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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

Ohio gears up for a new course after elections

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Ohio voters rejected a conservative Republican for governor and voted for change at the top of state government, but it's unclear precisely how he will govern.

"Ted Strickland just won the governor's race by orchestrating a careful campaign whose message was essentially 'I'm Not Ken Blackwell,' " said Catherine Turcer, legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a statewide consumer and environmental advocacy group. "While the campaign was successful in taking him to the governor's office, it does not give voters much information about what his agenda may be."

Others said yesterday Mr. Strickland will govern as a moderate Democrat who understands that "checks and balances" in government help him get things done. The GOP remains in control of both legislative chambers in Ohio and the state Supreme Court.

"It's pretty clear he is not an ideologue; he will govern from the middle," said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University.

"Ted is a smart guy," said Jim Ruvolo, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman and now a political consultant. "He is going to take his time, put together a very good team, and tackle the priorities as he sees them. He has laid them out pretty good, education and job creation. He knows that neither one of those are solved overnight."

Mr. Strickland said he spoke with Mr. Taft yesterday morning, but has not made any decisions yet about who he might keep from the Taft administration.

"I think it's very possible that I'll have a bipartisan cabinet,'' Mr. Strickland said.

John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said Mr. Strickland's win won't stop the Republican agenda.

"We still have a Republican agenda we believe that the majority of Ohioans do agree with us on, which is reducing the size of government, lowering taxes, and trying to create an environment that fosters job growth and business growth here in Ohio," Mr. McClelland said.

"There is still a lot for us to do and we are just going to have to work with Governor Strickland to do that," he added.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Bruce Johnson, who doubles as the state's development director, pledged yesterday to assist in the transition.

He said based on his conversations with Mr. Strickland and Mr. Fisher before the election - and a review of their campaign Web site - the two Democrats "seem supportive of the Third Frontier and status quo for the time being on tax reform."

Mr. Strickland yesterday said it's a "strong possibility" that Mr. Fisher also will be development director.

Ms. Turcer, a government watchdog, said Mr. Strickland does not have a detailed agenda, but his campaign contributors do.

A review of his campaign contributors in his campaigns, his record in Congress, and gubernatorial platform "show a candidate whose commitment to the interests of the coal mining and coal-fired electric utility industry is unmatched since Jim Rhodes."

"Ted Strickland may not have a clear mandate but the voters sent a message to all public officials: It is time to clean up government and end quid pro quo. It is clear that voters expect Ted Strickland to distance himself from contributors who want special privileges and this is an opportunity for Ohioans to ask for more than business as usual," Ms. Turcer said.

Mr. Strickland said he "doesn't like the implication" that he favored policies in Congress based on campaign cash.

"No individual or no group is going to get a special privilege or special benefit based on any campaign contribution," he said.

Mr. Ruvolo said the voters want not only change, but also action.

"The Republicans were so arrogant. They said 'We've drawn the districts, we've raised the money, that's all you need to do to control Ohio.' They didn't do anything and it didn't work, and it caught up with them.

"Ted understands he has to do something. In four years, he has to stand up in front of the voters and they're going to say, 'What did you do?' " Mr. Ruvolo said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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