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, June 29, 2007

Ohio 1: the 'most competitive' race in the state?

A "Battleground Brief" memo went out to members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) from executive director Brian Wolff this week listing three "races to watch" in the 2008 congressional campaign cycle.

One of them was Ohio's 1st Congressional District, where Republican Steve Chabot is expected to run for an eighth term in the House.

State Rep. Steve Driehaus is the Democrat taking on Chabot; and he's described by Wolff as a "strong fiscal conservative."

Ohio's 1st District, Wolff says, "is perhaps the most competitive in the entire state." The key to winning, according to the DCCC, "will be to make sure the Democratic base turnout is elevated."

"The presidential election should also help with with this race,'' Wolff said.

Some Democrats around here believe that the Democratic presidential candidate who could help Driehaus the most is Barack Obama. No other congressional district in the country now represented by a Republican has a larger African-American population than Ohio's 1st District. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, the theory goes, it would drive African-American turnout through the roof.

Norquist hates the jail tax, but can't sign the petition

Grover Norquist, Republican activist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, is in town Friday to make a speech at an Ohio Republican Senate Campaign Committee fundraiser, but while he is in the neighborhood, he's touting the petition drive to place the sales tax inrease for jail construction on the November ballot.

He's showing up on a 50,000-watt radio station in Cincinnati Friday morning to chat with a conservative talk show host and making himself available for interviews about the sales tax petition drive.

Norquist, by the way, lives in Washington, D.C., where the sales tax rate is 5.75 percent.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Schmidt: Bad news for air travelers to Chicago, NYC

Rep. Jean Schmidt today released a 2-page "executive summary" of her study into tarmac delays of three hours or more in 2006. Unfortunately, it's not yet posted on her Web site, so we can't share it with you.

Some highlights, according to a release her office e-mailed to reporters this evening:

"In 2006, some 1,295 flights reported to the Department of Transportation that passengers were forced to sit in their seats for more than three hours before take off or after landing. What's more, 1,295 woefully under reports the actual number of frustrating delays. We do a pitiful job of actually measuring these types of delays," Schmidt said in the release.

Under current procedures at the Department of Transportation, delayed flights that are eventually cancelled or even flights that are diverted are not counted as delayed.

"I believe the number of tarmac delays recorded by the DOT is off by as much as 50 percent. We need the facts. My bill, included in the FAA Reauthorization, will require all of the delays to be reported. Only then will we have the true picture," Schmidt said.

Schmidt's study of the reported delays showed that half of all delays occur in the Northeast Corridor, with Chicago topping the list of the 10 airports where air travelers are most likely to be delayed more than 3 hours. New York City's three airports also were in the top five.

"The problem causing these delays is an air traffic control system that is at capacity. Sure there are plenty of stupid actions compounding the issue but we have to either increase the bandwidth of our control system or act to reduce flights. Technology will help us solve this problem but we need to act now," Schmidt said.

OH, KY senators say NO to immigration bill

All four Ohio and Kentucky senators voted today to close the door – and essentially kill – a major overhaul of immigration laws, serving up a stinging rebuke to President Bush, who had pushed for the bill's passage.

Here's what they had to say about the bill's defeat:
"I had hoped for a bipartisan accomplishment, and what we got was a bipartisan defeat. The American people made their voices heard, the Senate worked its will, and in the end it was clear that the bill that was crafted did not have the support of the people of Kentucky," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville.

"I have always opposed amnesty in any shape, size or form. The thousands of calls and e-mails my office received over the last month against this amnesty bill only strengthened my resolve. I appreciate those calls, and your voices were heard loud and clear," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R- Southgate, Ky.

"I want an immigration bill that secures our borders, revises and updates our current laws to respond to our economic needs and brings the 12 million illegal aliens in our country out of the shadows. I am not convinced that this legislation meets those criteria," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland.

"I was deeply concerned about the impact of the bill’s guest worker provisions on Ohio wages and working conditions, and the provision that would separate families, which is why I voted against cloture," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain.
Thursday's 46-53 procedural vote blocked final consideration of the bill for the second time in three weeks. It is unlikely that another effort will be made to revive the measure since supporters fell far short of the 60 votes needed to end debate.

It also makes the House less likely to take up the issue later this summer. House Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the Senate bill, and Democrats who control Congress may not be able — or willing — to pass legislation without bipartisan support.

The Senate bill would have given millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and would have established a new temporary-worker program for foreigners. It also would have increased border security and required companies to verify that their employees were legally permitted to work here.

The system for distributing immigrant visas, which now go mostly to relatives of U.S. citizens and immigrants, would have been replaced with a new merit-based system using points.
An estimated 12 million people now live in the United States illegally, and an estimated 500,000 more come every year.

Chabot too "old school" for Internet radio

Rep. Steve Chabot may have requested today's hearing in the House Small Business Committee on the plight of Internet radio (pictured at left with Cincinnati Public Radio president and general manager Richard Eiswerth) - but don't mistake his interest.

Although he pointed out in his opening statement that the number of Internet radio listeners has increased in the last five years from 20 million to 29 million – Chabot himself isn't among those jumping on the webcasting wagon.

Asked after today's hearing if he has personally ever listened to an Internet radio station, Chabot said he prefers to listen to the old-fashioned radio on his old-fashioned 1993 Buick.

"I'm pretty old school in my entertainment," the Westwood Republican said, flashing a sheepish smile.

The number of people listening to Internet radio stations is expected to double by 2010. By 2020, industry experts predict that more than 200 million people will listen to internet radio.

So … Chabot, a self-proclaimed Jethro Tull fan, still has time to catch on.


Watch clips from the hearing on YouTube.com HERE. Or, read The Enquirer's story HERE. A longer version will be in tomorrow's paper.

Ed board turns eye to politics

Guest blogger Ben Fischer reports:

Now that the Cincinnati Board of Education has signed off on a budget for next year, its members are starting to turn their attention to campaign season.

Three seats on the seven-member board are up in November: those currently held by veteran members Rick Williams, John Gilligan and Florence Newell.

At the moment, none of them have announced their intentions officially. But Newell, who admits she “loves to campaign,” is already predicting victory for the trio.

“If all three of us ran, all three of us would win, no matter who else runs,” Newell said, citing their high name recognition gained after a combined 22 years on the board.

Williams said in an e-mail he hasn’t decided yet.

Conventional wisdom has held that Gilligan, the 86-year-old former governor, would not seek another term. But in recent weeks has not ruled out a try for four more years, and he promises a decision over the Fourth of July weekend.

Newell said she will make up her mind in time to be considered for the Democratic Party’s endorsement in late July.

All are registered Democrats, but that has little bearing on how the three tend to align on CPS issues. Williams is a member of the four-member majority that has sparred with
Superintendent Rosa Blackwell on a series of issues, while Newell and Gilligan generally more likely to support the administration.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Harris Kicks Off Campaign

If you didn't know Greg Harris was running for Cincinnati City Council, you've been asleep.

Still, he officially kicks off his campaign July 5, from 5-7 p.m. at The Know Theatre of Cincinnati, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. The host committee: David Pepper, Nancy J. Minson, David Herriman, Donald and Marian Spencer, Chad Wick and Dwight Tillery.

Appetizers from Pacific Moon and a cash bar for a suggested donation of $50.


It's Crunch Time For Money

With the July 9 reporting deadline looming for candidates' fundraising totals, there's been a lot of asking for money going on lately. The report covers Jan. 1 through June 30 and is generally thought of as an indicator of a candidate's viability. Kind of like the odds board at a horse race, showing how much other people already have bet on who might win.

Council candidate Brian Garry puts it right out there in an e-mail Wednesday: "I am writing to ask for your support and contribution at a critical moment in my campaign for Cincinnati City Council. A crucial financial deadline for Council candidates is impending at the end of this week. We need to show that our campaign is a force to be reckoned with by filing a strong financial report on June 30th. I know we can make a brilliant showing at this key stage in the campaign, but only with your immediate help."

A Month Off

After today's 2 1/2-hour marathon - that's a very long meeting by recent standards - Cincinnati City Council takes a month-long summer break.

Committees are on hiatus until July 30 and 31, and council meets only once the rest of the summer, on Aug. 1, before resuming its regular schedule after Labor Day.

That means more time for their real jobs and their campaigns.

Ohio voters split over Clinton, Giuliani

According to Quinnipiac University’s Swing State Poll released today, Sen. Hillary Clinton is leading the Democratic primary race in Ohio.

Among voters here, she has 40 percent support, followed by 12 percent each for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and former Vice President Al Gore.

“If Sen. Obama is catching Clinton in the primary contest, there is no evidence of it in Florida and Ohio,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In a Republican primary race, Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads, but not by much.

Ohio voters broke for him 25 percent, with 17 percent for former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; 16 percent for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; 7 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; and 6 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

“Giuliani’s lead among Republicans continues to dwindle," Brown said. "Perhaps his much-discussed difference with the GOP mainstream over issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control are beginning to take its toll."

Even more interesting - The poll showes that in a match-up between Giuliani and Clinton, the former New York City Mayor is losing ground to the current New York senator – among Ohio voters:

A May 16th poll showed Giuliani leading Clinton in Ohio 47 percent to 43 percent. But today's poll shows the two tied at 43 percent each.

“Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s margins against the Democrats in the critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida are shrinking, but the differences remain small, especially between the two front-runners," Brown said.

Here's what the poll found in other possible match-ups, based on a sample of 1,013 Ohio voters surveyed between June 18-25 (margin of error is 3.1 percent):

· Giuliani gets 42 percent to Obama’s 40 percent;
· Gore gets 44 percent to Giuliani’s 43 percent;
· Clinton gets 44 percent to McCain’s 42 percent;
· Obama tops McCain 43 – 38 percent;
· McCain gets 43 percent to Gore’s 41 percent;
· Clinton beats Thompson 47 – 38 percent;
· Gore tops Thompson 44 – 38 percent;
· Obama beats Thompson 43 – 35 percent.

Snow gets new digs

White House Spokesman Tony Snow, a Cincinnati native, gave his last media conference in the temporary media news room, a short walk (in the sweltering heat) from the White House. From today's briefing:

Snow: Feeling nostalgic?

Reporter: Are you?

Snow: Our last on-camera briefing at this lovely facility.

Reporter: Do you like it here?

Snow: I like it here, but only because of the company. So I will be happy -- (laughter) -- so I will like it when we're in Room 450 and I'll really like it when we're in the new briefing room.
After today... The show Room 450 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is next door to the White House and inside the guarded gates.

The NEW Briefing Room adjacent to the White House (where you can walk from one air-conditioned room to the other) is expected to be unveiled on Monday, July 9th.

Lawmakers target foreclosure crisis

Rep. Paul Gillmor, a congressman from northwest Ohio, called a meeting this morning to discuss Ohio's housing foreclosure crisis. The state leads the nation in home foreclosures and Gillmor wanted to provide a forum for Ohio lawmakers to hear from housing experts.

The only problem was that the meeting - held today between 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. - took place BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. A spokesman said lawmakers and panel participants would be better able to talk candidly without cameras in their face. Hmmm... Someone's afraid of the media?

Since we weren't there to witnes what was said, we have to take it from Gillmor that "cooperation and solutions were on the minds of the participants" at the meeting.

Here's what Gillmor had to say about the meeting, via news release, later in the day: "I think today's discussion will be useful to the Ohio delegation as we move forward towards a solution to our state's foreclosure crisis. Ohio's problems did not surface overnight and cannot be solved with one meeting. That being said, today's summit continued a very important dialogue about Ohio's foreclosure problems and we must proceed with creative solutions, both public and private, to stem the rising tide of home foreclosures."

Here's who was there: Ohio Reps. Gillmor, Deborah Pryce, Charlie Wilson, Steve LaTourette, Steve Chabot, Jean Schmidt, Mike Turner, Jim Jordan, Tim Ryan, Zack Space and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Here's who they heard from: Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner Brian Montgomery, Don Corley of WSOS Community Action Commission in Fremont, Ohio, and Eric Gillett of Sutton Bank in Attica, Ohio.

Gillmor, who is the top Republican on the Financial Institutions Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, said three main reasons for the high foreclosure rate in Ohio emerged from the roundtable discussion:

  1. Many people are refinancing their mortgages to pay off credit card balances and then falling deeper into debt;
  2. Many people do not know the terms of their loan and whether it is a fixed or adjustable rate mortgage; and
  3. Homeowners are often wary of efforts to assist them with mortgage troubles.
According to Gillmor, here are some solutions discussed at the roundtable:

  1. Encourage greater financial literacy;
  2. Improve the tax treatment for homeowners who refinance their loans in order to remain in their homes; and
  3. Modernize the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan process.

Tongass National Forest - Where?

It's OK, you didn't sleep through geography class. Tongass National Forest is not near Cincinnati - it's not even in Ohio. It's way up north in that U.S. state called ALASKA.

So why are we writing about it on an Ohio blog? Good question. But perhaps one that should be put to Rep. Steve Chabot, a Westwood Republican who fought yesterday - as he did last year - to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for logging roads in this forest.

Say what? Yes, an Ohio congressman really does care about this forest in Alaska. So does New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews, a Democrat who worked with Chabot to successfully offer the amendment to the Interior and Environment spending bill, which passed 283 to 145.

“Eliminating this wasteful corporate subsidy is a victory for American taxpayers,” Chabot said. “The Tongass timber program hemorrhages tax dollars – costing almost a billion dollars since 1982. Ending this federal subsidy program is a step toward reining in excessive government spending and returning fiscal discipline to Washington.”

Chabot says there is no need for more logging roads and that the vast majority of Tongass timber contracts - 90 to 95 percent - are unprofitable. He says half go unsold. Basically, he says the only reason the Forest Service builds these roads is to provide jobs to locals.

The Tongass Amendment has been endorsed by a number of pro-taxpayer, environmental, and sportsmen groups, including: Council for Citizens Against Government Waste; National Taxpayers Union; Wildlife Forever; Northern Sportsmen Network; National Wildlife Federation; Sierra Club; U.S. PIRG; and the Alaska Coalition.

“Americans want their hard-earned dollars spent wisely," said said Franz Matzner, forest advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supported the amendment. "By paying to have our wildlands destroyed, the federal government has been as bad a steward of the public purse as it has been of public lands."

Matzner says voters want forests like Tongass "preserved for their use, not to create a profit margin for dinosaur industries that can’t make it on their own.”

Established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Tongass is the nation’s largest forest – about the size of West Virginia.

Now, you should know where that state is.

Yes, A Guy Wore His Bathrobe to City Hall

No doubt you've heard about this already, but here's a re-telling anyway....

Cincinnati City Council candidate Sean Holbrook showed up at City Council's economic development committee meeting yesterday wearing a bathrobe - a green plaid bathrobe, specifically, cinched around the waist with a navy necktie. He also wore black socks and black dress shoes.

With him: Jason Haap, aka blogger The Dean of Cincinnati; Justin Jeffre, former member of 98 Degrees, mayoral candidate and activist; and Dave Rothfuss, who wore a straw hat and carried a guitar. Holbrook and Rothfuss signed up to address council on a zoning issue.

But when Holbrook sat down and started talking about something else, chairman Chris Bortz called him out of order because he wasn't speaking about what he said he'd come to speak about. Then Rothfuss sat down and said: "You will probably also be cutting me off, so God Bless America."

They all left council chambers, with officers Sgt. Richard Antwine, who was assigned to chambers, and Scotty Johnson, the mayor's security officer.

The four said later, outside City Hall, that they'd been told by the officers that "it was time for you to go." They took that as being banned from city hall, and wondered how long their banishment was supposed to last.

Holbrook said he was wearing underwear, in case you're wondering what was underneath the green plaid. He and the others wouldn't say what their purpose was, or if they were just trying to find out if someone can speak before council wearing whatever they want.

But Haap wrote on his blog Sunday a post that wondered if one could get an appointment with the mayor if all one had to wear to said appointment was underpants. http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com/

Mallory "Helps" Take Down a Phone Booth

Saying it's important to realize that even small things can affect neighborhoods' quality of life, Mark Mallory stood at a College Hill corner this morning to call attention to the removal of a phone booth.

The booth didn't have a phone anymore, nor a book. Instead, neighbors said, it attracted sleeping drunks, trash, even couples doing things the residents didn't particularly want to watch.

After the mayor's quick speech, Cincinnati Bell workers took the booth down in less than a minute.

The neighbors, and Mallory, clapped. The elderly ladies who'd gathered to watch offered to campaign for him if he needs them next time, even though they live in North College Hill.

Here, the mayor - he's a funny guy - jokes that the strength of the mayor's office is so great that all he has to do is touch the booth.

What, no Streetsboro city councilman available?

Gov. Ted Strickland's public schedule for today:

Governor to Attend Opening of GM Dealership in Streetsboro Today

Columbus, Ohio – Governor Ted Strickland will attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Classic Pontiac, Buick and GMC Dealership in Streetsboro today.

Wednesday, June 27thPORTAGE COUNTY
WHO: Governor Ted Strickland
WHAT: Ribbon Cutting for new Pontiac, Buick, GMC Dealership
WHEN: 3:00 PM
WHERE: Classic Pontiac, Buick, GMC 835 Classic Dr. Streetsboro, OH 44241

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gilligan to Blackwell: No dumping

Guest blogger Ben Fischer reports:

One of the most consistent complaints of the Cincinnati Board of Education is that Superintendent Rosa Blackwell doesn’t always communicate very well.

She did it again on Monday, said board member John Gilligan. As a result, 37 employees who were expected to have their pending layoffs rescinded will remain in limbo for two more weeks.

“It’s one of the basic rules that the board has tried to lay down: No surprises,” said Gilligan. “Don’t bring us stuff and dump it on our desk the night we’re supposed to act on it.”

At Gilligan's suggestion, the board delayed until July 9 action that would have officially rehired those workers. They’re all currently employees of the district, but had been told in March that they might not have a job in the coming school year.

(It’s not unusual for schools to “non-renew” certain employees as officials develop a budget, only to hire them back once the financial picture stabilizes.)

Typically, Blackwell's list of recommended personnel actions contains minor procedural items concerning rank-and-file workers. This was no such list: Included were athletic director David Dierker, general counsel Cynthia Dillon and chief operations officer Tom Gunnell, among others.

Gilligan, who generally speaks well of Blackwell, said that's the point: She should have anticipated a high degree of board interest and apprised them of her plans well in advance.

Blackwell did not speak on the topic during Monday’s meeting. District spokeswoman Janet Walsh – who is also on the list – said she forwarded an interview request to Blackwell today. Gilligan said he has no intention of challenging the workers' actual employment, he just wants to follow protocol.

“It is my understanding she will be trying to get some clarification on that matter prior to the 9th,” Walsh said.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monzel Ups The Ante Against Queensgate

Chris Monzel's pushing a new motion against the proposed Queensgate barge terminal along the river. Remember, he picked up the ball on this one after John Cranley stepped away from leading the issue because he works for a developer whose East Price Hill project overlooks the Hilltop Concrete Co. site where Queensgate wants to do its river-to-rail operation.

First, Monzel asked that a previous resolution against the Queensgate project be heard by council's economic development committee. But Chris Bortz, chairman of that committee, said that resolution was moot because it was specifically tied to a proposed Queensgate lease that council already rejected. He said there was nothing to talk about or act on because nothing's pending before council.

So Monzel jumped in with a motion that any lease proposed in the future with Queensgate be rejected and the space be kept as greenspace and made into a place for recreation.

His accompanying statement: "Cincinnati's western neighborhoods are in the early stages of a renaissance that will reshape and reposition these communities as never before. In an unprecedented turn of events, all community councils representing the Price Hill area are in agreement that this land should not be reverted to industrial use. It is important that we as (a) body take a firm stand and support the neighborhoods in their desire to see this site utilized in a way that maximizes the recreational benefit for all of Cincinnati's residents."


Community Council Reform Proposed

Is it fair for community councils to require people to pay dues? And are Cincinnati's 51 community council's truly representative of what their residents want?

Those are questions being considered by The Community Council Working Group, set up by Laketa Cole in November. The group is working on an ordinance to update a 1989 one that governs allocations from the Neighborhood Support Program, which funds the councils.

One member of the group - Michael Ramundo of Clifton, who is not a member of a community council - is pushing against the requirement that voters at community council meetings be only those who have paid dues. He says that's as unconstitutional as a poll tax.

He also thinks some councils are elitist and discriminatory and that they hold themselves up at City Hall as representative of their neighborhood's wishes without always checking to see what their residents actually want.

Here's where you can agree or disagree: Thursday, 7 p.m., at the Oakley Community Center; July 12, 7:30 p.m., Clifton Recreation Center; or July 19, 7 p.m., Dunham Recreation Center.

Deaniacs to feed the ants at Mt. Airy Forest

Democracy for Cincinnati, the Queen City version of the progressive organization Howard Dean founded three years ago, is treating itself to an old-fashioned summer picnic next month.; and it is likely to be a must for Democratic city council candidates.

The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at Mt. Airy Forest (enter from the Colerain Avenue side). "Democrats and progressives" are welcome, the group's announcement says. Potential picnickers can RSVP to co-chair Lynn Worpenberg at lpworpen@fuse.net.

Let's see if Democratic candidates outnumber the ants. We're guessing they will.

Sheriff: Don't sign those petitions

Guest blogger Cliff Peale reports:

Sheriff Si Leis was at the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce annual meeting today at Music Hall. His message was loud and clear: don't sign those petitions calling for a vote on the new jail sales tax increase.

Leis told the crowd that there was a "jail crisis."

"If someone asks you to sign this petition, please don't sign it," he said. "Ask your friends not to sign it."

Bortz's favorite movies and music

In case you missed it in Sunday's Life section, Chris Bortz's favorite CD is David Gray's "White Ladder" - because it "reminds me of my beautiful wife."

And while he has many favorite movies, including Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Amistad, Groundhog Day and Caddyshack, he says Braveheart is his favorite. Why? "Maybe because of the themes: personal integrity, freedom at all costs, cool fight scenes and great cinematography."

He's 33 and lives in Mount Adams.

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