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Published: 5/9/2010

Primary had winners, losers, no-shows

IT'S hard to draw broad conclusions from last week's primary election about what's on the minds of voters in northwest Ohio and the rest of the state, since the great majority of us stayed home. Still, I'd propose a few tentative observations.

•Two supposedly powerful special interests - Toledo's public employee unions and the state's Tea Party movement - didn't appear to display a lot of political clout.

At the height of this year's city budget crisis, municipal unions threatened to punish Toledo City Council members who voted to declare "exigent circumstances" - a fiscal emergency allowing the city to impose economic concessions on employees that their unions had rejected. The implication was that the unions also would reward council members, such as Joe McNamara, who voted against the declaration.

If such help was forthcoming, it wasn't obvious in the outcome of the Democratic primary in Toledo's 11th Ohio Senate District. Veteran state Rep. Edna Brown handily defeated Mr. McNamara. Instead of helping him, the councilman's budget vote may have cost him support last week among voters who otherwise might have favored him.

Plenty of other factors contributed to the result of this election, certainly. Still, local politicians, and particularly Democrats, might want to recalculate the cost and benefits of their allegiance to traditional interest groups, including organized labor.

For Republicans especially, the question about Ohio's Tea Party is its ability to deliver at the polls. Establishment GOP candidates smoked insurgent opponents in statewide primaries for secretary of state and auditor. To be sure, the party-backed candidates claimed Tea Party support, too. But money and organization had much more to do with their victories.

Tea Party folks are warning Republicans not to take their votes for granted in November. But you have to wonder: If Ohio's Tea Party factions can't turn out enough voters to win GOP primaries for their favored candidates, how do they expect to prevail in the general election? Perhaps their threats to defeat politicians of either party whom they don't like also deserve a fresh assessment.

•Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher's solid victory over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate sets up a competitive matchup in the general-election campaign with Republican Rob Portman. The contest to succeed Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who is retiring, is attracting national attention.

Ms. Brunner suggests she won't have time to campaign for Mr. Fisher because of the demands of her official duties. I hope that resolve will include the thorough scrutiny of the Lucas County Board of Elections that she has disdained so far.

The blatant violation of voter privacy in which a board employee engaged last week, as well as board executives' yawning response to it - a suspension with pay - should offend every voter in the county. It also should engage Ms. Brunner, the state's chief elections official.

•The biggest loser on last week's ballot had to be Toledo Public Schools, whose proposal for a permanent new tax on earned income went down nearly 2 to 1. By contrast, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell persuaded city voters to support his ballot issue, which will allow him to scale back some of the higher taxes and fees in the new city budget. The outcome might have been different had the mayor stuck with his earlier proposal for an income tax hike instead of replacing it with a shift of existing revenue.

TPS officials tried to explain away their defeat as a lack of community support for public education, but I don't think that's it. Clyde Scoles, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, notes that across the state last week, voters approved 25 of 29 library levies - an 86 percent success rate. In the past two years, the share of Ohio library systems that have local tax levies has risen from barely a third to more than half.

Even in a deep recession, voters will pay for the public services they value. But if they don't feel they're getting their money's worth, look out.

•It's distressing that just 12 percent of registered voters in Lucas County took part in last week's election, barely half the statewide rate and well below the typical turnout rate here for past off-year primaries. Why so little interest?

There were important issues and competitive races among candidates on the local ballot. Surely the abysmal turnout hereabouts doesn't mean that seven-eighths of us are so satisfied with the way the political system is working that we're happy to leave it alone.

Full disclosure: I couldn't vote because I hadn't lived at my new address long enough. What about you? If you didn't vote in the primary, why not? What would have brought you to the polls? And if you did vote, what would you suggest to get more of your fellow citizens to join you?

I'd like to get your thoughts. Let me - and our readers - know.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com



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