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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

For better government

No political aphrodisiac turns more heads than power. Those who have it want to bottle it forever; those who don't are generally reduced to insignificance - back-benchers kept around for amusement and little else.

That's what State Issues 3, 4, and 5 are about on Tuesday's ballot: changing Ohio governance to minimize or even eliminate power that is monopolized and artificially perpetuated by one political party or philosophy.

So the choice posed by this package of reforms is simple.

Ohioans who are content with the blatantly partisan way congressional and legislative districts are drawn, the pervasive influence of money, and the conduct of our state's elections can vote NO.

But citizens who understand how their state is damaged by all that, and what Bob Taft and Tom Noe have come to represent, can vote YES.

This decision is not about Ohio's big bad Republicans and the down-on-their-luck Democrats. In fact, Ohio Democrats and California Republicans find themselves on the same page regarding the chronically unfair way their states' congressional and legislative districts are drawn to perpetuate the incumbency of the majority.

Issue 4 will fix that, at least here.

It will take redistricting out of the hands of partisan officials who have a vested interest in the outcome and entrust the task to an independent state commission charged with making districts more competitive, ending the old but vile political tradition of gerrymandering for the protection and preservation of incumbents.

Here's why the present system doesn't work:

In the decade since the 1996 congressional election in Ohio, only three of the 74 races for seats in the House of Representatives have been decided by fewer than 10 percentage points.

How strongly can we say it - three out of 74! Last year Ohio's closest congressional race was decided by 18 percentage points. That's still a blowout.

The scandalous part is that it can take up to 20 years or longer to change the system since district boundaries can only be redrawn after a census, and the party out of power needs time to win some races and gain control of the state apportionment board. What happens? The minority party, finally in the majority, demands its turn, and a new cycle begins.

Issue 4 would provide much fairer and competitive districts as soon as 2007.

Under Issue 3, statewide candidates would be allowed to accept just $2,000 from an individual and $1,000 from political action committees; the same maximums for legislative candidates would be $1,000 and $500. The higher limit put in place last year is $10,000.

The Coingate scandal, plus Tom Noe's federal indictment on charges he illegally funneled money to the Bush-Cheney campaign, should be most instructive regarding the extent to which money manipulates politics.

As for Issue 5, the need could not be more obvious. In a year in which Ohio was the key battleground state in the presidential election, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the man responsible for counting the votes on Election Day, was also out campaigning hard for the re-election of the President.

That's an untenable conflict, and the risk of a repeat would be eliminated with the passage of Issue 5. It would create a bipartisan board to supervise elections, withdrawing any election oversight role for the secretary of state. Passage will also diminish the role of the secretary of state's office considerably, but we don't see that as a bad thing.

Issues 3, 4, and 5 will stop elected officials and politicians from gaming the system, and they will restore public confidence in our democracy.

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