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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Blackwell's little deal

OHIOANS who thought Secretary of State Ken Blackwell stood apart from the Republican candidates for governor in 2006 may have to take another look.

Citizens who believed here was a man who recognized the public's frustration with taxes, and was willing to stand up to his own party to do something about it, may need to reappraise the guy.

Mr. Blackwell decided this week that his own political fortunes apparently matter more than his previously ambitious push for a November ballot proposal to limit state government spending.

Officially, his Citizens for Tax Reform organization is saying it will wait a year because it's more important for the Republicans to focus this fall on passage of a $2 billion bond issue - which includes another bid by Gov. Bob Taft for his $500 million Third Frontier program - and defeating a package of election reforms touted by Democrats and labor.

That package includes a plan to revise how - and how soon - legislative districts would be redrawn, something the GOP wants no part of.

So Mr. Blackwell cuts a deal with Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett to pull back, and Ohioans who thought they'd found a new friend in Columbus are entitled to ask: in exchange for what?

Maybe Mr. Blackwell doesn't want to be blamed for crowding the ballot and jeopardizing Governor Taft's Third Frontier bond issue for high-tech development, but the governor's plan is already in deep trouble whether a spending cap proposal is before the voters or not.

Two years ago, when the Third Frontier plan first went before the voters, Mr. Taft suffered a widespread defeat across Ohio. The issue carried in only 15 of 88 counties, and that was long before the governor's clout was further and dramatically diminished by the revelations of "Coingate."

Most voters in 2003 saw what we did (as the only major Ohio newspaper not to support it): Research dollars generated would have primarily benefited the Three C's, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

That's not good enough if all Ohioans are going to bear the cost of adding substantially to the state's bonded indebtedness.

Despite claims that the benefits will be more regionalized this time, we remain skeptical without a firm guarantee in the ballot language itself that Toledo and other cities and regions not located along the I-71 corridor will benefit in direct proportion to their share of Ohio's population.

As for the plan by the Democratic-labor coalition, Reform Ohio Now, to achieve fairer legislative districts, we have to wonder why Republicans would oppose an effort to create new district lines in 2007, four years ahead of schedule. Shouldn't changing demographics be reflected sooner rather than later, especially if the goal is to create truly competitive races?

Ken Blackwell obviously hopes that by withdrawing his proposed constitutional amendment restraining state spending from that Nov. 8 election day mix, he can make the plan the cornerstone of his campaign for governor next year.

First, of course, Mr. Blackwell has to survive the May primary by beating Attorney General James Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery. By showing he's just one more Republican deal-cutter, he hasn't helped his chances.



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