Politics Extra
Enquirer reporters give the scoop on what your politicians are doing

Jessica Brown,
Hamilton County reporter

Jon Craig,
Enquirer statehouse bureau

Jane Prendergast,
Cincinnati City Hall reporter

Malia Rulon,
Enquirer Washington bureau

Carl Weiser,
Blog editor

Howard Wilkinson,
politics reporter

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Schmidt takes off for Iraq

Two months after bringing the House to a grinding halt during a debate over the Iraq war, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, is herself on the way to Iraq.

Schmidt departs Jan. 8 and returns Jan. 18.

While in Iraq, her exact whereabouts and iternary are secret — for security reasons — but her office said she plans to meet with U.S. soldiers — hopefully some from Ohio — and talk to U.S. officials about the progress of the war.

Schmidt drew national attention for comments she made on the House floor about the Iraq war on Nov. 18. Lawmakers were debating a resolution to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq when Schmidt told Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated former Marine, that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

She was booed off the House floor and forced to apologize.

A few days later, she was invited to travel to Iraq with other lawmakers as part of an official trip
organized by the House Agriculture Committee.

Schmidt plans to call the Enquirer while she's in Iraq, so stay tuned for what she has to say ...

Area lawmakers have accepted nearly $344,000 in free travel

WASHINGTON — After former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty this week to using free trips and other gifts in an attempt to get official favors, we thought it might be high time to check out what free travel our Greater Cincinnati lawmakers have accepted.

The answer?

The 12 lawmakers who have represented Greater Cincinnati since 2000 – including former Reps. Rob Portman and Tony Hall of Ohio and Ken Lucas of Kentucky – have taken a total of 111 trips that cost nearly $344,000, or more than $3,000 per trip.

Here's the breakdown:

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio – 11 trips – $157,607
Former Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio – 10 trips – $34,965
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio – 11 trips – $34,939
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio – 8 trips – $31,210
Former Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Ky. – 7 trips – $20,357
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – 9 trips – $19,162
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio – 3 trips – $13,301
Former Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio – 8 trips – $12,629
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio – 4 trips – $9,492
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. – 10 trips – $9,259
Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky. – 2 trips – $660
Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio – no trips – $0
TOTAL – 111 trips – $343,581

These trips are legal and were not paid for by taxpayer dollars – they were paid for by private foundations, companies or organizations that invited the lawmakers to attend conferences or events. Under congressional travel rules, lawmakers must file a one-page written report within 30 days of the trip to disclose the location, cost and purpose of the trip.

But Kent Cooper, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, Washington-based watchdog group that tracks congressional travel, said no agency enforces these rules! As the Abramoff scandal focused attention on such trips, "we found that a lot of members had been delinquent in filing these reports, and we saw a flurry of new reports filed," he said.

So to what exotic locations have Cincinnati’s lawmakers traveled to in the last year?

Boehner went to Monterey, Calif., to participate in a charity golf tournament, paid for by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. He also traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., and White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (Click here for Boehner's report.)

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, traveled to China for a conference on U.S.-China relations. He also traveled to Adventura, Fla., for a conference on health care issues. (Click here for Voinovich's report.)

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, and his wife flew to Berlin and Munich, Germany, for meetings with the German Bundestag. (Click here for Turner's report.)

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, went to Dublin, Ireland, for an Aspen Institute conference on U.S.-European Union-Russia relations. (Click here for McConnell's report.)

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Westwood, took just one trip last year to Baltimore, Md., for a retreat with other GOP conservative members of Congress. It cost $883 – and was paid for by his campaign. Turner went on the same trip, but his travel was paid for by the conservatice Heritage Foundation. (Click here for Chabot's report.)

Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., took two trips last year, both to Kentucky, that cost a combined $660. He traveled to Louisville at the behest of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Foundation and Grayson courtesy of the Kentucky Christian University to speak at the school’s convocation. (Click here for Davis' report.)

Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, who was elected in a special election in August, hasn’t taken any free trips. Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, and Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, also didn’t accept any free travel in 2005. (Click here for DeWine's report; Click here for Bunning's report.)


Chabot unloads tainted money

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steve Chabot just wrote two hefty checks to Cincinnati's Joseph House for Homeless Veterans today totaling $5,000.

A spokesman for Chabot, R-Westwood, told the Enquirer earlier this week that Chabot's office was reviewing his campaign finance reports and the congressman hadn't decided what to do with the campaign contributions he got from Indian tribes represented by former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In a story in Wednesday's Enquirer, it was reported that $3,000 in contributions had been found in Chabot's campaign finance records. But Chabot's office called Friday to say that (1) there had actually been $4,000 in contributions, and (2) they has just written a check for that amount to the Joseph House.

Later on Friday, Chabot's office called again to say that another $1,000 contribution had been identified, and -- just to be safe-- that too was being sent to the shelter.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington on Tuesday to defrauding the Indian tribes he represented out of millions of dollars and trying to use gifts and campaign contributions to get official favors.

Chabot's office released this statement from the congressman: "It is very important for the public to have absolute confidence in our democratic system. I always strive to meet the highest ethical standard and would much rather see these contributions go to a worthy local charity that will benefit our needy veterans."

But Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat who's opposing Chabot in the First Congressional District, said that's not the whole story.

Read more in Saturday's Enquirer ...

Chabot to donate Abramoff-related money

Rep. Steve Chabot said Friday he’ll give the $5,000 his campaign received from Indian tribes represented by former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Cincinnati’s Joseph House for Homeless Veterans.

Read more from Enquirer Washington Correspondent Malia Rulon in Saturday's Enquirer.

Blackwell’s governor’s race takes him to Washington

WASHINGTON -- Cincinnati Republican Ken Blackwell took a day off from running for Ohio governor to woo his conservative base on Thursday with a trip to the nation's capital to promote the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state, faces two other major Republican opponents in the race - Attorney General Jim Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery - and the trip could help him stand out among conservatives.

Blackwell, however, said that although his trip was paid for by his campaign, it wasn't directly related to the governor's race but more of a reflection of the fact that he's long been an advocate for conservative values, such as opposing abortion.

He said Alito represents those values, and joined the Coalition of African-American Pastors to call for Alito's quick confirmation. Hearings start next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We don't want an activist court. We want to preserve the balance of power,” Blackwell said before rushing from the National Press Club, where the news conference was held, to a meeting at the Republican National Committee.

On his way out, Blackwell said he has spoken recently to Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, about supporting Alito’s nomination. He also said he’s defended DeWine to other conservatives who criticized DeWine for brokering a compromise with Democrats to bar judicial filibusters.

“I am perfectly confidant that he’ll be true to his commitment in not being interested in advancing judicial activism,” Blackwell said of DeWine.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

In the money

Flexing some political muscle nearly four weeks before the next campaign finance filing deadline, Ohioans for Blackwell today announced that more than 10,000 separate people have given to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell’s gubernatorial campaign, putting the Cincinnati Republican on track to surpass the $1.24 million raised in the previous fund-raising reporting period.

“Our support is strong, unwavering and growing, locked in for Ken and the anti-tax and pro-life principles he stands for,'' said campaign manager Mike Hernon.

The next campaign finance filing deadline is Jan. 31.

In a separate development today, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, a Democrat from Shaker Heights, filed paperwork designating a campaign treasurer in his expected run for governor.

Fingerhut would face U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland and former state Rep. Bryan Flannery of Lakewood in a May primary election.

Fingerhut is expected to formally announce his bid at a Jan. 18 fund-raising event.

Strickland-Montgomery '06?

A panel of Ohio gubernatorial candidates generated some interesting policy proposals today, as well as some bipartisan ideas.

Auditor Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General Jim Petro and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland found themselves agreeing on the hazards of one plan -- Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's spending expenditure limitation initiative. Blackwell was in Washington, so was an easy target.
Strickland, a Democrat from Lisbon, said, "I hate to do this, but I would agree with some of what Betty said.''

"How about a bipartisan government?'' Montgomery suggested.

"A Strickland-Montgomery ticket?'' Strickland replied, prompting laughter at a conference of government editors and reporters.

"A Montgomery-Strickland ticket,'' the Republican from Perrysburg shot back.

On a serious note, Strickland hinted that he hopes to pick a woman or minority as his lieutenant governor runningmate. "It is incredibly important for the Democratic Party to embrace diversity,'' he said.

Moyer wants appointed justices

At a conference of government reporters and editors today, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer said he would like to change the system of electing Supreme Court justices, but has not yet identified a legislative sponsor.

Moyer previously proposed state legislation to increase the length of terms for judges as well as requiring training and certain years of experience. But he has not found a lawmaker willing to draft a bill that to amend the selection process for Supreme Court. Moyer would like the governor to appoint justices to vacancies on the seven-member court. The proposal would require the governor to choose from three candidates selected by a bipartisan committee. After one term, they would have to run in a retention election.

"You can't be a serious candidate for Supreme Court today without raising $1 million,'' Moyer lamented during a session sponsored by the Associated Press.

Moyer said it doesn't make any sense to require justices to raise that kind of money and then say they can't hear the most important cases because of perceived conflicts of interest. Several justices recused themselves earlier this year on cases involving the Bureau of Worker's Compensation, but declined to recuse in a utility company case.

"There's no perfect system for selecting judges,'' Moyer said, noting he may have to seek a statewide ballot initiative to get the proposal before voters.

Separately, Moyer proposes eliminating mayors' courts in which the mayor also serves as a judge. While separation of the executive and judicial roles in 334 local courts seems like a no-brainer to the justice from Bexley, it's not popular among state lawmakers.

"Most of it is politics. The representatives and senators are careful,'' Moyer said.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Blackwell backs Alito

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Cincinnati Republican, plans to be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to call for the speedy U.S. Senate confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said that Blackwell will join a Coalition of African-American pastors during a noon press conference in the First Amendment Room of the National Press Club.

Blackwell, a candidate for Ohio governor, will cite Alito's "impeccable record as a staunch defender of civil and religious liberties,'' according to LoParo.

City To Show Its Stripes Friday

Forget Casual Friday, this week it's Big Cat Friday.

Cincinnati city employees are being urged to support the Bengals Jan. 6 by wearing orange and black to work that day. After work, there is a "Bengals Playoff Party on the Plaza," from 6-9 p.m. on the East Plaza at Paul Brown Stadium.

Admission is free, with the pep-rally activities beginning at 7 p.m. It includes:

-- Opening remarks by Mayor Mark Mallory

-- Appearances by as-yet unnamed Bengals alumni

-- A charity raffle to win playoff tickets

-- Funk legend Bootsy Collins

-- Performances by local marching bands.

The Bengals make their first playoff appearance since 1990 on Sunday, when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Wildcard Playoff game, starting at 4:30 p.m.

Looking for lobbyists

Are you politically savvy? Do you know people in Columbus? Can you explain how a bill becomes a law?

The City of Cincinnati is looking for a new state lobbyist after its $5,000-a-month contract with the powerhouse Columbus lobbying firm State Street Consultants expired Dec. 31. Christopher Eilerman, the assistant to the city manager who coordinates the city's lobbying activities, said the election of former state Sen. Mark Mallory as mayor wasn't a factor in rebidding the contract.

The city's request for proposals makes clear that who you know is as important as what you know. Selection criteria include "relationships and contacts with members of the General Assembly" as well as "experience in representing municipal corporations."

The city's account is now held by Kevin L. Futryk of State Street Consultants, which is working under a three-month contract extension. According to Joint Legislative Ethics Committee filings, Futryk's other clients include ACS State and Local Solutions (which formerly had the city's workforce development contract), the Central Ohio Municipal Alliance, the M-E Companies (a civil engineering firm with $405,791 in city contracts in 2004), the Ohio Alliance of Community Centers for the Deaf, the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association and the Shelly Co. (a paving contractor).

As of today, here are the lobbying firms that have expressed interest in the contract:
  • KMK Consulting Co., Cincinnati -- Run by Charles H. "Chip" Gerhardt, the former Vice Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, whose clients include Cinergy Corp., developers Al. Neyer Inc. and Vandercar Holdings, Great American Insurance Group and the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.
  • Lobby Works, Cincinnati -- A new shingle set out by former Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association lobbyist Charles Tassell.
  • Resolvit Resources, Cincinnati -- an information technology company with its Cincinnati office across from City Hall.
  • The Colwell Group, Loveland -- Christopher S. Colwell is a registered lobbyist for Cincinnati Bell.
  • The Doyle Group, Beavercreek -- Lobbyist for hospitals, racetracks and Warren County.
The city's contract with its federal lobbyist, the Ferguson Group, expires in May.


New Administrator jokes?

Patrick Thompson was kidding -- probably.

Thompson, Hamilton County's new administrator, was in his second day in that position today after moving from Jefferson County, Colo., where he was administrator. Thompson, 46, started the day early and attended his first Board of Commissioners meeting.

After he was introduced by the commissioners, Thompson, thanked them and said: "Yesterday was my first day on the job and I decided to come back today."

Run, Paul, Run...For Something Else

Tim Burke, the Democratic party chairman in Hamilton County, home base for U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hackett, very much likes the idea of Hackett taking a seat in the new Congress when it convenes at the Capitol building a year from now.

He'd just like to see him on the House side of the building.

"I'd love to see Paul come back and try the 2nd District again,'' said Burke. "He could win this time.''

Hackett, a lawyer and Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war, came out of nowhere last spring to win the special Democratic primary election after Republican Rob Portman quit the House to become U.S. trade representative.

In a special general election campaign last summer both national political parties poured millions into what was, then, the only congressional campaign in the country - the contest between Hackett and Republican Jean Schmidt.

Improbably, in a district where President Bush got 65 percent of the vote in Nov. 2004 (and where Portman racked up 72 percent), Hackett took 48 percent of the vote, winning four of the district's seven counties.

But instead of gearing up for a rematch with Schmidt, Hackett set his sights higher. Last fall, he launched a campaign to unseat Sen. Mike DeWine.

Hackett's task became more complicated a few days later when a popular northern Ohio Democrat, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, jumped into the Senate race - setting up what could be a very nasty, very costly Democratic primary campaign.

Burke said he has asked Hackett to consider getting out of the Senate race and into the House race, but said Hackett has shown no inclination to do so.

In the meantime, Burke and the Hamilton County Democratic Executive Committee will meet Monday night for their first session of the new year. On the agenda will be setting up a Cincinnati debate between Brown and Hackett for sometime in late February.

"What I'm hoping,'' Burke said, "is that we don't have to have that debate.''

No metal detectors, no problem

Concern over the removal of metal detectors at Cincinnati City Hall barely registered a beep.

Four city employees wrote to facilities manager Joel Koopman after the metal detectors were removed from the front entrance Dec. 27, but only one of them expressed concern over not having visitors screened by security guards as they enter the building.

The other three simply asked questions about which doors would be open to access the building, or whether items, such as pocket knives, could legally be carried inside.

But a woman working in the city’s Accounts and Audits Department said she didn’t think removing the metal detectors was a good idea.

"I have been feeling more safe with the detectors in place and without them I feel like each one of us are more at risk," the e-mail says. "With all of the different people and personalities walking through the door at any given time, my opinion is that it is better to be proactive at times instead of reactive. Please take into consideration the safety of city employees."

Koopman responded to the e-mail by saying security guards are still working at City Hall.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Legal bills unpaid

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes has refused to allow about $400,000 in legal fees submitted by Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease to be paid, saying the law firm missed -- again -- a deadline.

The bills are for legal work done by Vorys attorney Tom Gabelman, the private attorney Hamilton County hired to provide legal services for such issues as The Banks development project and Hamilton County's interest in having the Health Alliance of Cincinnati operate the Drake Center, Inc.

Rhodes refused to pay the bills submitted Dec. 13 because they were submitted one day after a deadline the law firm knew about.

The intent, Rhodes suggested, is far more nefarious.

"They didn't want me to review them," Rhodes said of the bills. "It's really dissing this office."

Rhodes' office found "minor errors" including mathematical calulations, that an auditor's review should find, in some of the Vorys bills.

Rhodes has told the law firm it can resubmit the bills for payment.

Gabelman sought commissioners' help in a Dec. 19 e-mail, saying his law firm has helped Hamilton County financially, including paying up front more than $250,000 for consultants for which Hamilton County has to reimburse the firm.

This was a big issue for Rhodes in December, he said, because Vorys has been late "many, many, many, many times" in the past.

That, Gabelman noted, was because of the number of reviews -- as many as six -- the bills undergo before they are submitted to the Auditor for payment.

Roberts' Presidential Office

Ron Roberts, Hamilton County's deputy administrator, got a new office today that adjoins the office of Patrick Thompson, whose first day as Administrator is today.

Roberts' new office has one wall filled with photos of him shaking hands with the political elite over his lifetime -- including Presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and the first George Bush -- as the chief of staff to former Cincinnati Congressman Bill Gradison and campaign manager for many other politicians across the country.

There also are three pieces of furniture that are symbolic of the Commissioners' desire to be efficient and tight with taxpayer money.

Roberts has a bookcase and and old desk he uses for storing documents. Both were old pieces of furniture that already belonged to Hamilton County and Roberts had them restained.

But the working desk Roberts uses - sitting in the same room with pictures of presidents - is the old dining room table he and his wife, Sarah, bought in 1970.

"It was one of the first pieces of furniture we bought," Roberts said.

After the table was given for his daughter to use -- "It was her first dining room table, too," Roberts said -- she returned it to her parents who stored it in their basement. Until today.

Read the Abramoff indictment

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges related to gifts - a trip to Scotland, campaign contributions and free meals - provided to Ohio Rep. Bob Ney in exchange for official favors.

- Here's the indictment:

New mayor wants 'class-A upgrade' of City Hall

Bill Miller, a carpenter for the City of Cincinnati, cuts inserts from a floorboard for electrical and audio outlets during a remodeling of council chambers at City Hall in downtown Cincinnati Thursday December 29, 2005. At right is carpenter Dan Depenbrock. (Photo by Gary Landers/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

City work crews started on a minor renovation of City Council chambers last week, using the three-week winter recess to replace 14-year-old carpeting.

If Mayor Mark Mallory has his way, that would be just a start.

"The entire building is in need of a class-A restoration," he said in an interview last month.

Cincinnati's new mayor said he has formed some definite theories about the connection between great architecture and good government.

"A lot of thought went into the design of this building, and that was because a lot of great thought was to come out of this building," he said, sitting behind his desk in the mayor's office and gazing up at the ceiling. "That's why the ceilings are so high. You're supposed to rise up. And light -- light is so important."

Mallory came into the Ohio General Assembly just before a major renovation was completed in 1996. "When you walked into any part of the Statehouse, you were in awe -- and you were supposed to be," he said. "Over the years, we've lost that here."

The cornerstone of City Hall, a Samuel Hannaford-designed Romanesque building of massive Red sandstone, marble stairways and stained glass windows, was laid in 1888. The building also needs an overhaul of its mechanical systems for the information age, Mallory said.

"They are designed in one era and used in another," he said. The city no longer needs a jail in the basement, but it does have a television studio.

Besides, Mallory said, the brown, grey and beige color scheme in the mayor's office is "horribly wrong," he said.

The last major renovation of City Hall came in 2002, a $3 million project that mostly replaced roof tiles and restored walls.

"It's not anything that can happen any time soon, because there's no money for it," Mallory said of his planned renovation. But the mayor expects to ask the city's budget office for some figures on what a restoration would cost, and possibly seek private donations.

Never on a (Super) Sunday

If you are a voter in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, Jim Parker will talk to you any time, day or night.

Just don't call him when the Super Bowl is on.

Parker, a health care administrator from Waverly, Ohio, wants to be the Democratic candidate against Rep. Jean Schmidt, and has been firing off position papers on everything from the economy to Medicare/Medicaid to middle class tax cuts.

But in his latest missive to media and supporters in the 2nd District, Parked added a proviso to his pledge to meet with reporters or prospective constituents anytime, anywhere.

"With the exception of Easter Sunday, the Super Bowl and a few football games, I am going to work like there is no tomorrow in order to try to be your next congressman,'' Parker wrote.

No word, though, on how he will handle the MLB playoffs and World Series next October if he wins the Democratic primary.

- Howard Wilkinson

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