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Published: Saturday, 6/12/2004

Hubris in the Statehouse

NOW that House Republicans have forced two of their favorite political consultants to walk the plank, the question is whether the spreading scandal will hurt GOP chances of retaining legislative control in Columbus.

At the very least, contributors to the Ohio House Republican Campaign Committee may be chagrined to learn that they've been picking up the $1,306 a month child-support payment for fund-raiser Kyle Sisk.

Mr. Sisk and strategist Brett Buerck, formerly Governor Taft's campaign press secretary, were canned amid panic over a burgeoning federal grand jury investigation into the strong-arm tactics of House Speaker Larry Householder that has rattled the GOP establishment.

The allegation is that the consultants were overbilling the GOP caucus for political services and returning the excess to Mr. Householder in the form of kickbacks.

The scandal is only the latest manifestation of incipient self-immolation by Republicans, who control both the House and Senate. It's also an indication that GOP power, buoyed by more than a decade of one-party rule, has lapsed into overweaning hubris that could end up hurting the party.

Toledoans may recall Mr. Buerck as one of the state GOP's "young turks" who, back in 1998 when Mr. Taft was running for governor, suggested publicly that the idea of tolls for the new Maumee River bridge was worth exploring.

Needless to say, the idea fell flat and Mr. Taft had to backtrack.

In 2000, as Mr. Householder's chief of staff, Mr. Buerck was taped trying to intimidate a candidate into dropping out of a GOP primary in favor of the speaker's preferred candidate. More recently, he moved to consulting work, where the money is better, and acquired a reputation for bare-knuckle tactics that some said skirted legality.

Before the firings, Mr. Buerck had been receiving $10,000 a month from the House campaign committee, controlled by Mr. Householder. Mr. Sisk was getting $3,775 a month, plus the aforementioned help with his child support obligation.

Angry Republican legislators forced their dismissals, but what has really ticked off some in the caucus is a report that the two may be in line for substantial severance payments. To make matters worse, Mr. Householder won't reveal how much the golden parachutes might cost the campaign fund.

No public money is involved, although kickbacks like those alleged are illegal. Nonetheless, no political party, even one with huge majorities in the legislature, wants its former operatives described in the newspapers with words like "indicted" or "convicted."



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