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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

Governor's speech takes jabs at GOP candidates

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Republican Gov. Bob Taft used part of his final State of the State address to take a swipe at the two leading candidates for governor in his own party.

Referring to passage of the state operating budget last year, Mr. Taft told legislators: "We did it together, and we did it without muddling the Constitution with new acronyms and gimmicks."

J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who is the driving force behind the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot to restrict state spending and require voter approval of tax increases - a proposal known as the "tax expenditure limitation" or TEL - replied that Mr. Taft didn't present "any imaginative proposals" yesterday.

"What you are witnessing today is a beginning of a transition into a new era where you are going to get a Republican governor that is a Republican for a change," said Mr. Blackwell, who a day earlier called for leasing the Ohio Turnpike to private investors and using the proceeds for a job development fund.

Republican Jim Petro, who has offered an alternative to Mr. Blackwell's TEL that he calls CAP, or Citizens' Amendment for Prosperity, said he didn't object to Mr. Taft's comment.

Mr. Petro, the state's Attorney General, said his proposal, which he hopes to get on the Nov. 7 ballot, would be an alternative to what he called a "nightmare for Ohio" if voters approve Mr. Blackwell's plan.

Democrats yesterday ripped Mr. Taft's speech, which the GOP-controlled House and Senate rarely interrupted with applause, as "long on rhetoric and short on details."

State Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said Mr. Taft's speech projected the feeling that: "The end is near. I finally get to go home and not go in front of this legislature again."

Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, didn't respond to an interview request.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement: "Despite the words offered and promises made today, the record of the Taft Administration and one-party rule is clear: job loss, decline, and corruption. Ohioans need and deserve a change."

State Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland), who is seeking his party's nomination for governor, noted Mr. Taft made no reference to revising Ohio's ethics law in response to the Bureau of Workers' Compensation scandal.

"We have been sorely hurt by his lack of leadership and also by the tolerance of the corruption in government that is a huge cost to Ohio and to the taxpayers. Ethics reform is needed, but it is needed from the top and he is a hard man to make that sale," Mr. Fingerhut said.

In the 32-minute speech, Mr. Taft made one reference to his conviction in August in Franklin County Municipal Court on four misdemeanor ethics violations for knowingly failing to disclose dozens of golf outings and other gifts valued above $75 that he received from lobbyists and businessmen, including indicted GOP contributor Tom Noe.

"Last year Hope and I learned the true meaning of 'for better or for worse.' It was tough going for both of us, and Hope was at my side through it all with her love, her encouragement, and her inspiration," he said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bryan Flannery said yesterday that Mr. Taft and other Republicans "have lost touch with the needs of Ohio's businesses and families."

Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University, said Mr. Taft's final state of the state address may be the highest profile he takes during this election year. Mr. Taft is barred from running for a consecutive third term and his approval ratings have plummeted as the Bureau of Workers' Compensation investment scandal has gripped his administration.

"In many ways, it does not matter what he says. We are into the campaigning. The real leadership from the governor's office will come in future years. And I think the governor recognizes that," Mr. Beck said.

Mr. Petro, the state's attorney general, referred to the State of the State address as Mr. Taft's "best speech ever."

"I'm particularly heartened by his higher-education reforms," Mr. Petro said.

But Mr. Blackwell said Mr. Taft did not present any proposals to stimulate economic growth or stem the exodus of Ohioans from the ages of 25 to 39 who are moving to other states for jobs.

"What you heard today was the last apologetic for a stifling status quo that has heightened unemployment and increased hopelessness among too many of our people," he said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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