News: Ohio Turns Blue

Democrats take all the big ones

Natalie Hager

Campaign consultant and political junkie Brewster Rhoads (middle) checks Election Night results in person and on the phone at the Hamilton County Board of Elections downtown.

Local Democrats celebrated statewide victories with raucous fervor at Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown Nov. 7. Republicans at counterpart gatherings ranged between being somber and shocked at the results.

Ted Strickland became the first Democratic governor of Ohio in 16 years, trouncing Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell with 60 percent of the vote — 2,077,718 votes for Strickland and 1,282,751 for Blackwell. Likewise, progressive Democrat Sherrod Brown was elected U.S. Senator with 1,920,745 votes to incumbent Mike DeWine's 1,531,656, leading with 55 percent.

Democrats also won attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, missing out only on state auditor.

Hamilton County retained its conservative reputation. In many of these races, Hamilton County's votes were outweighed by the rest of the state. Blackwell won Hamilton County, as did Republican candidates for the executive offices at stake, excepting the treasurer's race, which went to the Democrat. Hamilton County also supported Issue 3, Learn & Earn's slot machine gambling proposal, which was defeated statewide.

Warren County resident Keith Wurzbacher says he expected the defeats and blamed Gov. Bob Taft's legal troubles for the Republican loss.

Wurzbacher and his brother Todd attended a Republican gathering at the Cincinnatian Hotel downtown. Todd Wurzbacher joked that Keith was "distraught" while another member of the party faithful watched results tick across the television and exclaimed "Jesus Christ!" each time he saw the numbers.

Todd Wurzbacher said he was frustrated and agreed.

"Blackwell could never get beyond the Taft stigma," he said.

Arnold's Bar and Grill was teeming with laughter and excited Democrats. The statewide turnaround was a shot in the arm to some who had just about given up. Katie Freshley, 24, said she was the only one of her friends to vote in this election after being so disillusioned by the 2000 and 2004 election debacles.

"That was the start of my voting career, and it seemed like nothing would ever change," Freshley said.

Local community organizer and former congressional candidate Greg Harris said he's lived in Ohio for 13 years, and for the first time he has the bumper sticker of a winning candidate on his car — Sherrod Brown.

"I'm glad the public, I think, caught up on Iraq," Harris said. "I thought it was a travesty from the start, and it seems like it's come full circle now."

Raising the bar, dropping gambling

Ohio's lowest paid residents will be making more next year. Issue 2 passed, delivering a state constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage from the federal low of $5.15 an hour to $6.85. The issue passed with nearly 56 percent of the vote.

Ohio was among six states nationally that raised the minimum wage. In a written statement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said American unions would use the momentum from this election as a basis to insist that Congress raise the federal minimum wage when it reconvenes in January.

"Once we got on the ballots in each state, it didn't take much to convince voters that paying someone $5.15 an hour is just immoral," he said.

Ohio Roundtable Outreach Director Rob Walgate said he's thrilled to see Issue 3 fail. The proposed amendment would have allowed slot machines at nine locations across the state, filtering 30 percent of the revenue into college scholarships.

Walgate said trying to mask gambling as something that would benefit Ohio students is ridiculous. That the amendment would have benefited specific organizations is shameful, too, he says.

"We're not for special privileges for a select few," he said. "Ohioans are too smart to fall for this scam."

More than 57 percent of voters shot down the amendment.

Smoke 'em while you can

Ohioans also told smokers to take a hike outdoors. Issues 4 and 5, the dueling ballot initiatives on public smoking, were decided in favor of the American Cancer Society (ACS)-backed Issue 5. In 2007 smoking will be banned in nearly all public spaces in Ohio.

The failed Issue 4 would have created a Constitutional amendment that would have blocked Issue 5 and similar efforts. Issue 4 lost, with more than 64 percent of voters giving it the thumbs down. Issue 5 passed by more than 57 percent.

Peter Osborne, spokesman for ACS Southwest Ohio, says he's grateful that Ohio voters saw past Big Tobacco's smokescreen.

"I think once the people became educated on the issues, it was pretty obvious what to do," Osborne said. "The ultimate goal of this act was to protect the workers, the employees and the customers from second hand smoke."

Back at Arnold's, I asked a smoker, who didn't give his name, what he thought of the new law. He asked what I thought, and I told him that I voted for Issue 5.

He sneered, "You fascists can have your victory!" and then stormed out. ©

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