Rail Rejection

They say elections have consequences, and in Ohio we are beginning to see that.  One of the consequences of John Kasich’s narrow victory over Ted Strickland in the race for Ohio Governor will be the rejection of plans to establish a passenger rail corridor between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  Kasich has declared that the project is “dead,” and with Republicans in control over both Houses in the Ohio General Assembly he undoubtedly will get his way on that point.

The “3C Rail Corridor” project was going to be funded, in significant part, with $400 million in federal funds, as well as by ongoing state contributions.  Kasich’s point is that the project is a white elephant that will require future state budget expenditures that Ohio simply cannot afford in its current budget predicament.  The return of passenger rail to Ohio has long been a dream of many people, but others raised serious questions about the viability of the project because the trains would have been slower, costlier, and less direct than driving from Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland.

The federal funds are earmarked for the project, so  the $400 million must be returned to the U.S. government.  Wouldn’t it be a good start on our federal budget problems if other newly elected governors followed Kasich’s lead and returned federal funds for costly projects that don’t really make sense in their states?   In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, $400 million doesn’t seem like much, but — as I say when Kish and I discuss household budgeting — every little bit helps.

Ohio, The Swing State

As the night progresses, we’ve seen significant swings in the Ohio Governor’s race.  In early returns, Republican John Kasich led, then incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Strickland surged into the lead, and now Kasich has moved into a slight lead.

In Ohio, the issue of where the votes have been counted can be highly significant.  Although Ohio, as a whole, is a swing state, the Buckeye State really is a bunch of enclaves.  When you consider interim statewide results, you must consider whether it is Democratic strongholds that been counted or Republican areas that have been tallied first.

Here in central Ohio, the Stivers-Kilroy case in the 15th District has not been called, although Stivers has a significant lead with more than half of the votes counted.  In our district, the 12th, about a third of the votes have been counted and Republican incumbent Pat Tiberi has a surprisingly small lead over Democratic challenger Paula Brooks.

As of 10:20 p.m. Eastern time, there is still a lot to be decided.

An Election (And A Map) In The Balance

We’re now less than a week from Election Day, and the furious last-minute push of radio and TV ads, mailings, and get out the vote calling and canvassing is underway.

In Ohio, the marquee races are a gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican challenger that appears to be close and a U.S. Senate race between Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher that polls are indicating will be a Portman blowout.  Along with those two headline races, Ohioans will vote for a full slate of statewide offices, Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court, the U.S. House of Representatives, and members of the Ohio Senate and Ohio House.  It will take a while to complete our ballots come Tuesday.

Although they haven’t commanded as much attention, two statewide races, for Secretary of State and Auditor, will have great long-term significance.  The occupants of those two offices, along with the Governor and one representative each of the Republican and Democratic parties, will form the Apportionment Board that will redraw the map of Ohio’s legislative districts after the 2010 census results are released.  The results of the Auditor’s race and the Secretary of State’s race therefore will determine whether the Ohio legislative districts are gerrymandered to benefit Democrats, or gerrymandered to benefit Republicans — or maybe, just maybe, drawn to reflect logical geographical and social factors in a way that results in more fairly competitive races for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate.  (But who am I kidding?)

Edited to correct my mistake in the original post, which stated that the Apportionment Board redraws Ohio’s congressional districts.  Instead, it redraws Ohio’s state legislative districts.  The redrawing of congressional districts is reserved for the Ohio General Assembly.  Thanks to the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor for steering me in the right direction on an embarrassing error.

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?


Kish and I watched the Strickland-Kasich Ohio gubernatorial debate tonight.  Here are some off-the-cuff reactions on various weighty debate-related topics:

Haircut and makeup:  Kasich’s cow-licked coiffure looks a bit like his wife used a home barber shop kit to give him his latest cut.  Strickland had a much more sprayed down look, but his makeup seemed too corpse-like.

Obligatory Ohio State football references:  Kasich managed to quote Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel in the first 10 minutes; Strickland suggested Kasich may have rooted for Miami in Saturday’s Buckeyes-Hurricanes game.  I think Strickland’s comment may have come across as below-the-belt to Buckeyes fans.  It’s one thing to accuse someone of being a greedy Wall Street geek, but quite another to unfairly tar an Ohio politician who actually worked for years at The Ohio State University with rooting against Ohio State.  Come on!  Governor, have you no decency?

Apparent themes:  Strickland — Wall Street, Wall Street, Lehman Brothers, Wall Street, Ohio is great.  Kasich — Jobs, Jobs, Business friendly, Jobs, Ohio can be great again.

Obvious focus group buzzwords:  Growth, small business, empowerment, cutting taxes, refining, Ohio values, responsible decision-making

Odd personal information about the candidate:  Kasich’s parents apparently began every statement to him by saying “Johnny, . . . .”; Strickland has paid for his own health insurance for 18 years.

Who won the debate?  Who knows?  Strickland seemed much more the overt aggressor, which seems odd given that he is the incumbent.  It leaves the impression that he thinks he is far behind and can prevail only by tearing Kasich down.  In any case, he repeatedly brought up Lehman Brothers, Wall Street, Kasich’s salary and bonus, and Kasich’s pay from Ohio State.  Kasich didn’t seemed bothered by such comments, calling them the politics of distraction, and I don’t feel like they had much impact.

Kasich’s statement that he liked being out of the public eye and that he decided to run for office because he and his wife decided Ohio needed him to fix its problems seemed pretty egotistical.  I also dislike it when politicians talk about how they can “create jobs” (as opposed to creating a climate where businesses can create jobs).  Strickland’s contention that Ohio has the sixth fastest growing economy may be true based on the results of one recent quarter, but it is going to be a hard sell in a state where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost and everyone knows that unemployment is very high.

Kasich’s opening and closing seemed scattershot, but once he started responding to questions he was single-minded in beating the “jobs” drum — even managing to turn a question about the death penalty into a discussion about jobs.  Strickland had some odd pauses, apparently because he thought his time was running out, but made a nice move by shaking Kasich’s hand.  Kasich’s flat statement that he would quash the “white elephant” high-speed rail project came across as a decisive statement that buttressed his argument that he would make the tough choices to balance the budget.  Strickland’s closing about Ohio being a great state was lyrical, but could ring a bit hollow given the state of the economy and the amount of suffering in Ohio.  Kasich’s statement to Strickland that “you’re a good guy, but you just don’t get it” may end up being the statement people remember most — and whether they end up agreeing more with the first part of the sentence or the second part may decide who ultimately wins the election.

There will be another debate in  month — more than enough time for the pundits and spinmeisters to instruct us on who really won this first debate.

No Blunders Expected — And No Specifics, Either

The Dispatch has a story about tonight’s debate between Democratic Governor Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich.  The piece quotes analysts and political scientists as saying that it is unlikely that either candidate will commit a rhetorical blunder — although they caution that Kasich needs to avoid coming across like a “smart-aleck.”  The pundits also predict that the candidates will likely try to avoid giving any specifics on what they would do to close Ohio’s projected $8 billion budget deficit.

Traditionally, politicians don’t want to commit to a particular course of action, so that isn’t a very risky prediction.  However, I wonder whether in this climate the normal vague responses and promises of secret plans to solve problems will really appeal to anyone.  Bland assurances haven’t served us well in the past.  I’d like to hear a real plan, with real specifics, not more pablum, and I think other voters also share that perspective.

The one-hour debate airs at 8 p.m. tonight.

Strickland vs. Kasich, Round I

The two contenders for the Ohio governorship, incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich, will square off for their first debate on Tuesday in Columbus.  The second and final debate will occur on October 7 in Toledo, about a month before the election.  The format for each debate will see the candidates be questioned by panels of four newspaper reporters, and local television reporters will serve as the moderators.   Each debate will last for an hour.

The “reporter question” format is pretty standard and, in my view, is too confining.  I’d like to see the candidates spar a bit, but I suppose the format will allow some opportunity for give and take.  In any event, viewers will have the chance to compare the candidates’ styles and see whether either of them makes one of those dreaded gaffes that always seem to be the focus of political debate coverage.

Both Strickland and Kasich are old pros, so you wouldn’t expect any blunders.  The contrast in styles should be considerable, however.  Strickland is a low-key, avuncular figure; Kasich comes across as more brash and outspoken.  Who knows which style will be more appealing to voters in a state that has been rocked by a recession and the loss of thousands upon thousands of jobs?

New Albany In The News

Richard called my attention to this piece in today’s New York Times, which carries a New Albany, Ohio dateline.  The reporter was in Ohio to report on the governor’s race between incumbent Ted Strickland and challenger John Kasich, and was here in New Albany because Governor Strickland came by to cut the ribbon on a new corporate technology center.

The article doesn’t really say much that is new, although it does cite a recent poll that shows Strickland with a slight lead.  The race should be a close and interesting one.  Although Kasich was a popular figure on cable TV news shows when he was in Congress, most people don’t watch those shows.  I don’t think Kasich is well known in Ohio, particularly northern Ohio.  Strickland is a moderate who has cut the state payroll, although Ohio still has about an $8 billion gap that it needs to close.  Kasich’s investment banker background could hurt him if Democrats successfully paint him as an out-of-touch Wall Street scoundrel, but I think it is too early to say whether that effort will be successful.

The themes of this race have yet to fully emerge, and the economy will play a big role.

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.