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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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Yates elected president of legislative black caucus

State Rep. Tyrone K. Yates has been elected president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus for 2007-2008. The caucus' executive committee is comprised of the 17 African-American legislators who serve in the Ohio General Assembly. This year is the 40th anniversary of the caucus.

Sen. Eric H. Kearney, a Democrat from North Avondale, was elected treasurer.

As president, Yates, a Democrat from Evanston/East Walnut Hills, also serves as the caucus' chief executive officer, overseeing all organizational activity.

"We look forward to working with our fellow governing elected leaders of Ohio to address critical issues such as work and employment, public education, criminal justice and community re-entry," Yates said.

Yates also chairs the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, a separate non-partisan and non-profit organization created to improve the quality of life of African American residents of Ohio through activities designed to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

The caucus is working to develop state budget and other legislative priorities for the 127th General Assembly. Previous priorities have focused on the re-entry of ex-offenders into communities across the state, Medicare and Medicaid issues, and job-readiness training.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus was created in 1967 to promote, foster, and sponsor the education of African Americans and other minorities on the importance of involvement in party politics in order to secure a fair share of government services for their communities.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Driehaus lauded by statewide Elections group

The Ohio Association of Election Officials today named state Rep. Steve Driehaus as Democratic Legislator of the Year. The association said it chose Driehaus because of his role shaping House Bill 3, which reformed Ohio’s election procedures.

House Bill 3 brought Ohio into compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act. During legislative hearings and debate, Driehaus, D-Price Hill, worked to ensure accessibility at the polls, accurate vote counts and the procedure that allows for "no fault" absentee voting. No fault voting allows any voter to cast an absentee ballot prior to the election without providing a reason to the Board of Elections.

City Council's work

Upon being elected last fall, the new members of Cincinnati city council declared they were committed to working together and ending what many considered petty bickering at City Hall. Council members, along with Mayor Mark Mallory, said they were going to “end the chaos.”

So how’s that going?

Here’s an indication: the in-fighting is so bad that when Mallory tried to re-appoint John Cranley to the board of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments Wednesday, two council members circulated Cranley’s attendance record to that board over the past four years.

This fight came a day after David Crowley asked Mallory to withdraw his name from consideration from the Transportation Improvement District, because Jeff Berding was trying to block the appointment. In his letter, Crowley said he just wanted to end the fight so council would concentrate on more important issues.

There have been at least three other nasty political fights in the past couple of weeks. The thing they all have in common: they involve members who supported different budgets in December, in what turned out to be one of the most divisive budget debates in memory – Berding, Leslie Ghiz, Chris Bortz, Chris Monzel, and Laketa Cole on one side; Cranley, Crowley, Jim Tarbell and Cecil Thomas on the other.

“I thought the action I took, withdrawing my name (from TID), it might set a tone of cooperation,” Crowley said Wednesday. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Cranley’s record is pretty bad at OKI. He has missed 29 of 37 meetings since October 2002.

“To me, I was troubled by his attendance record,” Monzel said. “When we’re called on to represent the city of Cincinnati, we need to show up.”

Cranley was quick to point out that he almost always sends an aide from his office when he can’t attend a meeting, circulating his own attendance sheet with “R” (for “represented”) on the dates he missed.

Cranley said he’s worked hard on the board, concentrating on getting a study for a new Interstate 71 interchange at Martin Luther King for the Uptown Consortium, a grouping of the five largest employers in the Uptown area – Avondale, Clifton, Clifton Heights, Corryville, Fairview, Mt. Auburn and University Heights. The employers are Children’s Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo, The Health Alliance, TriHealth and UC.

Mark Policinski, OKI’s executive director, thinks Cranley has done a bang-up job. He wrote a note of thanks to Cranley earlier this month.

“Put directly, there would not have been an Uptown study without you,” Policinski said. “You initiated the idea of the study, you secured the financing from the city which leveraged all other investment in the study and you did the heavy lifting on making sure that the interchange recommendation was going to get a fair hearing.”

A couple other issues council has been dealing with in the past two weeks:

On Monday, in Jeff Berding’s Rules Committee, he made a move to have an important quarterly report called the Quality of Life Index, introduced to council though the Rules Committee, instead of through Thomas’ Law and Public Safety Committee. The index deals with a lot of issues, most prominent policing matters, and has been introduced through the Law committee since before this board was elected.

Berding abandoned that effort Wednesday after a long, private discussion with Thomas before the meeting.

And last week, when Thomas had a national law enforcement expert in his committee, Berding read – over Thomas’ shoulder – the motion of support Thomas drafted of the expert’s ideas and quickly circulated his own version of the motion.

“There’s a lot of craziness going on,” Thomas said Wednesday. “This isn’t why I'm here."

Snow in February

It used to be unthinkable that a presidential press secretary would be out and about on the rubber-chicken circuit, banging the drum for his president's political party, but Tony Snow has pretty much buried that convention of American politics.

Snow, the Princeton High School grad and former Fox News talking head, was out on the campaign trail last fall to help GOP congressional candidates raise money - including a stop here for Jean Schmidt.

He'll be back next week, as the keynote speaker at the Hamilton County Republican Party's $80-a-pop Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at the Westin Hotel.

(Republican old-timers will remember this annual event as the "Lincoln Day Dinner." A few years ago the party decided that the Great Communicator was to be given equal billing with the Great Emanicipator.)

While out on the stump for Schmidt last fall, Snow began his speech by saying he wasn't there to bash Democrats; and would launch into a misty-eyed paean to the joys of going to work every morning and being in the presence of greatness and how he still can't believe how such a thing could happen to a regular Princeton boy like him.

If you'd like to hear it again, it will cost you 80 bucks.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Crowley: War has impacted the city

Cincinnati council member David Crowley leaves Friday for Washington, D.C., where he will attend a march against the Iraq war.

During the “announcements” part of Wednesday’s city council meeting, Crowley started to read an anti-war statement. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory briefly interrupted him, trying to cut him off because he thought the content didn’t apply to the city.

Crowley argued it did.

“The loss of life, the loss of productivity and the loss of federal dollars because of the investment in this war has impacted the city,” Crowley said. He was allowed to continue.

Here’s what he said:

I am leaving Friday night to travel to Washington DC with the Inter Community Justice and Peace Center of Cincinnati to attend a march against the Iraq war.

I first want to say that as Navy Veteran and a resident of this great country I support our troops for their service.

Many of them are being savagely injured and still others are paying with the ultimate sacrifice and for this we are all grateful.

Almost four years ago I expressed my grave concerns about entering into this preemptive war. At the time I took a lot of heat for expressing my concerns.

Though there are scores of reasons why this war was a bad idea there were two reasons primary reasons I spoke about at the time.

One was the obvious concern over the imminent, needless loss of human life. As I am sure you are aware we unfortunately are learning about another local armed services member dying or being injured on a regular basis.

These are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters being lost.

The second primary concern was for what this would mean for the City of Cincinnati, and other large urban areas, in terms of needed resources including dollars.

Unfortunately both of these issues that I raised as concerns two years ago have now become facts.

For just one example….Right now, in already difficult economic times for our City we now have the added challenge of fighting our Federal government for needed dollars.

Dollars that pay for important needs such as urban housing and development are being cut by the Administration at unbelievably high levels.

In 2002, the year before we entered the war Cincinnati’s total HUD Grant amount was $23.7 million, in 2006 the amount was $18.9 million and we are estimating the amount will be further decreased to $17.5 million in 2007.

That would represent a $6.2 million cut and this does not account for inflation.

These dollars pay for critical housing services for the poor and disabled, they provide assistance for people with HIV-AIDS, and help promote homeownership.

How are we to rebuild our urban core and assist those most in need of assistance if all or our resources are no longer available at acceptable rates?

Many of you are probably hearing about major cuts being discussed for CMHA as well. The significant reduction of the quality housing that CMHA provides (they are estimating $100 per unit) will have a very negative affect on our region and county.

At the same time these resources are being lost from our community the number of homicides is increasing. The need is greater and I would argue that there is a correlation between the lack of support we are getting on the federal level and the significance of the problems we are facing on the local level.

While I am not attending this march in any official capacity I did want to let you all know they I am attending and wanted to raise some of these issues in your mind.

Let’s concentrate on peace, let’s embark on a new strategy in Iraq, let’s bring our troops home and let’s focus on a strong domestic agenda to assist urban areas in need such as Cincinnati.

Pow! Bang! Zoom! To the moon, Alice

In November, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune jokingly gave fellow Commissioner Pat DeWine a pair of red, white and blue boxing gloves (pictured) after DeWine was involved in a spat at a swanky downtown restaurant.

It looked like DeWine was ready to use them at today’s meeting – on Portune.

First, the duo squared off over the Tax Levy Review Commission, an all-volunteer, commissioner-appointed board aimed at reviewing requests made by agencies seeking to get funding from Hamilton County property taxes.

The 12-year-old TLRC went through a major reorganization in November 2005 when DeWine and then-Commissioner Phil Heimlich fired all but one of the members, saying the board ignored commissioners’ directive to recommend no requests for taxation above the rate of inflation.

The only member not fired was Chris Finney, a business partner, friend and political supporter of Heimlich.

Now, with Portune and Commissioner David Pepper giving Democrats a majority on the three-man board, Portune is using the advantage to his advantage.

Portune made a motion today to remove two current TLRC members – Joe Allen and Scott McIntyre – who were appointed after the 2005 firings.

They were replaced by:

* Connie Pillich, an attorney who unsuccessfully ran last fall for an Ohio House seat as a Democrat, and;
* Dale Van Vyven, a Republican who is a former state representative. Van Vyven was one of the TLRC members fired in 2005.

Portune and Pepper voted for the changes. DeWine, now the lone Republican on the board, voted against Pillich.

Portune and DeWine also were at odds over a proposed sales tax increase that could go before voters.

Portune has warned that voters may be asked – again – to adopt a sales tax increase to build a new jail to solve jail overcrowding.

DeWine, who believes adequate jail space can be built in Hamilton County without a tax increase, noted voters have rejected such a tax increase three times since 1992.

The last time was in November when Issue 12 – a proposed quarter-cent increase to pay for a $230 million jail and $30 million property tax rollback -- lost 57-43 percent.

“My kids make fun of me losing my hair and I can’t see well without my contacts, but I can still hear pretty well,” DeWine said of the voters’ choice last fall.

Commissioners are considering a sales tax increase but have made no decision. To put one on the May ballot, though, they have to follow legal procedures that include advertising public meetings no later than Jan. 28.

If they don’t do that, they can’t place a proposed sales tax on the May ballot if they decided they wanted to.

After DeWine insisted the jail could be built without a tax increase and mentioned that Hamilton County’s high taxes are driving people to other counties, Portune countered with, “It’s a good speech, Pat.”

“That’s high praise,” an unapologetic DeWine shot back.

Portune then opined that all commissioners need to work together – “not create conflict and lob stones” -- to solve the jail overcrowding issue, but slammed DeWine for supporting Issue 12 last fall. He asked DeWine to be open-minded about the issue.

Immediately, DeWine told Portune “That was a good speech, too,” and noted he won’t seek a tax that voters rejected as recently as November.

“That’s all people are going to focus on,” DeWine said.

No blood was shed.

State of the City speech on Feb. 20

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory will give his State of the City address at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.

The annual address will be held at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater inside the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut Street. Last year's speech was held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The event, during which the mayor will talk about the city's accomplishments of the past year and set his agenda for 2007, is free and open to the public.

The mayor's office will begin accepting RSVPs for the limited seating, beginning Feb. 7. Call (513) 352-3250 or e-mail mark.mallory@cincinnati-oh.gov to make an RSVP.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Portman Op-Ed in USA TODAY today

Opposing view: Deficit halved 2 years early
Three years ago, skeptics scoffed. Now they’re eating crow.

By Rob Portman

Three years ago, President Bush established the goal of cutting the federal budget deficit by half in five years, without raising taxes. At the time, many — including USA TODAY— expressed skepticism. But it was achieved last year, three years ahead of schedule. Now is the time to build on that success and work with Congress to balance the budget in the next five years.

On Feb. 5, the president will propose the customary five-year budget, showing declining deficits every year and a surplus in 2012.

Getting to balance requires both keeping the economy strong and keeping federal spending under control.

CLICK HERE to read more.


Washington's newest media organization - The Politico - launched today. Greater Cincinnati has TWO lawmakers who made their list of the Top 10 most influential members of Congress:

3. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- Hands down the most powerful Republican in Congress. He makes Bill Frist seem electrifying. But McConnell is a tactical wizard; Think Trent Lott on mute.

10. Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio -- Life in the minority sucks. House Republicans are the least relevant of the Big Four. But he has one heck of a tan.

Schmidt gets autograph

After President Bush finished his State of the Union speech, lawmakers in the U.S. House chamber immediately clammored toward him as he exited.

First to congratulate him on his speech were several House leaders, including House Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., followed by Minority Leader John Boehner, a West Chester Republican, who shook Bush's hand, then leaned in and whispered something in his ear.

Then came the autograph session. As soon as one lawmaker asked for the president to sign the State of the Union program booklet, everyone wanted his signature - even Democrats!

The only Greater Cincinnati lawmaker lucky enough to snag the president's autograph?

Rep. Jean Schmidt, of course. The Miami Township Republican, sitting along the aisle, simply held out her program as the president passed buy - and was rewarded with a quick signature.

Who's that man behind Bush?

TV viewers watching President Bush walk into the U.S. House chamber for his State of the Union address tonight got a full view of local Rep. John Boehner, who sauntered into the chamber right behind the president.

Boehner, of West Chester, is the House Republican Leader. He was followed by Senate Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other House and Senate leaders.

But it was Boehner, sporting his trademark green tie, who got the most face time during the president's entrance.

And also Rep. Jean Schmidt. The Miami Township Republican, wearing her trademark hair bow, which matched her maroon and tan suit, snagged an aisle seat so she could greet the president.

She also hugged Boehner, smacking a kiss on his cheek.

Northern Kentucky soldier attends SOTU

A Northern Kentucky soldier whom the Army has modeled an action figure after, sat with first lady Laura Bush tonight when President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech.

Army Sgt. Tommy Rieman of Independence, Ky., was wounded in 2003 when his team came under heavy enemy fire during a reconnaissance mission in Iraq.

According to a biography from the White House, Rieman used his body as a shield to protect his gunner, causing Rieman to be shot in the chest and arm, and receive shrapnel wounds to his legs. But Rieman refused medical attention and stayed in the fight, helping to repel a second attack by firing grenades at the enemy until their guns went silent.

He was awarded the Silver Star for his "exceptional" courage, the White House said.

Rieman wrestled and was captain of the football team at Simon Kenton High School, where he graduated in 1999.

And although he now works in the personnel office at the Pentagon, Rieman also has a second mission: He's one of the Army's nine official action figures and one of several real-life soldiers depicted in the Army's new computer game, "America's Army: Real Heroes."

The online game, which has attracted more than 8 million players to its website, is designed to provide entertainment while also serving as a public relations and recruiting tool. It allows players to go from training to carrying out various missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rieman, who was pumping gas in Independence when he decided to enlist in the Army, spoke to 1,500 students at Simon Kenton last March about his experiences.

"I want these kids to know what I've been through and to open their eyes up," Rieman, then 25, told the Enquirer. "It's all very surreal."

Crowley: No TID For Me

Cincinnati City Council member David Crowley wrote to Mayor Mark Mallory Tuesday, saying he would like his name removed from consideration for appointment to the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (TID).

Crowley was Mallory's choice to represent the city on the TID, which considers road improvement projects and other transportation issues throughout the county. But some members of Cincinnati city council -- specifically members of the so-called "Fiscal Five" who opposed Crowley and three other members of council over several budget issues in December -- have tried to block that appointment in recent weeks.

The "fiscal five," a nickname that Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson slapped on Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz, Leslie Ghiz, Chris Monzel and Laketa Cole becasue of their desire to cut social services and the Health Department, waged a prolonged battle with four members of council over the 2007-08 budget.

It appears those disagreements have spilled over on new issues in the new year.

Crowley's group, which included John Cranley, Cecil Thomas and Jim Tarbell, negotiated an increase in social service spending if additional year-end revenue comes in as expected. The group also fought for, and won, a less-severe cut to the Health Department.

Crowley raised the white flag on the TID issue Tuesday, saying he's more interested in restoring a functional working relationsihp with council than serving on the board. Here's his memo:

Mayor Mallory,

I very much appreciate your invitation to serve as the City's representative to the Transportation Improvement District (TID). Due to no fault of my own this decision has led to much distracting debate and controversy over the last few weeks. After further reflection I am writing to ask that my name be removed from consideration for this appointment.

My keen interest in the transportation issues under the jurisdiction of the TID are outweighed by my desire to foster a civil and productive atmosphere among City Council. In my mind this is far more important than engaging in battles over whom you as the Mayor wish to appoint to a given board or commission. In the end it should be your decision as the mayor and in the future I will continue to support you in this regard.

It is my hope that this action will enable us, the City Leaders, to focus our collective energies on the many other critical issues facing our City such as the needless violence on our streets and the lack of economic opportunity for certain segments of our community. I look forward to continuing this very important work together with you and the rest of Council.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Molony replaced Finney on TLRC

Fifteen months ago, two Hamilton County commissioners fired all but one member of an all-volunteer tax review committee because they didn’t follow commissioners’ mandate.

Today, a new board of commissioners took up the idea of revamping that committee – and perhaps reinstating some fired members.

Commissioners met today to discuss the role of the Tax Levy Review Committee, a group of volunteers that considers requests to place tax issues on the ballot.

Changes are being pushed by Commission President Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board in November 2005 when Republican Commissioners Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine ousted all but one of the committee members.

DeWine and Heimlich said the committee did not honor a mandate to keep levy requests to no more than the rate of inflation. The committee recommended levies to support Drake Hospital and the board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities that were nearly four times the inflation rate.

The lone member kept was chairman Chris Finney (pictured) -- a Heimlich friend, political supporter and business partner.

Heimlich was voted out of office last November. Finney resigned from the TLRC after that.

Portune has contacted former members to see if they wish to be reinstated.

One, David Cook, declined because he now is a law partner of Portune and wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Dale Van Vyven, a former state representative, is interested.

"It does bother me in a way because they deep-sixed everybody except for Chris," Van Vyven said at the time.

Portune nominated Tim Molony, treasurer for the city of Norwood, as tax review committee chairman.

Commissioners asked all interested to provide personal and financial data to prevent any conflict of interest.

No official action could be taken today because commissioner David Pepper was stuck in Washington, D.C. on a flight delay.

GOP presidential primary starts with pancakes

The annual GOP pancake breakfast at the Sharonville Convention Center on Feb. 17 could mark the start of the 2008 presidential primary season in Ohio.

The Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club, which hosts the annual event, has invited all the announced and potential candidates for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Given the fact that this part of the state has a lot to say about who wins GOP primaries in Ohio, it's not outside the realm of possibility that some of them might show up.

After the Republicans enjoy a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and sausage, a presidential straw poll will be taken. It's not clear yet which names will be on the straw poll ballot, but the flyer touting the breakfast features photos of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Rudy Guiliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

This year's featured speaker will be JoAnn Davidson, the former Ohio House speaker who is now co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

At last year's breakfast, hundreds of Republicans braved an early morning snowstorm to show up for a straw poll vote on the 2nd Congressional District primary, with former congressman Bob McEwen eking out a win over incumbent Jean Schmidt. The straw poll voters chose Ken Blackwell for governor over then-attorney general Jim Petro.

Schmidt, of course, won the May primary, as did Blackwell. The rest is history.

The GOP fun begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17. Admission is $15 for individuals and $35 for families.

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