Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
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Editorials

Aiming a little lower

IT'S BEEN evident for some time that state Auditor Betty Montgomery does not have the political support to make the jump to the Ohio governor's office. Now that Ms. Montgomery has acknowledged that fact, she should also realize that she's not a lock for attorney general either.

Like any incumbent state officeholder running for the same or different office this year, Ms. Montgomery does so in the shadow of Republican insider Tom Noe, his federal indictment for campaign money laundering, the state investigations into his ill-fated $50 million rare-coin investments for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and the pay-to-play atmosphere that pervades state government after 15 years of GOP rule.

With that baggage, Ms. Montgomery is going to have to work hard to convince the people of Ohio that she can be trusted again with state office - a return to the post of attorney general, which she held from 1995 to 2002.

The first-term auditor did not exactly distinguish herself as a guardian of state money after The Blade broke the news about "Coingate" last April. At first, she declined to get involved and only later did she unenthusiastically throw the resources of the auditor's office into the investigations that now are under way.

But Ms. Montgomery did admit from the get-go, shortly after the state's rare-coin investment became public knowledge, that she had known for at least a year of the Noe deal, an enterprise whose political roots still haven't been fully sorted out. The Lucas County coin dealer was handed $50 million from the workers' compensation investment pool under incredibly loose restrictions.

This audacious scheme was only allowed to go forward because insiders like Ms. Montgomery decided it didn't warrant making a fuss. Had anyone in authority with an ounce of political courage blown the whistle when the deal was first proposed, it never would have happened. Had she and others spoken up later, workers' compensation officials wouldn't have been prepared to give Mr. Noe yet another $25 million last spring.

Ms. Montgomery received $8,150 in campaign contributions from Mr. Noe and his wife, and although she has returned the money, that act does not inoculate her from the Coingate nexus.

Indeed, the scandal should encourage Ohioans to focus more than they might normally on who gets elected attorney general in November - and on the integrity they expect in the state's chief legal officer.

Ms. Montgomery's reluctance to run a negative primary campaign against Attorney General Jim Petro and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is laudable, but even though she's been attorney general before, recapturing that office won't be a cakewalk.

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