because the city isn't as business-friendly as Northern Kentucky is, according to O'Hara.
"I wish it wasn't happening," he says.
O'Hara believes the region needs a strong central city to be successful.
He opposes the MetroMoves light rail plan in part because the county is losing population. Before we spend billions on light rail we need to take smaller steps, such as creating high-occupancy vehicle lanes and an expanded bus system, he says.
"There are so many other things we can do that we're not doing," O'Hara says.
Tri-staters don't communicate well when they talk about race relations, O'Hara says.
The Ohio Supreme Court was right to point out the unconstitutional flaws in the state's education funding, but went too far when it began specifying how much the state should spend on education, according to O'Hara.
"My personal opinion is that the Supreme Court has been an activist court and that the Supreme Court has done a lot of legislating," he says.
He supports the death penalty, but says it shouldn't be applied to people who are mentally retarded.
Catherine Barrett, a full-time legislator and former mayor of Forest Park, hopes voters hire her for a third term in the House.
She believes the state budget would benefit if legislators offered retirement two years earlier. About 6,000 state workers are eligible to retire now; if 10 percent of them took the offer, she figures the state would save $40 million a year, half of which she wants to use for education.
Her budget priorities are Head Start, prescription drugs for seniors and promoting in-home stays for seniors in nursing homes — which would save the state a great deal of money.
Proposals to reform the justice system, such as Issue 1, the drug treatment referendum, could also save money.
"We spend a lot of money on corrections and rehabilitation and it's not working," Barrett says.
The state needs to cut in half the money it spends on Internet-based education through the Electronic School of Tomorrow (eCOT) program; it receives the same per-pupil funding as public schools but has much lower costs, according to Barrett. Instead, this year the Republicans cut funding for libraries and higher education.
People have been leaving Cincinnati in part because its housing stock hasn't been kept up and we've built roads allowing them easy access to downtown arts and events, according to Barrett. The condition of the city's schools is also an issue, but they're getting better, she says.
Barrett says the city needs to make sure it removes bad cops from its police department.
"They don't have no personal relationships with people," she says.
The current Cincinnati City Council seems to be on the right track, according to Barrett.
"Cincinnati is going to turn around," she says.
Barrett supports the MetroMoves light rail proposal and isn't worried about the costs.
"I think that light rail will do us justice," she says.
The state's school funding formula needs to factor in a district's median income, Barrett says.
She attended a Catholic school, but doesn't believe in vouchers. She would support charter schools if they could prove they're doing a better job than public schools.
"They're taking away from public education," Barrett says.
She strongly opposes the death penalty. It's not even a deterrent to crime, she says.
"(Criminals) are not afraid of death," Barrett says. "They just want to prove a point or want somebody to notice them."
House District 33
Sandra Hall isn't familiar with the details of what's been going on in Columbus in recent years, but she knows the district she hopes to represent. She's been to every community council meeting in the district except one.
Hall, a single mother, is confident she'll be able to represent the district as she learns the ropes in Columbus.
"It's like entering the football game in the third quarter," she says.
Hall is a financial planner and Kennedy Heights resident who believes there's a real lack of parental involvement in Cincinnati Public Schools. She also says public schools should promote morals.
Hall has served on the board of the Dohn Community High School, a charter school in Walnut Hills. She favors school choice, but believes vouchers should only be used to help the poorest students.
Hall supports the death penalty and believes too many lawyers profit from appeals.
"I don't mind the death penalty — if they would do it," she says.
Hall acknowledges there could be innocent people on Death Row, but believes guilty people escape justice every day.
Cincinnati City Council is a chaotic body that hasn't reformed the city bureaucracy enough, according to Hall.
"They don't really get anything done," she says.
Hall does like the bus expansion in MetroMoves, but says we don't have the population for light rail.
"I think if they took the light rail out of it, they would be fine," Hall says.
She's disappointed many departments are cutting Drug Abuse Resistance Education, in which police officers explain the dangers of drug use to kids. Some police departments have conceded it did little to curb drug use.
"Even if it wasn't stopping drugs, it was building relationships," Hall says.
Tyrone Yates served on Cincinnati City Council from 1990 to 1999. Providing an equal education to all Ohioans is his number one priority. Ohio is 40th of 50 states in spending on public schools.
"We've got to have more money for public education," Yates says. "The legislature should stop fighting the Supreme Court on the issue."
Yates doesn't support charter schools and vouchers. He doesn't believe the death penalty deters crime and says it should only be used against those who assassinate the president and against Americans who spy against the United States.
The state budget might be helped by cutting the hundreds of millions the state spend on consultants, according to Yates.
He doesn't prefer using video lottery terminals to pay for education, but supports the 31-cent cigarette tax enacted last year to fill the state's budget gap.
Like Driehaus, Yates wants to take a serious look at the tax breaks handed out to Ohio businesses.
"There's not a careful economic development policy," Yates says.
The state also needs to focus on the problems of its seven major urban centers, including Cincinnati, according to Yates.
Yates supports Issue.
"We're spending Ohio's future on incarceration and jails," he says. "Our drug policies in the nation and in Ohio have been a failure."
People say they've been leaving Cincinnati for a number of reasons, and some of them may be partly true, Yates says. But he believes race is the underlying issue; white residents don't want to live in areas that become more diverse.
"If people take a close examination of their motives and their hearts ... maybe people would be less inclined to move away," he says.
Senate District 7
Real estate appraiser Bob Schuler is trying to fill some big shoes. He hopes to take over this district from Senate President Richard Finan, a member of the legislature since 1978 who's leaving because of term limits.
This newly reapportioned district is still strongly Republican and still includes all of Warren County.
Schuler represented the 36th House district from 1993 to 2000. He is the past president of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and a former member of the Deer Park City Council.
The state needs to cut its budget across the board, according to Schuler.
He supports the death penalty partly because modern technology is so accurate and because he thinks it's a deterrent to crime.
"I think the system now works as well as any," Schuler says.
The state has been addressing education spending by paying for 30 to 95 percent of the cost of new school buildings through the Ohio School Facilities Program.
"I think that generally there's an appropriate amount of money being given to the schools," Schuler says.
People might be focusing on schools too much; children only spend a fraction of their lives in schools, he says.
However, he is interested in looking into reforming the property tax system for funding schools.
Schuler, a supporter of school choice, believes Cincinnati's schools have been a key factor in its steady population decline. However, the state needs to keep a close eye on charter schools to prevent fraud and waste of tax dollars, he says.
Schuler isn't sure how he'll vote on the MetroMoves sales tax increase. He's a fan of commuter rail, the longer-reaching train lines that are expected. MetroMoves accommodates them, but it's up to the Midwest Rail Initiative to pay for them.
"I feel that (SORTA is) pushing light rail just way too much," he says.
Schuler says the Tri-state needs more regional cooperation, but that shouldn't mean consolidating local governments. He likes the fact that most communities do their own planning, but doesn't care for some of the inter-regional competition for projects.
"I don't think any retail (project) should get a tax break," Schuler says.
Part of the reason some suburbs have such an animosity toward Cincinnati is that years ago the city used to be in much better financial shape, according to Schuler.
"And they had an attitude about it," he says.
Schuler says he's running because he's sure he can foster better cooperation among state legislators.
"That's what I do best," he says.
Democrat Tony Fischer, 24, worked on Akiva Freeman's campaign for Cincinnati City Council last year. He has a degree in a degree in international relations from Georgetown University. He works for a title insurance agency.
The state needs to totally reform its education funding system the way Michigan did, according to Fischer.
"(Education) should be the state's number one priority," he says.
Where you live should not determine the quality of your education, Fischer says.
He doesn't support gambling proposals to balance the education budget.
"They take money from the people who can afford it the least," Fischer says. "I think it's just a quick fix."
Fischer says health care and transportation are key issues. Ohio needs to do more with the Midwest Rail Initiative, an effort to connect Midwest cities with train service, he says.
Fischer has "mixed feelings" about the death penalty. He doesn't believe he would feel better to see someone who hurt his family die.
Fischer doesn't believe charter schools will help fix public schools.
"I find them irrelevant," he says. "My issue is fixing the public schools we have."
Fischer says he'd be willing to trade votes on the charter school issue to get something he wanted passed.
Communities such as West Chester are engaged in "unsustainable growth." Cincinnati should give up on people moving there and focus on attracting people who want to live in a real city, Fischer says. Cincinnati needs to become more urban and dense, not more suburban, he says.
Fischer likes light rail, but doesn't understand why the sales tax increase for MetroMoves doesn't immediately fund a line to the airport in Northern Kentucky.
"Be aggressive," he says. "This is what we need. We're not doing this because we want to play with trains." ©