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, March 16, 2007

Schmidt and vomit

According to the Politico's Shenanigans Blog, the two had a run-in this week:
Meanwhile, today on the Hill, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) was seen making a spectacle of herself when the unlucky lawmaker slipped and fell in what we’re told was vomit, in a bathroom in Cannon. (Some nice female dealing with the repercussions of Jason Roe’s going away party by chance?) “She made THE biggest scene in the hallway,” says a staffer who escaped the, um, regurgitation. “It’s literally all down her back.”
So did this REALLY happen? Sort of. Here's what Schmidt chief of staff Barry Bennett had to say, via e-mail:
"Someone did get sick outside her office next to the womens bathroom and she did slip and fall. That part is true. She went home and changed. It was not as dramatic or disgusting as the blog reported."
When asked if the congresswoman was OK, Bennett responded: "Battered but fine."


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Attention budget wonks

Here's Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed state budget. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Let me talk"

A routine Hamilton County commission meeting Wednesday dissolved into a 15-minute bickering session betwen commissioners Todd Portune and Pat DeWine about the jail sales tax -- a discussion that will likely continue at their staff meeting Monday on the jail issue.

At one point Portune accused DeWine of "lying on camera." DeWine made a veiled insult to Portune's often lengthy discussions.

The two often talked over each other as they vied to get their point across.

Portune: "You can say anything you want to say."

DeWine (interrupting): "Well why don't you let me talk"

Portune (interrupting): "You go right ahead."

Dewine: (interrupting): "I would if you'd be quiet long enough to let me speak."

It went on like that for awhile.

Then later, related to DeWine's explanation of why Portune wouldn't accept his jail funding ideas:

Portune: "That's not the reason. I’m not going to let you lie on camera, but you go ahead."

Dewine: "I know you have thin skin about this issue, but how hard is it to let me speak."

Then, after DeWine finished

Portune: "Is that it?"

DeWine: "Yes."

Portune: "Are you sure? Because I don’t want to be accused of not giving you the opportunity to say everything you want to say, Pat."

DeWine: "I don’t need to speak for half an hour, Todd, but feel free."

Here's the issue: Portune and his Democratic counterpart, Commissioner David Pepper support holding a special election Aug. 28 for a sales tax that would fund construction of a new jail and related criminal justice services.

DeWine, the sole Republican on the board, is against the tax. He says he offered numerous ways to fund the jail project without going to voters. Among the examples he gave Wednesday were: use surplus funds from the convention center, use the $30 million from the sale of Drake Hospital, consider the sale of other properties, and make cuts in county operations. "I think we can cobble together enough," he said. He also accuses Pepper and Portune of choosing an August election in order to stay under the radar.

Portune says none of DeWine's ideas would have worked. He says the only way to raise the kind of money needed is through a sales tax increase.

The whole fiasco Wednesday erupted over a disagreement about an appointment to the Hamilton County Competition and Efficiency Committee.

DeWine brought up the hot-button word "sales tax."

Portune: "Are you sure you want to go down that path at this meeting?"

DeWine: "I’d be more than happy to go down that path."

And off they went.

Blackwell gets (another) new job

On the same day that Gov. Ted Strickland gives his State of the speech... The man Strickland beat in last year's General Election to become governor lands a new job!

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins announced today that former Ohio gubnatorial contender Ken Blackwell will be joining the conservative group as a "senior fellow for family empowerment."

Blackwell, Cincinnati Republican, is Ohio's former secretary of state and also a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission

In a news release sent out today, FRC called Blackwell "one of the nation's leading conservative voices," and said he will lead FRC's efforts in addressing family economics, tax reform and education.

"Over the years, we have known and worked with Ken Blackwell on the toughest issues facing families and our country," Perkins said. "We have witnessed Ken's willingness to stand and fight for preserving marriage and defending the unborn. His unwavering commitment to tax relief and conservative fiscal policies has supported family enterprise."

Said Blackwell: "I am honored to join our country's premier public policy organization dedicated to strengthening the family and defending the sanctity of life. I look forward to continuing my work as an advocate for empowering families."

This new job is one of several the former gubernatorial candidate has snapped up. He's also a "Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow" at the Columbus-based Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. And, he's writing columns as the new editor of conservative Townhall.com.

Which makes us wonder - Are there any more Blackwell jobs on the horizon?


Share the Love - Or Not

A bumper sticker spotted on an SUV parked across the street from Cincinnati City Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Cincinnati businessman testifies

A local businessman - Mike Cavanaugh of Queen City Electric - testified TODAY before the House Small Business Committee about the impact of skyrocketing health insurance costs on small business owners and their employees.

Cavanaugh is also a member of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Independent Electrical Contractors. You can read their news release about his testimony HERE.

Cavanaugh testified about the challenges he faces in providing competitive health insurance benefits for his 25 employees. This is a big issue for small business employers. According to Cavanaugh, if employers can't offer a good benefits package, then many of today’s skilled workers will look for a new job with benefits that better meets their needs.

“Small businesses are at a significant disadvantage because we cannot easily band together to form large pools of insured individuals similar to big companies,” Cavanaugh said, adding that the money and time it takes to provide quality health insurance for his employees is the "largest uncontrolled cost" that his business faces every year.

The top Republican on the committee is Rep. Steve Chabot of Westwood.


C-SPAN Alert: Senate debating Iraq

UPDATE: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is speaking about the Iraq war on the floor NOW.

The U.S. Senate has just started debating a resolution condemning the Iraq war. If you tune in to C-SPAN now, you listen to what they have to say.

Earlier today, the Senate broke a parliamentary roadblock that allowed it to begin its first formal debate on the Iraq war since Democrats took control of the Senate. Last month, Republicans used a procedural maneuver to prevent debate on an Iraq resolution. This time, the vote was 89-9 to let the debate begin.

Ohio Sens. George Voinovich, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, both voted to allow the debate. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, also voted in favor of the debate. However, Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, also a Republican, voted against it.

The measure would call on President Bush to begin withdrawing troops in four months with all forces out of Iraq by the end of March 2008.

Despite being able to debate the measure, however, the bill is still expected to fall short of the 60 votes it needs to pass. And even if it were to pass the Democratic-controlled body, the White House has said it would veto the measure.

Brown backs new college tax credit bill

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown joined a crowd (eight others) of Democratic senators today to introduce the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which would overhaul college tuition tax provisions to create one streamlined, easy-to-understand credit.

Under this legislation, the existing HOPE and Lifetime Learning credits and the above-the-line college tuition tax deduction into one $2,500 credit, simplifying the current system of benefits, which lawmakers say have too many rules and regulations for most families to deal with.

The new credit will cover 100 percent of the first $1,000 in college expenses; 50 percent of the next $2,000; and 20 percent of the next $2,500, for a maximum credit of $2,500. The bill would provide assistance through a different formula to community college students, whose costs are lower.

Those who make more than $70,000 or couples who earn more than $140,000 together would get less. Those who earn more than $90,000 or couples who make more than $180,000 combined would not be eligible.

“The cost of college tuition at a public school in Ohio has jumped 89 percent since 2000,” Brown said. “All students, if they want to, should have the opportunity to go to college. Expanding and simplifying college tax credits are important steps toward supporting middle class families throughout the nation.”

Additionally, the consolidated credit will cover up to 50 percent on some textbooks for a maximum of $250. The credit can be claimed for both graduate and undergraduate education and can be claimed for up to three students in a household each year.

Voinovich meets with Khalizad

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met today with Zalmay Khalilzad, the nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad is currently the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Here's what the Cleveland Republican had to say about the meeting:
“I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Khalilzad today to discuss his nomination and the current international climate. I made it clear to him that I strongly believe the next ambassador to the United Nations must continue the focus on true U.N. reform – making it more transparent, efficient and beholden to higher ethical standards. I spoke with Ambassador Khalilzad about the U.N.’s role in Iraq, the looming threat of Iran, the need to fully implement Resolution 1701 and facilitate the return of captive Israeli soldiers and the importance of Kosovo’s future status to stability in Europe. I also raised the need to strengthen relations at the U.N. so that we can best promote our interests with the international community. I look forward to discussing these issues with Ambassador Khalilzad in more detail during the confirmation hearings.”

Khalilzad would replace former the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, whose shot at getting the job for good was derailed after Voinovich objected to the nomination. Voinovich later came around and strongly backed Bolton, but it was too late.

Strickland's dramatic State of the State

So this is what happens when you have the first Democrat in 16 years running the state.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Put Me In, Coach

It seems everybody's asking Mayor Mark Mallory if he's ready to take the mound at Great American Ball Park to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

He'll be ready, he says - he's practicing. He knows exactly how far the ball has to go: 60 feet, six inches.

It'll be the third time Mallory has been on the Reds' field. He was there in the early 1970s with his father, former Ohio House Majority Leader William Mallory Sr., and last year with the Tuskegee Airmen.

But he'll be a year older when he does the honor - Opening Day, April 2, is also his birthday. He'll be 45.

Dusty Rhodes describes 'vital quest'

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes was sworn in Monday for his fifth term. He issued a statement on his office's Web site. In it, he thanks many people for their support and discusses what he calls the "vital quest" for elected officials and voters: lowering property taxes and reducing dependence on publicly-funded social welfare programs.

Anti-war protesters convicted

Updated, 5:45 p.m.

The anti-war protesters who tried to get Rep. Steve Chabot to sign the "Congressional Declaration of Peace" have been convicted. Read more here

Chabot's office has issued this statement:

"We are fortunate to live in a free nation where people have the right to express their views and debate honest differences of opinion. I've met with many people, including some of these protesters, with various opinions about U.S. military action in Iraq. Most of these meetings have been cordial and professional.

"However, we are also a nation of laws and our laws should be respected. When the law is broken, it is up to our legal system to determine guilt or innocence as it has in this case."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Talking taxes

Hamilton County commissioners Todd Portune and David Pepper will be making the rounds in the next few months to each of Hamilton County's 49 political jurisdictions.

The topic of discussion: sales tax.

Portune wants to ask voters in August for a sales tax increase to build a new jail and fund associated programs. The filing deadline for an Aug. 28 special election is June 14.

So over the next few months, Pepper and Portune plan to split up and attend city council, township trustee, or village council meetings in every community in the county to present the soon-to-be-finalized jail plan.
"We're going to examine: Why this plan? Why is it funded this way? What do we hope to accomplish? and what do we want our county to do?" Portune said. At least two public hearings will also be held at the county level.
Portune expects the county will decide April 14 whether to pursue the special election -- which would require a change to state law. The third commissioner, Pat DeWine, is opposed to a special election.

Voinovich backs UC bid for presidential debate

Sen. George Voinovich of Cleveland sure has some nice things to day about Cincinnati!

Ohio's Republican senator sent a letter today to the Commission on Presidential Debates in support of the University of Cincinnati's bid to host a 2008 presidential debate, making it clear that he expects Ohio to once again be ground zero for presidential politics:

"Ohio has long been a bell-weather for national elections. The upcoming 2008 presidential election promises to have a focus on Ohio and its voters once again. The stream of individuals visiting Ohio and organizing campaign or exploratory committees in the state grows everyday," Voinovich wrote.

He then touted the significance of Cincinnati:

"Cincinnati, once known as the 'Queen City of the West,' remains at a geographic and political crossroads of America," he wrote. "According to some political historians, the Presidential election of 1908, won by Cincinnati native William Howard Taft, was the first election where presidential candidates ran a modern day political campaign. Political leaders and activism has always played an important part of the three-state region known as Greater Cincinnati."

The deadline for schools and other locations to apply to host a 2008 presidential debate is March 31. The committee will then review the applications, visit the sites and make their final selections this October. For more information about the Presidential Debate site selection process, click HERE.

For more information about the UC bid - and a possible competing one from the Northern Kentucky University, check out last week's story in The Enquirer HERE.

Column UPDATE: Kiley retired today

Today's "Inside Washington" column lead off with this item about Rep. Mike Turner calling for the ouster of Walter Reed hospital commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley.

According to the U.S. Army, Kiley just submitted his retirement request.

Ballot issue on school-funding a bad idea

Gov. Ted Strickland and all four leaders of the Ohio General Assembly agreed on one topic today: A statewide ballot issue to overhaul the state's system of public school funding is the wrong approach to fixing inequities.

Speaking to government reporters and editors at an annual Associated Press conference, Strickland echoed earlier comments by bipartisan leaders of the Ohio House and Senate that he prefers dealing with inequities in school funding in the state budget and legislatively. "I think the approach is flawed and that's why I have not embraced it," Strickland said of a ballot issue.

Strickland is due to introduce his first two-year budget to the General Assembly on Thursday.

Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland; House Speaker Jon Husted, R-Kettering; Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo; and House Minority Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, all agreed that placing the issue before Ohio voters in November is the wrong approach.

Harris and Husted were particularly adamant, insisting Ohio has come a long way in recent years in financing public schools while improving test scores and graduation rates.

Strickland said his first budget will offer some guidance, but that given limited resources and his pledge not to increase taxes, a complete overhaul will come only through longer-term solutions.

"I don't know that there is a single action that is going to solve the problem," Strickland said.

Without elaborating, Strickland hinted his budget will eliminate some tax breaks. His staff has found "lots of ways to save small amounts of money," the governor said. "We have found significant savings."


Going to school all year long?

If Ohio students think making up excess snow days on Saturdays or vacations is bad. . .wait until they hear this one.

During an Associated Press' conference in Columbus today, Gov. Ted Strickland was asked what he might do to improve Ohio's status among states, and its educational system in general.

A longer school-year, possibly continuing through the summer months, is one of the newly-elected Democrat's favorites. Gone are the days of an agriculture-driven economy, and the need for children to work on family farms during the warmer months, Strickland said.

"We are in the fight of our life when it comes to this global economy," Strickland said.

Afterward, Keith Dailey, Strickland's spokesman, joked that his boss would make schoolchildren work through lunch if he could.

Kidding aside, Dailey said that Strickland talked conceptually about lengthening the school year during last year's campaign, and might offer more details later as part of his commitment to educational reform.

J.C. Benton, a state Education Department spokesman, said school calendars are set by local districts. Benton said a few of the state's 613 school districts already are in session year-round.


Dawson lands job at CJR Group

The longtime chief of staff to former Sen. Mike DeWine has a new job.

Laurel Dawson, who worked for the Cedarville Republican for nearly 20 years, has joined the CJR Group, a government affairs firm with offices in Washington, Cleveland and Columbus.

Dawson is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford and a former member of the school's board of trustees.

Read more from today's "Inside Washington" column HERE.

The raising of the green

What better week for an Irishman to announce he's running again for Cincinnati City Council?

David Crowley holds his St. Patty's Rally for Crowley on Thursday - two days before St. Patrick's Day - at the family bar, Crowley's Highland House, 958 Pavilion St., o'top Mount Adams, 4:30-7 p.m.

"I am excited to formally kickoff my final re-election campaign," the Democrat said in a statement. "Success will once again require your friendship and assistance. Let's begin by having fun!"

This will be Crowley's fourth run since 2001 and his last because of term limits.

The invitation says any level of contribution will be accepted. Fifty bucks puts donors at the "shamrock level", while $500's considered a pot of gold.


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