Election Day is now two weeks away, and you've likely been inundated with TV and radio ads, mailers, doorknob hangers, live phone calls and automated/recorded phone calls. Now the media and special interest groups' endorsements are rolling out.
Are you any more informed than before the deluge began? We certainly hope so — but if not, CityBeat is here to help you make good decisions on Nov. 7.
We continue our election endorsements with the key races facing Ohio voters, from governor and senator down to the local Congressional districts.
Last week CityBeat offered endorsements on the seven ballot initiatives most Hamilton County voters will face — four statewide issues and three countywide issues. Next week we'll publish endorsements on Kentucky's 4th Congressional District as well as area state rep and senate races, plus we'll offer our annual "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts collecting all the media, union and group picks in one place.
Check out citybeat.com/election for news articles, columns, editorials and blog posts about the local and statewide races and ballot issues — more than 40 items designed to provide background and context for Election Day. Get informed, make a choice and cast your vote.
Governor of Ohio: TED STRICKLAND
We thought of satirizing The Cincinnati Enquirer's back-handed endorsement of Ken Blackwell in this race by writing our own hold-your-nose endorsement of Strickland — but we quickly realized we can actually come up with more than two reasons to vote for Strickland.
So we'll play this one straight.
Strickland will be a great governor, and all of us in Ohio should be thrilled with such an outstanding candidate (and, to be honest, such an easy choice). His background is varied, his life experiences have taught him what real Ohioans go through and his multiple terms in Congress have tested and shaped his leadership skills.
Coming from humble beginnings (small-town rural Ohio, where he was the first in his family to attend college), Strickland wandered the wilderness seeking a career path, as many do. After obtaining a master's degree in divinity, he pastored a Methodist church before working at a children's home, where he saw victims of sexual abuse and teenagers with drug problems. Those experiences led him to seek a doctorate degree in psychology.
After trying his hand at political campaigns and losing in the late 1970s, Strickland spent the next 12 years practicing psychology at community mental health centers, hospitals and the maximum security prison at Lucasville. But the political bug never left him, and he finally won the 6th Congressional District seat in 1992. (He lost his re-election bid in 1994, won the seat back in 1996 and has held it since.)
Strickland's "Turnaround Ohio" plan hits all the right areas of concern in this state: high-quality early childhood care and education, better public schools, a stronger economy through spurring small and mid-size business growth and supporting entrepreneurs, stabilizing health costs for government and businesses and attracting/ keeping jobs by focusing on industry sectors in which Ohio companies are growing. We'll see how much of this plan he can accomplish with a Repub-lican-controlled legislature, but Strickland will have at least four years to get everyone on board.
And that's really one of the key reasons to vote for Strickland — as the state's top elected official, even if he's the only Democrat, he can begin to change the malaise and the culture of corruption in Columbus. He can veto self-serving bills passed by the legislature, he can put pressure on other statewide officials to serve the people instead of their political party and he can appoint judges who bring diverse backgrounds and points of view to the bench.
Mainly, though, he can prove to skeptical Ohio voters that elected Democrats don't have horns and tails — which opens the state to future wins by Democratic legislators and ultimately true bipartisan government. In doing so, an effective Gov. Strickland also gives the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate a decent chance to win the state and thus the national election.
So vote for Strickland to turn around Ohio, the United States and perhaps the world. You won't have to hold your nose.
U.S. Senate: SHERROD BROWN
A lot of us in Greater Cincinnati got off on the wrong foot with Sherrod Brown. Local lawyer Paul Hackett had become something of a national political celebrity with his close loss to Jean Schmidt in the 2005 special Congressional election, and he intended to bag a bigger prize this year by running against Sen. Mike DeWine — until the Democratic Party backed Brown.
Dealing with grumblings and hurt feelings, local progressives took a while to warm up to the Brown candidacy, but he's done a marvelous job articulating a progressive vision for the U.S. Senate that contrasts with DeWine's career there as a "stay the course" Republican. It's safe to say the Brown backwagon is filled to capacity now.
It's difficult to condense into a few paragraphs Brown's views on the myriad problems facing Americans today, but recently he told an audience in Columbus he'd like to accomplish four major things immediately as a senator:
· Pass the bipartisan recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report (prevent the growth of terrorism, prepare better for terrorist attacks and reorganize the nation's intelligence community)
· Raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn't been increased since 1997 (over that period, Brown notes, Congress passed six of its own pay increases)
· Break the economic stranglehold of drug manufacturers by directing Medicare/Medicaid to negotiate better drug prices for American seniors
· Work with Gov. Strickland to help make Ohio the Silicon Valley of alternative energy, encouraging and funding entrepreneurs who want to work on breaking our economy's dependence on foreign oil
Brown's experience — eight years as Ohio Secretary of State in the 1980s and his seven terms in Congress representing suburban Cleveland — has earned him a well-deserved reputation for sticking up for the little guy. He's always favored workers' rights, better health care and tougher environmental laws. He's always been against the botched invasion of Iraq and was one of the few members of Congress to vote against giving Bush the power to wage such a war.
Hackett buried the hatchet with Brown months ago, saying, "It's about making sure that here in the United States we have quality representatives, quality senators, like Sherrod Brown, who stand up for middle class America, working Americans, veterans. Sherrod Brown's always been that voice."
Brown will be a strong voice for any Ohioan interested in peace, prosperity and justice. Doesn't that include you?
U.S. Congress (Ohio 1st District): JOHN CRANLEY
Things have changed a lot since John Cranley ran against U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot six years ago. A recent graduate from Harvard University, Cranley ran his first political campaign in 2000, giving Chabot one of his most competitive re-election fights. Since then, Cranley has been elected to Cincinnati City Council three times, finishing as the top vote-getter last fall.
The country has fallen on hard times since 2000, as the Bush administration has screwed up a robust economy, a huge budget surplus and the military response to 9/11. Aided and abetted by a do-nothing Republican-controlled Congress, Bush has waged war on the American middle class and poor by stripping away civil liberties, paying lip service to homeland security and engaging volunteer soldiers in endless tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, the GOP has cut taxes for the wealthy, allowed corporate corruption to flourish and wallowed in the kind of scandals that absolute power usually produces.
Is Chabot to blame for this mess? Well, he hasn't distinguished himself as a poster boy for awfulness along the lines of Republican House colleagues Tom DeLay, Duke Cuningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley. On the other hand, Chabot voted with President Bush 92 percent of the time, according to the nonpartisan group HillMonitor.
The House of Representatives is going to switch from Republican to Democratic control in two weeks, and it's about time. Bush has gotten a rubber stamp for everything he's proposed regarding the war on terror, the economy, Medicare reform, energy policies and other flawed initiatives while also receiving a free pass on scandals from Hurricane Katrina and made-up WMD evidence to secret torture camps and warrantless spying on U.S. citizens.
Chabot has enabled this dysfunctional government during his tenure in Congress without offering alternative ideas or standing up for the people, his constituents. He must be swept out with the tide coming to relieve Republicans of their majority in the House (and maybe the Senate, too).
Cranley can serve this district well, having represented the city of Cincinnati for seven-plus years and having West Side roots as deep as Chabot's. He's better connected to the people of the 1st District, and we think he'd do a better job of representing their interests over his party's interests.
Cranley has learned to be a leader since 2000, while Chabot has learned to be a follower. Chabot's mistake is he's been following a terrible president, and we should make him pay for that mistake with his Congressional seat.
U.S. Congress (Ohio 2nd District): VICTORIA WULSIN
Risking a colossal understatement, we all know Jean Schmidt hasn't been impressive in her year-plus tenure as Congressional representative from Ohio's 2nd District. From her famous "coward" epithet about ex-Marine John Murtha, a Democratic colleague from Pennsylvania, to her "ghost-written" guest editorial, Schmidt has had a difficult time gaining positive traction.
Victoria Wulsin M.D., like most first-time political candidates, is an unknown commodity when it comes to predicting legislative success. In fact, some voters would argue that a flawed (and predictable) Schmidt is preferable to a blank slate (and unpredictable) Wulsin.
Still, Wulsin's real world experiences as a doctor serving local causes via the U.S. Public Health Service and international women's health care via the U.S. Agency for International Development speak volumes about her dedication to service. Her medical career has been a good training ground for elective office, teaching her to make decisions based on research and facts and to work for the common good. She won't be easily misled or distracted, and she'll understand that her medical oath ("First, do no harm") can help her do a world of good in Washington, D.C.
Schmidt had just a year to make some sort of impression on district voters before she ran for re-election, and so far the dominant impression seems to be that she's eager to parrot the Republican party line. In another year that approach might have worked in the 2nd District, but not in 2006.
Voters are fed up with the Republican Congress, and a half-term freshman representative who tends to embarrass herself is a good place to cut our losses and run in a different direction. Wulsin is smart, confident and service-oriented. She'll make us proud in Washington.
Hamilton County Commissioner: DAVID PEPPER
Incumbent Commissioner Phil Heimlich is a disaster. He swept into county government four years ago, forcing the local Republican Party to back him and his neo-conservative buddies over the sitting commissioner, Tom Neyer Jr., a moderate who was villified for suggesting partial public funding of the arts.
Once in office, Heimlich allowed the county's two highest-profile concerns — funding the parking garages as the foundation of The Banks riverfront development and building a new jail — to languish. He finally saw an opportunity to help build a case for re-election (and perhaps higher office) and grabbed unilateral control of both projects.
Despite knowing that the city and county were partners in The Banks, Heimlich surprised everyone, including at least one fellow commissioner, by hiring two local firms to develop The Banks. When that plan fell through, Heimlich was poised to hand the riverfront over to friends at Western & Southern's Eagle Realty.
The Banks project was finally wrestled from Heimlich's control earlier this year and now is being run by a true city-county partnership. The county still hasn't come up with a plan to fully finance the garages.
Heimlich then devised his own funding scheme for building a new jail and sprung it on the public and, again, his fellow commissioners. His 20-year sales tax hike was roundly criticized for allocating too much public money to financing costs and pushing too much money into property tax rebates. Both Pat DeWine and Todd Portune offered alternative funding ideas using less public funds over a shorter time, and Heimlich ultimately moved toward DeWine's concept.
The commissioners could have passed the sales tax on their own, jump-starting the jail-building process by many months, and Heimlich could have stood for re-election on his record as a jail-builder. Instead he chose to put the sales tax on the ballot so the citizens of Hamilton County can make the tough decision; if the initiative passes (Issue 12), Heimlich can say, "You raised your taxes, I didn't."
(See our endorsement to vote "no" on Issue 12 in last week's CityBeat.)
Heimlich's first term needs to be his last term. David Pepper can do so much better it's not funny.
Pepper came close to becoming Cincinnati's mayor last fall, and there have been a few days recently when we wished he'd won that race. His business-like approach to governing will work well on the county level, where it sometimes didn't suit the larger nine-person Cincinnati City Council. And his partnership with fellow Democrat Portune will open Hamilton County to new ideas, fresh approaches and untapped relationships; in other words, the Republicans' 40-year stranglehold on the county commission is about to be loosened. Not eliminated — what with the GOP's control of almost every other countywide office and judgeship — but loosened.
Heimlich has tried the usual county vs. city scare tactics in his campaign, blaming Pepper's support of the post-riots Collaborative Agreement for the city's rampant crime and the county's desperate need for more jail space. Of course, Heimlich served twice as long on city council than Pepper did, and Heimlich was on council in 2001 during the riots — Pepper joined council in the subsequent election.
Pepper isn't an ideologue like Heimlich and thus doesn't have a social or political agenda to drive via county government. Pepper will give that crap a rest and concentrate on providing Hamilton County residents thoughtful, responsive leadership. Hallelujah!
Ohio Secretary of State: JENNIFER BRUNNER
Ohio Attorney General: MARC DANN
Ohio Auditor: BARBARA SYKES
Ohio Treasurer: RICHARD CORDRAY
Democrats haven't been very competitive in these statewide office races, allowing the Republicans over the years to develop them into a training ground for higher office. Bob Taft served eight years as Secretary of State before being elected twice as governor, and Ken Blackwell has been Treasurer and Secretary of State while waiting for his chance to become governor himself.
In 2006, however, several forces have conspired to leave all but one of these offices open to brand-new faces. Attorney General Jim Petro (eight years as Auditor and four years as AG) leaves statewide office after losing to Blackwell in the Republican gubernatorial primary. After a pay-for-play scandal engulfed several of his staff members, Joe Deters left his post as Treasurer to successfully win back his old job as Hamilton County Prosecutor.
Only Betty Montgomery — eight years as Attorney General and the past four as Auditor — remains from the gang that's run Columbus for almost two decades now. She's decided she wants her old Attorney General job again.
Via scandal, disorganization and the general taint of Taft fatigue, therefore, Ohio Republicans have left the door open to strong Democratic challengers this fall, and the Democrats have responded with a strong candidate slate.
The most important office among these is Secretary of State, Ohio's top elections officer, a post that Blackwell has done a good job (depending on your point of view) of using to his political advantage. Especially in the 2004 presidential election, Blackwell has demonstrated how this office can have a huge effect on voter turnout in specific demographic areas while technically operating within the law.
Given the challenges ahead with the state's elections system — particularly trying to make the new generation of electronic voting machines work properly while Diebold's CEO promises to "deliver Ohio" for his favored candidates — the next Secretary of State must restore trust in this office and assure Ohioans that their votes count.
Jennifer Brunner is the top choice here, given her experience with the Franklin County (Columbus) Board of Elections and as legislative counsel with the Secretary of State's office as well as her 13 years in private law practice representing candidates, businesses and associations in election-related cases.
Her time as a judge on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court also gives Brunner valuable insight into how an elected official can make objective decisions based on facts and not politics. She will put the Secretary of State's office back on a fair, nonpartisan track.
Richard Cordray, currently serving his second term as Franklin County Treasurer, is an excellent choice for Ohio Treasurer. He's raising a lot of good questions about why this office — in essence the state's bank — approved the Bureau of Workers' Compensation investments with "Coingate" conspirator Tom Noe and why the office seems to be run by party hacks without investment knowledge (Cordray's Republican opponent has no experience investing public funds, though she is endorsed by Ohio Right to Life).
Auditor candidate Barbara Sykes also raises Noe/Coingate-related questions about why an independent audit didn't root out this scandal and why a Toledo Blade investigation uncovered it first. Her background includes three terms as a state representative, where she's president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus; 12 years as a deputy auditor for Summit County (Akron); and six years on Akron City Council.
Attorney General candidate Marc Dann has the difficult task of defeating Montgomery, who's won previous statewide elections by wide margins. Yet with all the attention on the Coingate scandal, Montgomery is the one Republican candidate who can be personally be connected to a pervasive lack of oversight in the current administration.
Plus Dann, a state senator representing Youngstown, has been Taft's biggest critic about allowing and encouraging a pay-for-play system throughout state government, suing the governor twice to get Coingate documents released.