Ohio Democrats who've allowed themselves to get caught up in the ongoing Coingate scandal and what they see as their inevitable return to power in 2006 got a strong reality check on Election Day.
All four statewide constitutional issues which the Democrats and their traditional base held dear were defeated - actually, sliced and diced would be more accurate.
Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5 were soundly rejected by 2-to-1 margins or more. It was the worst possible nightmare for Reform Ohio Now, the coalition of Democrats and their traditional constituencies, including labor, which pushed so hard for them. And it was as sound a thrashing as OhioFirst, the Republican-based organization fighting them, could have hoped for.
The RON package had much to offer, including badly needed changes to the way this state chooses its elected leaders, specifically a new system for setting legislative and congressional district boundaries to make them competitive and fair. Seven out of 10 voters, however, said no to Issue 4.
Several factors led the Democratic lambs to slaughter.
First, and perhaps foremost, many Ohioans simply did not make the connection between Coingate and corruption. The message of Bob Taft's conviction and Tom Noe's indictment did not translate to a clear understanding of the remedies that were available on Tuesday.
Most people, we suspect, recognize that our election system is broken, but the ballot issues were lengthy and complex; confusion often breeds rejection.
More to the point, however, it's clear that many Ohioans still don't trust the Democratic Party and its values. It is correctly viewed as the party of the unions, especially public employee unions which have driven up the cost of government so dramatically.
Second, it is viewed as the party of the inner city and the poor, and while that is a deserving constituency, white suburbanites are tired of seeing their tax dollars poured into those neighborhoods. That may not be fair, but it is reality - most white suburbanites and rural Ohioans are Republicans.
Interestingly, all four constitutional amendments did better in Lucas County, and to a lesser extent in Wood and Ottawa Counties, than they fared statewide, perhaps a reflection that nowhere in Ohio, except perhaps Columbus, were these issues as thoroughly reported and analyzed as in the pages of The Blade.
That tells us something else about reform movements. They do not occur overnight and often not on the first try, whether it is a ban on smoking in public places or fixing a broken elections system. Even granting Ohioans the right to undertake their own ballot initiatives and referendums - nearly a century ago - was a tough six-year fight marked by early failures.
As for the here and now, the Ohio Democratic Party took a big hit on Tuesday. It has a long way to go if it hopes to capture any statewide offices next year or even think about control of the General Assembly. The party needs to understand it is preaching its gospel to too narrow an audience. The pews are filled with people who don't like their sermon.
It is a message the Democrats need to broaden and redefine. And they need to show us that they will be able to compete financially with their well funded Republican rivals next year. Their fund-raising will have to match the GOP dollar for dollar or they will not be taken seriously, by us or anyone else.
If they fail in that effort, the Republicans will perpetuate their domination of state government and the Democrats will be left to continue their lonely trek through the political wilderness.
Ohio still needs electoral reform. But the clear message sent to the Ohio Democratic Party last Tuesday was this: Don't get too cocky, you guys. You haven't won anything yet.
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