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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Let Blackwell be Blackwell

KEN Blackwell shouldn't be bullied by his weak-kneed fellow Republicans. He must force them to stick with the deal they made last year and keep his tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The votes hadn't been completely counted after last week's primary election when some Ohio GOP leaders were plotting ways to deep-six TEL, centerpiece of the secretary of state's winning campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.

Their timid view was that the constitutional amendment's proposed strict limits on state and local taxes and spending would scare off enough voters to cost the GOP the governor's office and, possibly, control of the General Assembly in the fall election.

Nonsense.

The Republicans will fare better in November if they let Ken Blackwell be what he should be - the conscience of fiscal conservatism the mainstream elements of the party have shunned while controlling the Statehouse for the past 16 years.

The GOP regulars, led by chairman Bob Bennett, made a deal in 2005 with Mr. Blackwell. He kept TEL off last November's ballot so Republicans could concentrate on defeating the Democrats' package of government reform amendments. The strategy worked; the Reform Ohio Now issues were soundly rejected.

Now that Mr. Blackwell has defeated GOP insider Jim Petro to be the party's standardbearer, he should come forward to reassert his faith in TEL and not be persuaded to back away. If he does not, he will be just like the weathervane politicians he purports to abhor.

Questions about the language of TEL, as well as the number of valid petition signatures, are phony issues at this point. The amendment, which would limit annual growth in state spending to 3.5 percent or to the rate of inflation adjusted for population growth, already has been certified for the November ballot.

TEL is what Mr. Blackwell advertised it to be: a very tough rein on taxes and spending at all levels of Ohio government, from school boards to the legislature. If voters decide they like the idea, they'll approve the amendment. If they smell a problem, they'll knock it down.

And that's the way it should be.

It is long past time for a full-throated debate in this state over taxation and spending. Republicans have talked a good game, but during their nearly two decades of control, things have gotten out of control, both fiscally and ethically.

The state budget has soared beyond reason, and GOP officials have lapsed into the kind of arrogance and complacency that comes with one-party rule. Worse, they've succumbed to the sort of criminal insiderism that has been painfully illustrated over the past year by the Coingate scandal and Gov. Bob Taft's guilty pleas on ethical matters.

If Mr. Blackwell backs away from TEL, and becomes merely one more GOP "regular," the Democrats will have largely succeeded without first being forced to show Ohioans how they will provide more state government with less.

That's the central issue of this campaign. Both parties will have to present their most reasonable solutions, and the voters will decide.

But the battle cannot be effectively joined if TEL isn't part of the debate. Let Ken Blackwell be Ken Blackwell, and leave the amendment on the ballot.



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