Ohioans in revolt against GOP sleaze

Half a million people in Ohio are so fed up with government corruption that they signed petitions to place four measures on the ballot in November aimed at curbing Republican one-party rule, which they blame for the pervasive sleaze.

Keary McCarthy, spokesman for Reform Ohio Now, told the World, “We submitted our petitions to the office of the secretary of state Aug. 9. The requirement to gain ballot status was 332,000 signatures. We submitted 521,000 signatures.”

Asked if voters were influenced by the multiple scandals that have engulfed Ohio’s Republican Gov. Bob Taft, McCarthy replied, “The corruption is on the front page of the newspapers across Ohio every day. It raises people’s awareness that we have a problem of money and politics. When one party dominates government for so long, you have no checks and balances.”

Taft, heir to a family name synonymous with Republican domination of Ohio, pleaded “no contest” Aug. 18 to charges that he failed to report 50 golf outings, dinners and other gifts from corporate lobbyists in violation of Ohio law. Taft paid a slap-on-the-wrist $4,000 fine and vowed to stay in office.

A much larger scandal has been dubbed “Coingate,” stemming from Taft’s decision to invest $50 million in state workers’ compensation funds with his close friend and crony, rare-coin entrepreneur Thomas Noe of Toledo. Noe was then in charge of part of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Fund (OWCF). Noe now admits that $13 million of those funds is missing. Also missing are two rare coins, each worth $300,000, and another batch of 119 coins worth $93,000, all property of the state of Ohio.

Noe was chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign in northwest Ohio. He personally raised the $100,000 required to be designated a “Bush Pioneer.” He and his wife had a private audience with Bush to receive the president’s thanks for Noe’s role in swinging Ohio with its 19 electoral votes to Bush in the Nov. 2 election. With Noe now under criminal investigation, the Bush-Cheney campaign returned $4,000 in personal contributions — but not the $100,000.

The story of the lost, or stolen, coins was first broken by The Toledo Blade. Since then, a Blade series has exposed the loss of $215 million by the OWCF.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) blasted Taft for allowing a fund intended to benefit injured workers to be looted. “Shame on the governor of Ohio! Shame on the state officials of the state of Ohio!” she thundered in a June 7 speech on the House floor. “What a tragedy they have perpetrated on the people of our state!”

Currently Republicans control the governor’s office and hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature. They dominate the judicial branch as well.

GOP control is so complete it is impossible to find a body with credibility to investigate the scandals. “It creates an inherent problem of the fox guarding the henhouse,” McCarthy said.

The Blade revealed July 29 that U.S. Attorney Gregory White, a former Bush campaign county chair, asked Taft to intercede with the White House to secure his appointment to head a multiagency task force investigating Noe and Coingate. Taft readily obliged. It is seen as more proof of a cover-up designed to produce a whitewash of the scandal even as it laps closer to Bush.

One of the four ballot initiatives would create a Redistricting Commission, preventing politicians from drawing district lines to ensure continued one-party dominance. It would require open procedures with citizen input to create competitive legislative and congressional districts.

Another would establish an independent State Elections Board, removing partisan politicians from control of Ohio’s voting procedures. The measure would also allow voters to vote by mail. During the 2004 election, voters in districts considered pro-John Kerry were forced to wait at the polls as long as 13 hours in driving rain while affluent Republican districts enjoyed plentiful voting machines to insure instant voting.

A third measure reduces to $2,000 the limit on contributions to statewide office and $1,000 for legislative candidates. It would ban corporate contributions and require full disclosure of contributions.

Currently, voting in Ohio is controlled by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who also served as chairman of the Ohio Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, a brazen conflict of interest. Reform Ohio Now and Ohio Common Cause have launched an e-mail and letter-writing campaign to Blackwell, demanding that he put the four initiatives on this November’s ballot. (For details, visit www.reformohionow.org.)

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman called on Taft to resign. “At this critical time for Ohio, we cannot afford one more day in which the governor is preoccupied with these scandals at the expense of a focus on creating jobs, reforming education and moving Ohio forward,” Coleman said.

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