Politics isn't often this interesting. The frontrunners for the Ohio governor's office aren't exceptional men. As politicians go, they're lackluster.
Polls show U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Portsmouth) trouncing Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell on Election Day. It's not even close.
Still, when you think about it, it's riveting and kind of scary. Ohio's slumped economy is riding on this election. The Republican candidate, Blackwell, is known for his radical theocratic leanings and for presiding over the 2004 Ohio elections scandal (See "Demanding Investigation," issue of Nov. 17, 2004.)
In 2004 Blackwell wore two conflicting hats. He was co-chair of President Bush's statewide re-election committee and, as secretary of state, supervised the election with controversial results.
According to some — opponents Strickland and Green Party candidate Bob Fitrakis included — he actively suppressed the Democratic vote.
"I think Mr. Blackwell did, in a planful, purposeful way, make decisions to inhibit or discourage voting," Strickland says.
This year Blackwell has turned over to his staff his responsibilities as election official. It's a symbolic move, Strickland says, "but that is not reassuring to me."
Fitrakis is more blunt on the matter, saying, "If the votes are fairly counted, I expect Ted Strickland to win — if the secretary of state weren't counting his own votes. ... If (Strickland) doesn't win, I think it will be the result of widespread election fraud."
Fitrakis says electronic voting machines, which are susceptible to tampering, are especially problematic.
"It's like we're putting a big neon sign out that says, 'Cheat,' " he says.
These kinds of problems didn't occur when other politicians presided over the vote, according to Strickland.
"It was only when Ken Blackwell became secretary of state and politicized the office," Strickland says. "I will admit to you that I have continuing concerns."
Blackwell didn't return calls requesting an interview.
A recent poll by SurveyUSA — conducted for WCPO (Channel 9) in Cincinnati, WKYC in Cleveland and WYTV in Youngstown — showed Strickland winning with 60 percent of the vote. The same poll placed Fitrakis at 1 percent. Libertarian candidate Bill Peirce didn't show enough support to be listed in the poll, though both he and Fitrakis are on the ballot.
During the gubernatorial debate Oct. 4 at the University of Cincinnati, Blackwell said that a vote for Strickland would ensure the status quo but that Gov. Blackwell would be "a real Republican."
That's probably not far off the mark, if by "real Republican" he means a neo-conservative. Blackwell is known for toeing the party line of the Bush administration.
"I really feel for the next generation," Fitrakis says. "He'll doom Ohio to being a place where you don't invest. It would be an open door for every right wing reactionary to come to the state."
Fitrakis predicts a Strickland administration wouldn't do anything bold. Strickland would be very cautious, as the Republicans were a couple of decades ago, though he would improve the Ohio educational system, Fitrakis says.
Strickland says he'll be responsive to local leaders in developing policy. Improving Ohio's urban areas tops his agenda.
"We're going to try and make sure the attitude of complacency towards our urban areas is reversed," he says. "I don't think we can have a healthy state if we don't have healthy cities."
Strickland's plan is to develop regional economies through small and mid-sized business growth. He says he also wants to help entrepreneurs and help Ohioans get the skills to obtain higher paying jobs.
Education is key, he says. Strickland wants to invest millions in care and education of pre-school children. On his campaign Web site, Strickland says that for every dollar invested the return would be $1.62.
He says he can improve the economy without a tax hike. He thinks promoting research and development of bio-diesel and other alternative fuel sources could make Ohio the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.
During the UC debate, Blackwell criticized Strickland for his focus on long-range investment, saying that Strickland's long view of an Ohio turnaround was too slow.
Blackwell is pressing for a flat 3.5 percent sales tax and privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. It's instant money to develop the state or, as Fitrakis describes it, a slush fund for the sitting governor at the expense of generations to come.
The alternative candidates' initiatives reflect a sort of political R&D, a vision of things as they might be.
Peirce, the Libertarian, says he would enact permanent tax abatements for all improvements to existing real estate in Ohio's cities. Taxes would still rise with the land value, but not just because you cleaned up an old building.
"That provides an incentive to develop urban property," he says.
For schools, Peirce favors a universal voucher system allowing any child to attend any school at state cost.
"I don't want to save the (public) schools," he says. "If they can't compete, then they would die."
Both Peirce and Fitrakis expressed concern about young Ohioans.
"A lot of young people would be happy to stay here if they got decent jobs here," Peirce says.
"Part of the problem is they don't see any future in the state," Fitrakis says.
Developing a hemp industry for paper, textiles and vegetable oil would create a job explosion in the state, Peirce says. He agrees with Strickland's alternative energy plans and says he'd like to see a statewide commitment to solar and wind energy.
This election is a fight for Ohio's urban cores and to turn Ohio toward the future, Fitrakis says.
"If you're bright and young and ambitious, why would you want to stay in a state that is the laughing stock of the United States?" he says. "The Republican Party has been hijacked by Shiite Republicans. It's the undertone to the campaign." ©
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