Deconstructing The Blather

Recently we received the League of Women Voters Voter Information Bulletin for the Columbus area.  It provides biographical and party affiliation information, poses certain questions to the candidates, and prints their brief responses.  The Q&A stuff is the most interesting, at once both infuriating and perversely hilarious.

For example, one question to Ohio House and Senate candidates notes that Ohio faces a huge budget deficit in the next biennium — estimated to be as much as $8 billion — and asks “What specific revenue increases would you support and what cuts would you make to balance the budget?” (emphasis added)  In his response, Ohio Senate candidate Mark Pfeifer says he’s “not afraid to make government more efficient and accountable.”  (Well, that’s settled!)  But when he gets “specific,” all he mentions is fighting “Medicaid fraud,” encouraging “shared services among local governments,” promoting “wider use of performance audits,” and making use of “the sunset review process to elimination outdated or duplicative state boards.”  That carefully phrased answer sounds like somebody who is afraid to rattle any cages.  Does anyone honestly believe that the “waste, fraud, and abuse” that everyone cites as the way to balance the budget, but somehow never gets cut, is going to close an $8 billion budget gap — or that the other, minor concepts Pfeifer mentions are going to do the trick, either?

In response to that same question, Ohio Senate candidate Charleta Tavares delivers this masterpiece of political blather:   “I have not determined which increases would be most appropriate.  I will work with my colleagues to build a consensus on where to increase revenues and how best to make cuts.  The revenue increases and projected cuts would be based on what is fair, equitable, just and on previous cuts made to programs, services and/or sectors.  The guiding principle would be to ensure that services are focused on the needs of our residents; job growth potential; and cost/benefit analysis (analysis to include financial, health/welfare and jobs impacts).”  Could any answer to a simple question be more meaningless?

Given these kinds of obfuscatory answers — and they are not unique among the responses printed in the Voter Information Bulletin — is it any wonder that voters are fed up?  Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we are sick to death of candidates who try to sneak into office in a haze of obscure rhetoric, all the while knowing exactly what they hope to do but being too timid to say so.

Four Weeks And Counting

In precisely four weeks, we will be sitting in front of our TV sets, watching election returns roll in.  We’ll learn who will be Ohio’s new governor, and whether the Republicans will get control of one or both Houses of Congress, and whether our local library levy passed.

It will be nice to know how it all turns out, but mostly I’ll be feeling a sense of relief — because Election Day means that the blizzard of campaign literature that has been burying us on a daily basis will finally, blessedly, end.  We’ll stop hearing from one side about how our state representative is a tax and spend liberal while the other side says she voted to cut her own pay.  We’ll stop hearing about this candidate is a carpetbagger who won’t even condescend to live in our district and that candidate is an unprincipled hack who was cited for ethics violations in the past.  And we’ll be able to to listen to the radio without hearing announcers talking about the sorry state of the Ohio economy while dramatic music swells in the background, and without hearing candidates who’ve never run a business or met a payroll talk about how they have a plan to “create jobs.”

Election season probably is tremendously exciting for politicians and party operatives, but it is really a bit of a burden for the rest of us.

What Is “Nonpartisan,” Anyway?

We continue to be bombarded by campaign mailings, and it seems like we are getting more brochures, fliers, and other literature than in any prior election.

One piece of literature in particular caught my eye.  Labeled “Ohio Education Voter Guide” with a cover featuring a smiling teacher with an apple on her desk, it purports to be a “nonpartisan” guide to the positions of Ted Strickland and John Kasich, the competing candidates for Governor, on education issues.  It doesn’t really look much like the kind of gray, content-heavy, nonpartisan guides we typically see from the likes of the League of Women Voters, however.

Inside the brochure, you find pictures of a smiling Ted Strickland and a frowning John Kasich, whose face is largely in shade.  In a chart below their photos, the candidates’ “positions” are compared in only three categories: “school improvement,” “school funding,” and “college affordability.”  The descriptions of Governor Strickland’s positions are phrased in pretty glowing terms.  For “school improvement,” for example, the brochure states:  “Governor Strickland’s new education reform law invests in teaching and learning in the classroom, greater accountability, more equal funding for students across the state, and stronger parent, school, and community partnerships.”  The description of John Kasich’s position in that same category, in contrast, states:  “John Kasich’s education plan would provide vouchers to attend private schools and increase competition between schools” and cites a January 2009 article from the Youngstown Vindicator.  In the “college affordability” section, the brochure cites a two-year-old news article reporting on Governor Strickland’s college tuition freeze and compares it, in something of a non sequitur, to Kasich’s 1995 votes against “expanding student loan programs and against tax breaks on college tuition.”

It’s hard to read the brochure without coming to the conclusion that whoever prepared it favors Governor Strickland’s position.  The brochure is put out by “Communities for Quality Education” and lists a Washington, D.C. address.  The organization’s website FAQ page doesn’t tell us anything about how they are funded, other than to say that the group is “building our fundraising base with the help of individuals and organizations that share our goals and our priorities.”  Although it is unclear whether teachers’ unions provide funding for Communities for Quality Education, the organization evidently works with the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers.  The Communities for Quality Education website states that it, and those two entities, were all part of a coalition supporting the “Speak Out for Ohio Schools” initiative.  Communities for Quality Education also is listed on the OEA website as a “national education advocacy group” that works with the National Education Association “and others inside and outside the education community who share the common goal of building better public schools for every child.”  The Ohio Secretary of State’s website also shows that the Communities for Quality Education made contributions in 2007 to the “NEA Fund for Children and Public Education Non-Federal Itemized Account-Ohio.”

I don’t mind organizations and unions advocating for causes they believe in, and I certainly think it is fair to compare the positions on education of the Ohio gubernatorial candidates.  My only question is:  when is a  political publication that is sent to voters fairly and properly labeled as “nonpartisan”?

The Campaign Mailbag

With the election now less than two months away, Kish and I are getting bombarded with campaign mailings.  Everybody wants money, of course — even candidates running for office in faraway states.  (How do these people get our names?)  In any case, here are a few splenetic Webner House reactions to the campaign literature we’ve received over the last few days:

1.  We’re not stupid. I hate it when somebody tries to design a mass-produced mailing to look like it was hand-written.  We received one yesterday with a faux hand-written address on the envelope and a faux hand-written post-it note inside.  Does even the most credulous voter actually think that another human wrote the address and note?  It’s insulting to think that politicians trolling for money consider us to be so gullible. Why would I want to give money to someone who evidently believes I am easily duped?  How about showing minimal respect for our intelligence instead?

2.  Please don’t order us around. More and more, political fliers seem to issue edicts, rather than simply trying to educate voters on the different positions of the candidates on pertinent issues.  For example, we received a mailing from the Kasich-Taylor campaign that criticized Governor Ted Strickland’s approach to balancing the state budget, which has involved use of Ohio’s “rainy day” fund and federal “stimulus” dollars.  A fair point to make during a campaign, I think — but the envelope for the mailing commands:  “Tell Ted Strickland . . . “No More Band-Aids!”  My initial response to that directive is:  “Bite me!  Tell him yourself!  I’ve got better things to do!”

3.  Don’t pretend. Our state representative, Marian Harris, recently sent us a mailer focusing on voter frustration with the responsiveness of government and touting her Saturday office hours and regular town hall meetings, both of which are commendable.  But then the mailer says:  “Marian Harris is One of Us — Not a Politician.”  I’m sorry, but by definition a state representative who is currently serving in that capacity is a “politician.”  Why treat your current profession like it is a dirty word?

Early Signs

On my morning walks lately I have noticed political yard signs going up.  Nothing odd about that — except that Election Day 2010 is more than six weeks away and in New Albany we have a rule that says that yard signs should not be put up until two weeks or so before the election.

Can we draw any inferences from the early appearance of yard signs?  It probably means that the neighbors who have put up the signs feel especially strongly about the election and want to make their views known early.  In that regard, it may be significant that every yard sign I’ve seen so far is for a Republican candidate.

Pundits and pollsters have been writing for months about a purported “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats as they approach the upcoming election.  We may be seeing evidence of that on the lawns of New Albany.

Turnout Turnabout

There were three states that had primary elections on Tuesday — Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina.  In each state, the number of voters in the Democratic primaries was down significantly from 2006, the last comparable election, and the number of Republican voters was up from the 2006 primary.  Does that indicate that Democrats aren’t energized and Republicans are, or does it mean something else?  Time will tell, but it can’t be a good sign when the number of primary voters is depressed.

In Ohio, according to the linked article, 872,000 people voted in the 2006 Democratic primary, and this year only 663,000 people voted.  That is a pretty amazing turnaround, in view of the fact that this year’s Ohio Democratic primary featured a high profile contest for the  U.S. Senate nomination.

Premature Polling

On Sunday, the Columbus Dispatch and other Ohio newspapers reported on the Ohio Newspaper Poll results for the likely 2010 Ohio governor’s race, between incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich.  The poll indicates that Kasich leads Strickland, 51 to 45 percent.  The Akron Beacon Journal story on the poll is here.

I don’t think such early polls mean much.  Ohio’s election is 10 months from now, which is an eternity in the fast-paced world of modern politics.  Most people haven’t focused on the election or the candidates.  I doubt if many people outside of central Ohio really know much about John Kasich, who used to represent one of the two congressional districts in the Columbus area, and I doubt if many people anywhere could tell you what he proposes to do if he is elected governor.  For Governor Strickland, who is more of a known commodity statewide, the primary question is what the economy, and the state budget, will look like when November rolls around.  If Ohio’s economy continues to stumble, that obviously will hurt Strickland’s chances.

I suppose the only real point of these early polls — aside from providing a story for the participating newspapers on a rainy Sunday in January — is to allow the candidates to raise money.  Kasich can tell potential supporters that he has a great opportunity to be elected if he just gets their support, and cite this poll as support.  Strickland, on the other hand, can go to his contributors and argue that he needs their help to hold the Ohio governorship for the Democrats.  The voters, meanwhile, largely go about their lives, blissfully ignorant of polls and the impending onslaught of campaign ads.