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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

A toll-free blunder

KEN Blackwell's free use of the Ohio Turnpike for political purposes forebodes a trace of imperiousness that is unwelcome in this year's campaign for governor.

The Republican candidate failed to pay tolls July 6 when he traveled the turnpike to stage several campaign press conferences, including one at the I-280 exit near Toledo. He was pitching his controversial plan to sell management rights to the tollway and use the proceeds for economic development.

Mr. Blackwell's campaign staff argues that their man's trip was given "nonrevenue status" by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which chauffeured him around - for security reasons. He should have insisted on paying regardless.

As a candidate for the state's highest office, the secretary of state should be striving to gain the trust of ordinary Ohioans, none of whom can escape turnpike tolls, not behaving like political royalty.

The next thing we know, he'll be trying out the chair behind Gov. Bob Taft's desk or sending a crew out to the governor's mansion to measure for new drapes. That's our concern, the sense of entitlement that often marks politicians, not just that Mr. Blackwell didn't pay a $3.70 Cleveland-to-Toledo toll.

For eight long years, Ohio has had a born-to-the-manor chief executive who acted in many respects as if he were above the law. Mr. Taft last year became the first governor convicted of a crime, not for some monumental felony but for failing to declare gifts - including rounds of golf - on ethics disclosure forms.

Such ethical indifference has stained the Taft administration, its appointees, and associates, as evidenced by the past year's string of criminal convictions and guilty pleas for acts ranging from accepting free meals, Florida condo lodging, and interest-free "loans" to looting millions of dollars from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation investment fund to illegal laundering of campaign contributions.

It is imperative that Ohio's next governor, whether it is Mr. Blackwell or his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, hew to the highest ethical standards. Both must remember that they will fare better on Election Day if they co-exist with the electorate and don't act as though they are better than their constituents.

In that regard, it's past time for the Ohio Turnpike Commission to go to an E-ZPass system of toll collection, as several other states already do.

Why should you have to run for governor to avoid the lines at the toll plaza?

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