Memo could damage Householder, observers say

4/28/2004
BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Householder
Householder

COLUMBUS - The leak of a memo in which aides to House Speaker Larry Householder plot how to promote him as leader of the campaign to crush the repeal of last year's sales-tax rate increase could damage the speaker's plans to run for statewide office in 2006, political observers said yesterday.

The 109-page memo - which Householder press secretary Dwight Crum said he wrote last January after conferring with political consultant Brett Buerck and fund-raiser Kyle Sisk - states: "Regardless of whether Larry Householder serves as chairman of the anti-repeal campaign, or has any role in it whatsoever, he is already involved: It's his tax increase."

The memo, which became public earlier this week, also is creating "sympathy" for the Republican leading the campaign to repeal the tax increase: Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, political observers said.

The memo weighs the "risks and rewards" if Mr. Householder - a Republican and former Perry County commissioner who is in his second and final term as house speaker - decided to lead the anti-repeal campaign. The document called for:

Blackwell
Blackwell

●Organizing a "two-pronged campaign" - "Defeat the repeal and dismantle Blackwell. The campaign must expose the Blackwell Reality: That there is no 'there' there, that he's the Enron of politics, propped up and overvalued, a fraud. And on Election Day, the repeal effort - and Blackwell's career - must collapse."

●Funding the anti-tax repeal campaign from "unlimited corporate contributions ... with no drain on" Mr. Householder's campaign fund. Salaries and travel of staffers from his political team - Team Householder - could be paid from that campaign, the memo says.

"Every dollar will also, in effect, be helping to underwrite Larry Householder's political future," says the memo, which refers to a run for state auditor.

●Asking who else could run the anti-tax repeal campaign, Mr. Crum said he wrote: "Bob Taft? With all due respect to the man and the office he holds, he couldn't sell a $500 million plan to create jobs. His political stock has fallen - severely.

"Jim Petro? He is a fine public servant who seems to genuinely enjoy being attorney general. But he doesn't seem to have the political fire in the belly or instincts right now to lead this type of political campaign."

●Enlisting the support of the Ohio Charter Schools Association to "publicly isolate Blackwell with the far right while quietly sending a narrow-cast message to the school-choice crowd that school leaders oppose Blackwell's plan."

●Signing up state-supported universities and colleges, despite the "fact" that "no legislator has lost re-election because of higher education. The higher-education community simply doesn't have the best issue politically, they lack political clout, and they certainly don't have the influence or standing on Capitol Square to stave off future funding cuts should Blackwell succeed."

●Including organized labor groups in the anti-tax repeal bid in part to "draw funding and other resources away from the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio House races."

"Having Larry Householder and organized labor working side by side with the same common goal - defeating the repeal initiative - opens the door more than ever before for Team Householder to seek organized labor endorsements in 2006," the memo says.

●Using an anti-tax repeal campaign Web site to do surveys on topics such as gun rights and abortion that would be "primarily archived for future use by Team Householder."

●Consider creating or helping a group "funded by anonymous donors whose sole charge is to drive Ken Blackwell's negatives through the roof."

Mr. Crum, who has apologized for the memo, said Mr. Householder chose not to follow through with the proposals.

John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said the memo reflects the "very aggressive politics" that Mr. Householder used to become speaker in 2001.

"That might well be necessary in a term-limits environment," said Dr. Green, adding that the leaked memo could be a symptom of higher staff turnover under term limits.

But the criticism of Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Taft, and Mr. Petro also could damage Mr. Householder's plans to run for state auditor in 2006, Dr. Green said. "In politics, you have to make your enemies carefully," he said.

Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University, said Mr. Householder was "savvy to quickly disown" the memo. He said since the memo leaked, he has "heard from people who might not otherwise express sympathy for Mr. Blackwell and have done so."

Dr. Asher said Mr. Householder, who is known for his fund-raising prowess, will have two years after he leaves the legislature this year to build a political organization for a 2006 statewide run.

But the memo also provides an opportunity for Mr Blackwell to "run as the reformist candidate, the person who will clean up politics in Ohio, clean up fund-raising, and bring politics to a better standard at the same time he is fighting taxes," Dr. Asher said.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) said he is weighing whether to seek the Democratic nomination for state auditor in 2006.

"What qualifies [Mr. Householder] to run statewide?'" said Mr. Redfern, a former Ottawa County commissioner. "What this memo does is it verifies in the minds of those who are insiders that the speaker will stop at nothing to put his own interests first, or he is surrounding himself with people who are incompetent."

State Rep. Jon Husted (R., Kettering), expected to be elected house speaker for 2005-2006, said, "I think it is time for the secretary of state and speaker to stop beating up on each other, focus on governing the state, and winning elections," he said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 612-221-0496.