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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

Blackwell's sellout on TEL

Looking for a way to break his covenant with all those petition signers is hardly a profile in political courage

WHAT happened to Ken Blackwell? What happened to his covenant with more than 328,000 Ohioans?

The Ohio Republican Party's best choice to recapture the traditional mantle of fiscal reform all of a sudden looks like just another politician willing to jettison his long-held principles to get elected.

Fresh from his decisive victory in the GOP gubernatorial primary, the secretary of state disappointed fervent supporters of limited government by giving up on his tough tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) amendment, already certified for the statewide ballot on Nov. 7.

Mr. Blackwell now says he will urge the committee that gathered the signatures of 328,000 Ohioans to pull the issue back from the November ballot - just as soon as Republican legislative leaders pass a law next week giving such sponsoring groups the authority. Then, he says, he'll accept a legislative solution to the problem of out-of-control taxes and spending.

Two problems:

● Legislation permitting a pullback might be applicable to a future initiative effort, but constitutionally, how can it nullify this one?

● And a subsequent law to restrain taxes and spending legislatively could be repealed as soon as the election is over.

Mr. Blackwell's reversal is all the more stunning because of the zealotry he has displayed in pushing the reform issue statewide over the past several years.

In leading a petition drive to put the TEL amendment on the ballot, he portrayed the issue as a latter day Holy Grail, a font of wisdom that would put every level of local and state government on a very short fiscal leash.

He's breaking a promise he made to every one of the more than 328,000 Ohioans who signed those petitions. He defeated Jim Petro in the primary on this very issue; now he's starting to sound like him.

It would be one thing if enough invalid signatures forced the TEL amendment off the ballot, but it is the height of Republican arrogance to want it gone because of political considerations.

Mainstream Republicanism - one-party rule over much of the past two decades - is what has gotten Ohio into the fiscal mess it's in. Government is simply too expensive for average taxpayers, who deserve a chance to express themselves in November about whether the remedy Mr. Blackwell has been touting is the answer.

What kind of deal did he get for caving in? Was he figuratively beaten up in some sort of "star-chamber" proceeding and told he'd better back away if he wanted his party's support against a difficult Democratic challenge by U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland?

Mr. Strickland's reaction to his opponent's sudden change of heart regarding TEL was right on the mark: "If voters can't trust him to stand up for his own ideas, how can they trust Mr. Blackwell to stand up for them?"

Compromising core principles is a poor way for a candidate to present himself at the beginning of a tough campaign.

In politics, this is known as "repositioning." To ordinary Ohioans, it's known as selling out.



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