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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2010

'Joe the Plumber' remark draws fire for GOP hopeful

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - Republican John Kasich's running mate in the Ohio governor's race is drawing Democratic criticism for an erroneous claim that a federal law was found broken in the "Joe the Plumber" records-peeping case.

GOP lieutenant governor candidate Mary Taylor has since retracted the remark, made during a Sunday campaign Web cast timed to coincide with a rally for Gov. Ted Strickland and other Democrats headlined by the Obamas.

Ms. Taylor made a clarification of her statement in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch for Tuesday's editions. A campaign spokesman declined to comment further.

During the Web cast, Ms. Taylor divulged that as state auditor she asked the U.S. Justice Department to review actions by Mr. Strickland's then-human services director and others accused of misusing state computers to view records of Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher.

The Toledo-area man became an overnight sensation after he was cited repeatedly in the final presidential debate of 2008.

Then-Ohio Department of Job and Family Services director Helen Jones-Kelley resigned in December, 2008, after a state watchdog's finding of impropriety in the case.

A second official resigned and a third lost his job.

A suit was filed on Mr. Wurzelbacher's behalf claiming his civil rights had been violated, but a court dismissed it.

Ms. Taylor told Web cast viewers that her office recently had received a reply on its referral. "And, in fact, the Strickland administration, the Department of Jobs and Family Services, did violate federal law by the actions that were taken by those that were employed by her," she said.

The letter Ms. Taylor received says nothing of the sort.

"Ordinarily, allegations such as those described in the complaint would trigger further investigation by OSC and, if the facts warranted, an enforcement action ...," the U.S. Office of Special Counsel informed Ms. Taylor in a Feb. 22 response.

However, the office said, since Jones-Kelley was no longer in office, they declined to proceed with an inquiry.

The special counsel's office is a unit of the Justice Department.

Spokesman Darshan Sheth said he cannot comment on the details of a specific case. However, he said the phrasing used in the letter is standard. He said it describes how allegations of federal Hatch Act violations are investigated.

"I think it's saying, if the information provided was corroborated, this is what we'd do," he said. "It's not saying anything beyond that."

Ms. Taylor told the Dispatch that it is her opinion that the Strickland administration broke the law, not that of the Office of Special Counsel.

Inaccurate or not, Ms. Taylor's statement resurrected a nearly 2-year-old Strickland scandal two weeks before Election Day.

Mr. Strickland called it a campaign ploy.



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