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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

Hagan portrays himself as clear Taft alternative

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

When Democrat Tim Hagan formally announced in October, 2001, he would run for governor this year, he didn't mince any words.

Finding out that a Republican political consultant had supplied reporters with questions, Mr. Hagan proceeded to answer them all from the front porch of his home in suburban Cuyahoga County.

He said he was op|posed to using tax dollars to send children to private schools, opposed to charter schools, would veto a ban on so-called partial birth abortions, and would commute all death sentences after he reviewed them.

Gov. Bob Taft has supported the experiment with vouchers in Cleveland, has backed the rapid expansion of charter schools, has signed a partial-birth abortion bill into law — it's on hold because of a lawsuit — and has carried out the death penalty five times over the last four years.

Later the GOP consultant was gleeful, saying Mr. Hagan had fallen into his trap.

But Mr. Hagan — who quotes only one Republican, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona — said he would wage a campaign of straight talk as Mr. McCain did during the 2000 race for the GOP presidential nomination.

And not much has changed over the last year.

Mr. Hagan has tried to make his Republican opponent's four-year term the key issue in the race.

Mr. Taft, whose campaign has raised $9 million as Mr. Hagan's has struggled to break $1 million, has waged a “Rose Garden” strategy. Over the last few months, he has scheduled few campaign events but has kept a busy public schedule as governor to promote his agenda.

Mr. Taft has acknowledged that this year's race is a very different one than four years ago, when he and Democrat Lee Fisher battled for an open job because Republican incumbent George Voinovich left office because of term limits.

“I've seen a lot of political races in my day, but this race for governor offers a brighter contrast than many before. It's not just a difference between Republican and Democrat. This election is a choice between a plan and no plan,” Mr. Taft said, as he kicked off his re-election campaign Sept. 3 in Cincinnati.

One day later Mr. Hagan rolled out his plan — a 23-page booklet titled The Five Principles.

The plan focuses on two issues that Mr. Hagan has harped on repeatedly during his campaign: Mr. Taft's handling of the state budget and the link between higher education spending and the state's ability to grow and attract high-tech jobs.

Mr. Hagan said his first six months in office would be dominated by efforts to “clean up the mess that Taft made,” which Mr. Hagan said happened because the governor allowed surpluses to be returned to taxpayers as small, temporary income-tax-rate cuts early in his term.

He said the state faces a “budget crisis” because of Mr. Taft's poor leadership.

“Every option should be on the table. The options that Republican governors have used in other states like [John] Engler in Michigan have been, ‘All right, if we reduce the property tax, you [may] have a graduated income tax or a sales tax. The people of Michigan chose the sales tax. The worst thing to do is to do nothing, which is what Taft is doing,” Mr. Hagan said.

Mr. Taft has accused Mr. Hagan of failing to understand how the state budget works, saying the general fund is balanced through June 30, 2003. Mr. Hagan refers to the projected shortfall as “the $4 billion deficit;” Mr. Taft said it's not a deficit and it's too early to tell how much any shortfall would be.

Over and over on the campaign trail, Mr. Hagan said Ohio ranks 40th in small business survival, 33rd in economic health, and 48th in the development of new businesses. His campaign has cited the Progressive Policy Institute and the Corporation for Enterprise Development, both based in Washington, as the sources.

But Mr. Taft said, in his first term, the state has assisted 625 projects to retain and create jobs in Ohio. He also has campaigned heavily to tout his “Third Frontier” program, a 10-year, $1.6 billion proposal to make Ohio “a leader in new research and high-paying jobs.'' It calls for asking voters next year to approve a $500 million bond issue to finance it.

Mr. Taft said education potentially is his biggest legacy as governor.

He said he has enacted the largest school-funding increase in Ohio history, led the recruitment of 45,000 volunteers to help kindergartners through fourth graders improve their reading, and has overseen a school construction and renovation program that has spent an average of $2 million per day on projects.

To help balance the state budget, Mr. Hagan has supported legalizing the use of video gambling machines at racehorse tracks, claiming the state's cut would total $500 million per year.

One of the hotter issues has been about how to help senior citizens afford prescription drugs.

Mr. Hagan supports a proposal that his brother, state Sen. Robert Hagan (D., Youngstown) introduced. The Senate, which the GOP controls by a 21-12 margin, let the bill die in committee.

The plan calls for giving the state the power to negotiate rebates on prescription drugs for those without coverage or who are underinsured — an estimated 2.2 million people in Ohio, the AFL-CIO estimates.

A coalition of 19 groups, including the Ohio AARP, has started a petition drive to pressure lawmakers to vote on the bill.

Mr. Taft has pushed since January, 2001, for a drug discount program. Last June the legislature included his proposal in a bill to balance the general fund budget.

The candidates have clashed over Issue 1, the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot. It would make treatment an option for nonviolent first and second-time drug possession offenders. Mr. Taft has led the charge against Issue 1, blasting it as “de facto drug legalization.”

Last month Mr. Hagan announced his endorsement of the ballot issue, saying disproportionate incarceration for blacks convicted of drug possession is “decimating fatherhood” in big cities.



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