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Published: Sunday, 3/12/2006

Flannery touts tax, education reforms

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

This was a better week for Bryan Flannery. No one rear-ended his car. No one seems to have stolen his identity, at least not yet.

Mr. Flannery is running for governor as a Democrat, and the campaign has beaten him up a bit. The former Notre Dame college football standout and state legislator has landed in the hospital from a car crash, learned Ohio's secretary of state posted his Social Security number online, and struggled to match the support and fund-raising of U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the state Democratic Party's endorsed candidate.

Mr. Flannery inflicted a little punishment of his own this week, accusing Mr. Strickland of running on a platform that mimics unpopular incumbent Gov. Bob Taft.

In an issue-packed interview, Mr. Flannery touted his plan to cut property taxes and reform Ohio's school funding formula. He proposed creating jobs by keeping state investments in Ohio banks, boosting business with state technology, and streamlining government regulation.

He also said each of Mr. Strickland's campaign proposals "is gonna be just like Bob Taft." Mr. Strickland's campaign spokesman, Jess Goode, disagreed, calling the congressman's platform "bold and unique" for tying economic development and education.

Here are highlights from the interview with Mr. Flannery.

Q: Why are you a Democrat?

A: Probably because of what Democrats have been able to do over the years. Part of it because of my family history. My family has been Democrats and in elected positions as Democrats for nearly 100 years. And I think Democrats as a party, what it used to stand for - I don't know where we're at today - but what it used to stand for is innovation, creativity, addressing some of the major problems of the day with ideas that work.

And I don't see that now from the current Democratic Party. The party has become good at critiquing and complaining without offering any solutions.

Q: The big centerpiece of your platform has been your school funding plan. Can you sum it up in a couple sentences?

A: Well, it's the only plan out there, number one. But it's a plan that would create a constitutional system in Ohio, which we don't have now, by requiring the state to identify what an education costs and pay for it. It also would provide responsible property tax relief for all Ohioans who own their property. We get off of this school levy craziness, this madness that divides communities. There's no reason for it. We can get our teachers and educators back to educating kids and not fund-raising.

Q: You've talked about your education plan as a long-term job-creation plan. Short term, what, if anything, should Ohio government do to create jobs?

A: What it won't do in a Flannery administration, to the best of my powers, it won't put debt back on residents and taxpayers, through bond issues, etc. What we can do is, one, provide responsible but significant property tax relief, at least a billion dollars more for homeowners that would help boost the economy immediately.

Government can also help by providing and making available technology that will allow these companies to provide affordable and reasonable health care for their employees and their workers. People talk about universal health care - I'm not for a government-run health-care system. What I'm for is the government helping private industry in managing its health-care costs and weeding out the fraud and abuse in the health-care system.

Q: The Democratic Party has made a lot of allegations in the last year that there is a "pay-to-play" system in place in state government. Do you believe that's true? If it is, how would you get rid of that as governor?

A: Well, it all starts with honesty, and I think it's been well-documented, even when I ran for secretary of state [in 2002] there was a current [of pay-to-play]. The way you change it is by electing a new governor, number one. And number two, how you prevent that from happening is like how you fix the education problem in Ohio, you fix the health-care problem in Ohio: You provide transparency of all the transactions that occur, so people know where the money's going and where it's being spent, where it's being invested.

Q: You talk about President Kennedy on the stump. He was a Catholic Democrat who won a large majority of the Catholic vote. Another Catholic Democrat, John Kerry, didn't win nearly as much of that vote in 2004. How can Democrats reconnect with Catholic voters?

A: With the Kerry issue, I think it was on the abortion issue. John F. Kennedy was pro-life, and I'm pro-life. That is a hotbed issue, but one that I think some Catholic Democrats left the party. Ronald Reagan said the Democratic Party went so [far] left that people left the party.

In Ohio today, the Republican Party has gone so far right that they're going to be falling right back into looking for the Democrats to step forward.

And that's the right kind of Democrat, and not necessarily on these social issues, but I think it's something more important, and that's we need to provide answers and solutions.

Q: If you're the governor and the Legislature passes an abortion ban similar to South Dakota's, would you sign it?

A: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals right now

Q: Should Ohio state government do anything about the cost of heating bills and other utilities?

A: Absolutely. I voted against deregulation. I think it's been bad for Ohioans. We've got a bum deal on service when it comes to electricity. I think you see the mergers happening in these industries that are creating huge monopolies. And as a result, everyday citizens and residents are suffering because of that. We need to do some things. That's changing the leadership of the PUCO and oversight committees.

I would not be indifferent or opposed to looking at reregulating the electric industries. I know that's a significant statement to make, but I think it's an important one.

Q: Is Ohio government growing too fast? Do we need to have caps on it like Ken Blackwell is proposing?

A: What Ken Blackwell is proposing is antithetical to being a good leader. He's basically saying, I don't think I can do a good job as governor and control spending as governor, so I need this constitutional amendment to do it for me. I think state government is growing too fast. It's growing out of whack, and it's growing out of control, absolutely. But as governor what I'd do is make sure the money's being spent responsibly, and make sure we provide a refund in the form of a property tax relief.

Q: What was Bob Taft's biggest failure as governor?

A: Missed opportunity. I think he had a great opportunity for eight years to do some great things for Ohio. And because there wasn't any bold vision or leadership - which, again, we're seeing from my opponent, Ted Strickland; I mean, what bold vision or idea has he come forward with? Every idea he has come forward or will come forward with is gonna be just like Bob Taft.

And that's the problem, and that's exactly why I'm running. Because if you want to turn Ohio around, you should be talking about bold initiatives. Not things that cut on the edges or are little piecemeal trinkets

Q: How is Ted Strickland like Bob Taft?

A: He doesn't have any bold vision or ideas for Ohio. Why is he running for governor? I still haven't heard the answer. And anything he's put out there has been a Bob-Taft-like proposal. This early childhood [education] thing reminds me of the Ohio Reads program that Bob Taft put out. Jobs training - it's exactly what Bob Taft, I think, proposed during his administration.

Q: But let's be brutal. Ted Strickland has millions more dollars than you in the bank. He has labor and state party and county party endorsements. How can you beat him?

A: You beat him like every Ohioan who ever did great things for this state did it: through hard work, innovation, and a determination to never quit. We're traveling Ohio every day, we're getting our message out, and people will respond to that. They don't respond to clever ads. They don't respond to outworn rhetoric.

They respond to vision and leadership, and that's how you win.

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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