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, April 04, 2008

Schmidt headed to Colombia

Rep. Jean Schmidt is headed to Colombia with her predecessor's successor.
Follow that?

Schmidt, a Miami Township Republican, will join Ambassador Susan Schwab, the U.S. trade representative, on the congressional delegation mission to Colombia.

Schmidt succeeded Terrace Park Republican Rob Portman in Congress when Portman became the U.S. trade representative in 2005. When Portman left USTR a year later to join the White House, Schwab replaced him at USTR.

The trip will focus on the importance of trade between the two countries and the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which is pending in Congress.

“Colombia plays a large part in our Cincinnati economy particularly for our Folger’s and Chiquita companies,” Schmidt said in a statement today. “Open, fair and free trade with Colombia helps some of Cincinnati’s most prominent companies, which means more jobs for hard working Ohioans.”

The delegation will be in Colombia from today until Sunday. They plan to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, local business and labor leaders, as well as supporters and opponents of the free trade agreement.

Colombia is the largest South American export market for U.S. agriculture products and the United States’ fourth largest Latin America trading partner, according to Schmidt's office. Passage of this trade deal would eliminate duties on U.S. products entering the Colombian market.

Portune's bond-tracking idea gets backlash

Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune’s suggestion to keep track of the bonds judges set is being met with backlash.

Portune made the suggestion in response to Judge Richard Bernat re-instating a $1 million bond in an 18-year-old , $21 theft case at a time when the county has too few jail beds.

First Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann objected to it.

Then, Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou posted an item Friday on his blog, criticizing Portune's idea. He says Portune overreacted and didn't have all the information (Triantafilou, an attorney and former Municipal Court Judge, says Bernat refused to lower the bond because the defendant was at risk of harming himself and needed to be monitored for his own safety).

UPDATE: Bernat's bailiff's take on the reason behind the bond:
Daniel Deters, who was Bernat’s bailiff that day, said the defendant, Gary Weaver was obviously mentally unstable, and likely suicidal. He said mental health officials informed the judge of Weaver’s precarious mental state.

Though Deters couldn’t speak for the judge (and the judge did not state his reasoning in court), “The judge has to weigh the safety to the community, the guys’ appearance and his mental wellbeing during the setting of the bond,” Deters said. “In my opinion, it was for the guys’ own good.”

Weaver was jailed in a special cell for those on suicide watch, Deters said.

UPDATE: Portune's reaction to Triantafilou's blog:
"I think he doth protest too much," said Portune. "The whole discussion is that there are too many people in jail who don’t need to be in jail. The general public who have refused to support an new money to address the jail overcrowding issues said 'you need to solve the systemic problems first.' Those problems involve whether reasonable bails are being posted or not.
The ony way to get at that is to publish the data. Why is he protesting so much about this?"

"If you’re setting excessive bonds, it violates the constitution. Specific to our issues locally, it crowds the county jail," Portune said. "That’s the issue we’ve been charged to address. I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes."

Meanwhile, Portune has accepted an invitation by Municipal Court Judge Brad Greenberg to sit with him on the bench Tuesday morning as he arraigns (and sets bond for) a room full of defendants.

"He said 'I think it would be of help to you to get a birds-eye view of what we see as judges.' I’ve agreed. I’m looking forward to it," Portune said. "I think it will be a healthy exercise to be there. I’m grateful Judge Greenberg is willing to reach out on this."

Portune said hopes to learn what all goes into the process so he can better understand the system. That way it will be easier to figure out what kind of systematic reforms could be put in place to curb the jail population, he said.

Smitherman likens ML King to Jeremiah Wright

From the NAACP:

Media Release

April 4, 2008

Race, Politics, and Religion

Today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Cincinnati Branch of the NAACP extends its condolences to the King family. We recognize the King family's great sacrifice of losing a husband and a father.

The Cincinnati Branch appreciates that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. consistently spoke truth to power. The African American Church has always been important to the African American Community. Any attack on the African American Church is an attack on the African American Community.

Smitherman says, "Both Rev. King and Rev. Wright challenged the status quo regarding American wars during their life time. Both consequently, were called Anti-American. The recent bomb threats on Rev. Wright's church are completely unacceptable. The death threats made against Rev. Wright are a sign that even after 40 years we have not made the progress needed for peace and justice for all. I believe strongly that the United States Government had a great deal to do with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and should be held accountable for its involvement"

Note: The Enquirer has a call into Smitherman, but has not heard back from him.

Meanwhile, here's Gov. Ted Strickland's statement.

Columbus, Ohio – Governor Ted Strickland today issued the following statement in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life was taken 40 years ago today.

“Through his actions and his words, Dr. King called our nation to live up to our most deeply held values as Americans. Though he has now been gone from this Earth longer than he was with us, Dr. King’s legacy will forever live within all those who seek peace and justice.”

Federal pork - meat or poison?

WASHINGTON - On Capitol Hill, Mark Mallory is just another lobbyist asking for money.

The Cincinnati mayor doesn't mind. He has a list of projects he says would pass muster with any critic: money for riverfront development, an environmental assessment of the Cincinnati streetcar proposal and a runway expansion at Lunken Airport.

"All of the projects that we have on our list are public-improvement projects," Mallory said, standing in a crowded House office building between meetings last month with local lawmakers.
"We only ask for what we need," he said.

But the city's needs - and others - could go unfulfilled this year.

Congress is considering a one-year moratorium on all earmarks, money requested by lawmakers for local projects.

Several votes have already occurred on the proposal, including one Wednesday. None has passed, but the hot-button issue - especially in an election year - is far from dead.

"By refusing to join House Republicans in a full earmark freeze, the majority has proven once again that it is just not serious about reforming the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars," Republican House leader John Boehner said Wednesday.

Cincinnati's congressional delegation is split over the issue, which could have huge local consequences

Read Malia Rulon's story here

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mallory plans census announcement

Whether Cincinnati is a growing city or a declining one matters for a lot of reasons – political clout, federal aid and community pride.

That’s why Mayor Mark Mallory will announce Friday the beginning of what he predicts will be an extraordinary effort to count Cincinnatians in 2010, the next U.S. Census.

Read Jane Prendergast's story here

How Boehner will spend $1 million

A federal court announced this week that Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., must fork over $1.1 million to Rep. John Boehner in the illegal taped call case that has dragged on for more than a decade.

Boehner, a West Chester Republican, says he hasn't gotten the dough yet.

"I've not seen any payment since the most recent ruling," he told reporters at a lunch meeting today, explaining that he'd offered McDermott since 2001 the chance to settle the case for $10,000 to a charity and an apology.

"He couldn't agree (to that), so he'll have to pay," Boehner said.

And what does the Republican leader plan to spend all that cash on?

"The million dollars? Almost all of the money that I've raised (for legal costs) has been on behalf of my colleagues. So the money will go to my colleagues to help defeat Democrats. Pure and simple," he said.

Also at the meeting:

-- Boehner declined to name names for who should be GOP presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, but he did give a description of what McCain should look for: a good conservative who is younger than McCain and who could fill his shoes if something happened.

Asked by a reporter if he thought Terrace Park Republican Rob Portman fit the profile, Boehner replied: "I do."

-- Boehner, who returned from a trip to the Middle East last week, amused reporters with a story about his visit with Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi. He described meeting with the leader in a tent in the middle of the desert and how Qadhafi, in the middle of their discussion, summoned an aide to give Boehner a pair of sunglasses, saying: "Desert not kind to blue eyes."

After the meeting, Boehner tried to return them, but Qadhafi said: "No, you keep. You need."

Asked by reporters what kind of sunglasses they were and if they violated the House ban on gifts, Boehner said they were too big and that they did not violate the ban.

The luncheon was sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Here's another paper's take on the lunch.

And the Plain Dealer's take.

Ohio, race, Obama, and Bush.

The Quinnipiac Poll that came out yesterday had some interesting numbers on Ohio, race, and Barack Obama.

You have to scroll down pretty far in the actual poll results, but here are the highlights:

- 36 percent of Ohioans say the fact that Obama is black has been an advantage to him in the campaign, versus 14 percent who say it's been a disadvantage

- Those numbers are much more even for Clinton. 27 percent of Ohioans say the fact that she's a woman has been a disadvantage, compared to 24 percent who say it's an advantage.

- President Bush's approval rating is a miserable 27 percent. It's even worse among self-described independents.

- By a 59 percent to 33 percent margin, Ohioans think the Iraq war was the wrong thing for the US to do.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Commissioners voice support for "Nuxhall Way"

Hamilton County Commissioners Wednesday officially voiced their support for renaming the section of Main Street in front of the Great American Ball Park "Joe Nuxhall Way."

Cincinnati City Council is pursuing the project.

Commissioner President Todd Portune called it a fitting way to recognize "one of the most loved people I've ever known."

Added Commissioner David Pepper: "there couldn't be a better way to remember him."

Read the resolution here
Read the press release here

Portune wants to track bonds

A study released Tuesday about the exploding jail populations across the country got commissioners talking.

One problem, according to the study, is high bonds being set for minor crimes.

It prompted this suggestion by Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune: a record could be kept of which judges are setting what bonds “So we can see who’s contributing to the problem.”

“I’d like to see a scorecard that we can go back and look at the judges and see who is historically setting high bonds on low-level crimes. Maybe that will impose some self-discipline,” he said. “There are only so many rooms at the inn”

Portune mentioned as an example, the recent case in which Hamilton County Municipal Judge Richard Bernat set a $1 million bond for an 18-year-old $21 theft case. Commissioners and some judges (Judge Nadine Allen is perhaps the most vocal proponent) support the purging of old warrants for non-violent crimes to save the courts and jails time and money. The Criminal Justice Commission is examining that issue.

“People rightly get outraged when they see jail space being used up on cases like this,” Commissioner David Pepper said of the $1 million bond case.

It’s unclear whether Portune's suggestion is feasible. He instructed county staff to look into it.

The Enquirer is seeking comments from the court.
UPDATE: Here's what Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann said about it.
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann said his office does not have any system set up to track bond data in that way.
“We’d have to build a program to track it judge by judge and we haven’t received any request to do so.”
Hartmann is running for the Hamilton County commission seat being vacated by Commissioner Pat DeWine, who is running for municipal court judge. Hartmann agrees overcrowding is a problem, but said it shouldn’t be blamed on the judges. Tracking the bonds they set is not a good way to solve it, he said.
“I think we need to be careful not to overreact to one case in which there was an extremely high bond,” he said.
“Judges look at all kinds of different factors. That’s their job as judges. We need to be careful about telling judges how to do their job.

County 28th in nation for jailing folks

In 2006, roughly one in every 500 Hamilton County residents was in jail, ranking it 28th in the nation for its jail incarceration rate.

Hamilton County also had the 46th most populous jail in the nation that year, though it was the 59th most populous county.

The jail findings were released Tuesday by the Justice Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington- based think tank that advocates for alternatives to incarceration. The study looked at the 50 largest jails in the country in 2006 based on data from the Bureau of Justice.

Jessica Brown has the full story here

Quinnipiac: Hillary leads McCain in Ohio

A Qunnipiac University "swing state" poll released Tuesday shows Hillary Clinton with an eight percentage point lead over John McCain in Ohio, while a match-up of McCain and Barack Obama is a statistical dead heat.

The poll, conducted March 24 through 31 among 1,238 Ohio voters, showed Clinton with 48 percent support compared to 39 percent for McCain, who has locked up the Republican presidential nomination.

A head-to-head match-up of Obama and McCain showed Obama with 43 percent support, one percentage more than McCain. The margin of error in the Quinnipiac poll is plus or minus 2.8 percent.

The same poll showed tht Ohio is one of the few places where her "favorable" ratings are higher than her "unfavorable" ratiing, but only slightly: 47 percent view her favorably, 45 percent unfavorably.

Obama's favorable rating is 45 percent while 37 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of him. A high number - 16 percent - said they don't know enough about him to form an opinion.

McCain had a favorable rating of 42 percent, with 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion. But a whopping 21 percent of those polled said they don't know enough about the Arizona senator to form an opinion.

Read the full poll here

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

McDermott's side

Not to be outdone, here is what Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., had to say about his role in the taped call case with Rep. John Boehner that ended today:

"More than 200 years ago, James Madison, father of the Constitution, authored the First Amendment as a bulwark against the suppression of free speech by the government. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas would later write: 'The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information.' More than ten years ago, Republican political leaders attempted to breach this bulwark by thwarting the free flow of truthful information to the American people.

"This has been a long and costly battle but, in the final analysis, the judgment handed down today in the U.S. District Court is a small price to pay in defense of so fundamental a principle, and freedom, as the First Amendment. Because of this protracted legal challenge, the First Amendment is stronger today, and shielded by new case law that will buttress its capacity to protect the publication of truthful information on matters of public importance long into the future. Knowing this, I am proud of my role in defense of the First Amendment.

"The implications of this case and its threat to the First Amendment were well understood from the beginning, and led 18 national news organizations to file briefs and alert the American people to the stakes involved.

“Ban Snooping, Not Free Speech.” (Washington Post Editorial)

“First Amendment on Trial” (Wall Street Journal Op-ed)

“Mr. Boehner is harassing a political opponent with a suit that threatens to trample on free speech and Congressional prerogatives.” (New York Times Editorial)

"Similarly in the courts, concerned jurists like U.S. District Court Judge David Sentelle recognized the case for what it was: ‘Abrogating Representative McDermott’s First Amendment protections because he violated the ‘spirit’ of a rule contravenes the well-established principle that vague restrictions on speech are impermissible because of their chilling effect ... and because of the need to eliminate the impermissible risk of discretionary enforcement. Plainly, subjecting a Member of Congress to liability for violating the ‘spirit’ of a rule burdens political speech in the vaguest of ways, leaving the Member to 'guess at [the] contours' of the prohibition.’

"Although a sharply divided court ultimately favored Mr. Boehner in his legal battle, the First Amendment won the war, because this case articulated and affirmed the right of journalists and others to publish truthful information without fear of reprisal. As a noted Republican Senator from Idaho, William E. Borah, once said: ‘If the press is not free, if speech is not independent and untrammeled, if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen.’

"While the amount of damages assessed in this case is significant, I submit that defending the First Amendment is beyond measure and worth every penny. A mere 45 words in length, the First Amendment has defined our commitment to freedom for two centuries. And with the end of this case, another threat against the First Amendment has been met and turned back."

Boehner wins $1 million in taped call case

House Minority Leader John Boehner, a West Chester Republican, has won a decade-long battle with Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., over an illegally taped call.

A judge has ordered McDermott to pay $1,053,181.40 in attorney’s fees and costs, $40,000 in interest, and more than $60,000 in statutory and punitive damages.

Here is what Boehner had to say today about the case:

"Over the past 10 years, I have consistently said that Members of Congress have a responsibility not only to obey the laws of our country and the rules of our institution, but also to defend the integrity of those laws and rules when they are violated. Congressman McDermott broke the law, and as a result, he shattered the bonds of trust between our institution and the men and women we represent in the halls of Congress. I remained committed to this case in order to begin restoring those bonds, and to uphold the belief that no one – including Members of Congress – is above the law. With this decision, the American people can take comfort in knowing that these important principles have been reaffirmed."

Local judge one of 'worst persons in the world'

From "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" last night on MSNBC.

Listen for the second worst person:

Mallory: Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me

Q: What does Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory have in common with Hans Christian Andersen, soul legend Marvin Gaye, singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris, baseball hall-of-famer Don Sutton, and 19th century writer Emile Zola?

A: He was born on April 2.

We don't know if any of his fellow April 2 birthday boys and girls have ever thrown birthday parties for themselves, but the mayor sure has - for the past 15 years in a row.

He plans a big one Wednesday - the day he turns 46 - at the Vernon Manor Hotel, and, as always, it's all about raising money for his campaign fund.

Hors D'ouevres, refreshments, a cash bar and, presumably, a slice of birthday cake, will be available for the price of $100. Those who are really, really happy that it's the mayor's birthday can be "silver sponsors" at $500 per ticket or "gold sponsors" at $1,000 each.

Ohio opens Beijing office

The state already had an economic development office in Shanghai. This new one will cost taxpayers $50,000.

The state now has 14 economic development offices open around the world.

Here's the full release:

COLUMBUS – Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher today announced the opening of the Ohio Department of Development’s new international office in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. The office is managed through the Department’s Global Markets Division, formerly the International Trade Division.

“Our new Beijing office complements our existing Shanghai office while reinforcing our commitment to strengthening Ohio’s presence overseas,” said Lt. Governor Fisher, who also serves as Director of the Ohio Department of Development. “Our state remains committed to fostering new relationships and growing our economy in collaboration with our new and existing global partners.”

The Global Markets Division promotes the export of Ohio products and services to strengthen Ohio's economy, advance its leadership position in the global marketplace, and promote Ohio as a location for foreign direct investment. The new offices bring the total of Ohio’s international offices from 11 to 14. Ohio announced in February the opening of new offices in Sydney, Australia, and New Delhi, India.

“Adding to our existing Ohio China Center in Shanghai enables us to more effectively service our Ohio exporters and potential Chinese investors throughout China,” said Deborah Scherer, Director of the Ohio Department of Development’s Global Markets Division. “Our work through our international offices and Columbus headquarters continues to help Ohio remain the only state in the nation whose exports have increased for each of the past 10 years.”

Funding for the new office is $50,000 in total per year and was secured in the biennium budget for Fiscal Years 2008-2009. Ohio's other international trade offices are located in Brussels, Belgium; Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai and Hong Kong, People's Republic of China; Toronto, Canada; Tel Aviv, Israel; Mexico City, Mexico; Săo Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Global Markets Division promotes the export of Ohio products and services to strengthen Ohio's economy, advance its leadership position in the global marketplace, and promote Ohio as a location for foreign direct investment. The Global Markets Division has 51 people in its Columbus headquarters and worldwide operations.

For more information about Ohio's Global Markets Division go to http://www.development.ohio.gov/itd

County flags at half-staff

“By order of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners, flags on Hamilton County Buildings will be flown at half-staff in tribute to Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin and his service to the nation. Flags will remain at half staff through Wednesday April 2, 2008.”

Jeffrey W. Aluotto
Assistant County Administrator - Public Services
Hamilton County, Ohio

Want to run an election?

The Hamilton County Board of Elections is searching for a new leader to guide it through what is expected to be the busiest election year in history.

The current director, Pam Swafford, will retire in May after a long career with the organization. Now, the two Democratic members of the board are seeking applicants to fill her seat.

"Someone will have to step in here and learn a whole heck of a lot very quickly," said Tim Burke, a member of the Board of Elections.

Read Jessica Brown's full story here

Cuyahoga won't go after crossover voters

The AP reports:

CLEVELAND – Elections officials in Ohio’s most populous county decided not take legal action against voters who switched parties in the March 4 primary.

Cuyahoga County’s elections board had been investigating more than 20,000 crossover voters, mostly Republicans who sought to participate in the competitive Democratic presidential primary.

One question was whether any Republicans lied when they signed statements pledging allegiance to their new party, perhaps in the interest of giving likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain a weaker Democratic opponent for the fall.

At a meeting Monday, elections board member Sandy McNair, a Democrat, introduced a motion to subpoena a Republican who took a Democratic ballot and wrote “Today Only” on his pledge card.

McNair’s motion failed when the three other elections board members, two Republicans and a Democrat, said they opposed issuing a subpoena.

“We have so many other things we need to focus on,” said Inajo Davis Chappell, the board’s other Democrat. “I don’t want to second-guess voters.”

Falsifying election forms is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and $2,500 fine.

The board’s investigation discovered that 17,109 Republicans took Democratic ballots and 3,010 Democrats pulled Republican ballots.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Aching feet and strong arms at the game

If Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper looked tired walking in the Opening Day Parade, he had good reason -- he had a weekend full of exercise.

Just a day earlier he participated in the Mercy Heart Mini Marathon downtown (that's a 15K run. More than nine miles). His time: just over an hour and a half. Pretty good considering Saturday he'd done a 35-mile bike ride "just for fun."

Fellow commissioners Todd Portune and Pat DeWine were also in the parade. Portune had a full day. After the parade (and a nearly hour-long rain delay) he also threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Reds game. It was a perfect right-over-the-plate pitch, according to witnesses. Unfortunately the pitch occurred during a commercial break so only those actually in the ball park got to see it live.


David Pepper describes his recent jury duty experience in his March newsletter as "eye-opening and educational." You can read the whole newsletter (it also includes updates on county business, Pepper's new Going Green survey and the results of his February transportation survey) on his web site . The newsletter should be posted by late Monday or early Thursday. Here's a snippet.

Jury Duty: Just Do It.
(You'll Be Glad You Did)

For two weeks last month, I set aside almost my entire schedule to do something most citizens dread doing. Jury Duty.
And I have to say, I'm so glad I did. It's not only a citizen's duty-it's an eye-opening and educational experience that benefits every citizen who does it.
I happened to serve on the grand jury (probably would not have made it onto a regular jury). For two weeks, I and 10 other dedicated citizens from all across Hamilton County heard case after case, and deliberated about whether or not to indict fellow citizens for alleged crimes. I can't reveal any specifics, but I can tell you how rewarding the experience was in general.
First, jurors are the key to the entire system working. They are needed. And when you sit on a jury, it really is a nice reminder just how much our system is citizen-driven. In the end, the fate of each case was our call, and we took that responsibility seriously.
Second, your tax dollars are paying for the entire system. So jury duty is a great way to see up close and personal those tax dollars at work-particularly the public servants (the prosecutors, the victim advocates, the police officers, sheriff's deputies, court reporters and others) that are working hard to create a safe and just community. I must say, overall, I was encouraged by what I saw.
Finally, and most importantly, as we debate and deliberate how to make our community safe from crime, there are few better ways to understand the challenges we face than to be part of a jury. While too many citizens experience crime in their own community, many others are fortunate to live in safety, and rarely experience crime face-to-face. For them, the issue of crime is of course important, yet a little distant.
Jury duty changes that quickly. Many mornings or afternoons were filled with our collective silence, or sadness, or confusion, or outrage, as we confronted case after case of addiction, dysfunction, violence and worse. Broken homes and shattered lives, over and over and over.
Newspaper headlines may cover the high-profile crime stories-but at grand jury, the sheer volume of troubling cases every day is what comes through most loud and clear, showing just how much work we have to do to improve things. It also underscores the enormous challenge our public servants are up against when we ask them to make our community safer. In the end, they are a small, dedicated team taking on an enormous set of problems that most of the rest of the community rarely sees.

Needless to say, the next time you get a jury notice, try not to groan. Or grumble. Or put it off.

If you are able, just do it. You won't regret it.

West side match: A 'political animal' vs. a 'survivor.'

Today's edition of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call contains this mention of our local race for the 1st Congressional District:

A Crop of House Candidates Worth Taking a Look At

By Stuart Rothenberg,

Roll Call Contributing Writer
There is relatively little attention being paid to this year’s fight for the House of Representatives, since Republicans have no chance retaking the chamber in November.

Even more important, most reporters and observers are hypnotized by the fascinating presidential race, and those who care about Congress seem more interested in whether Democrats can gain nine Senate seats and true control of the chamber.

But while they aren’t the focus of the nation’s attention, hundreds of men and women are once again running for Congress, and there are plenty of good ones in the crowd. I haven’t met all of the people receiving positive buzz from national Democratic and Republican strategists, but I have met some. Here’s a quick rundown of the few candidates who have impressed me.

State Rep. Steve Driehaus is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st district, which includes Cincinnati’s West Side, as well as suburban areas north and west of the city.

The 41-year-old hopeful calls himself a “raging moderate.” He is pro-life (and has been endorsed by right-to-life groups in the past) but supports embryonic stem-cell research. He voted for Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act but opposes a federal Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, saying it’s unnecessary. And he opposes “artificial timelines” on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, but he believes those forces should be withdrawn.

Driehaus is a political animal. Since he comes from the white, Catholic, middle-class part of the district and should benefit from the district’s considerable African-American population, the challenger should give Chabot a run for his money. But don’t give this seat to the Democrats just yet. Chabot is a survivor.

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