Monday, August 08, 2005

 

Breaking: Blackwell suspends TABOR effort

Whether you call it the TABOR amendment or the LIE amendment or a Tax Expenditure Limitation amendment, Sec. of State Ken Blackwell's efforts to hamstring government operations has suddently been been brought to a screeching halt today - at least for 2005 - just two days before the deadline for submitting the necessary petitions.

Blackwell is now vowing that they will move to put the measure on the ballot in 2006. And, GOP leaders are claiming, perhaps facetiously, that the move will help them focus on defeating the Reform Ohio Now amendments.

The issue now is, what happened to Blackwell, and what impact if any will it have on the RON amendments?

We're sure in the days ahead that there will be lots of speculation, debate and theorizing about how the brakes got put on Blackwell's trainwreck of a constitutional amendment, but it seems pretty clear that Blackwell must have been on the receiving end of a threat/offer he could not refuse.

Evidence? After months of thumbing his nose at the GOP establishment and positioning himself as the renegade and the only non-RINO in the party's gubernatorial stable, the press release today suggests anything but rebelious thinking:
"After consultation with legislative leadership, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett and TEL supporters, the committee decided this issue deserves the widest possible exposure and debate," said Citizens for Tax Reform Honorary Chairman, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. "The 2006 General Election ballot gives Ohio voters that opportunity."
Blackwell even goes so mainstream that he gives space in his release to allow Bennett to bloviate on his own:
"I applaud Ken Blackwell's leadership on this issue, and his decision to move the proposed amendment to the gubernatorial ballot is a service to the voters of Ohio. It gives Ohioans an opportunity to hear substantive debate on a major policy initiative before making a decision that impacts all of state government.

"This gesture by Secretary Blackwell will allow us to focus our resources this year on defeating the special interest amendments being pushed by pro-Democrat unions and liberal activist groups."
We have several opinions about what Bennett is saying. First, there is no - repeat, no - benefit to Blackwell to allow more debate on his amendment. As a matter of fact, all of the polls, focus group data, etc. that we've seen or had summarized for us indicates that Blackwells support decreases with debate. In other words, the more debate there is, the more skeptical voters become of his amendment and the more convinced they are that it is a risky gimmick.
We also don't buy this, "let's focus on defeating RON" line of thinking for several reasons. One big reason is that a lot of Republicans have no intention of opposing RON, and some may actually endorse it. Last week we had the interesting statements from Deb Pryce telling her fellow Republicans to wise up:
Ohioans likely won’t listen to incumbent GOP officeholders detailing the evils of the [RON] proposals.
Another reason is that the Ohio (and national) GOP seem in a panic about the Paul Hackett campaign and the mood of Ohioans. It's not that they are off message. It's that they have no message when it comes to running affairs in the state.

Some supporters of Blackwell's must have realized that his connection to the amendment and the pay-to-play links among his financial backers could make the whole thing blow up in their face.

Another flaw in the "focus on RON" thinking is that it also allows RON supporters to focus their efforts, too. It's been no secret that many of the same groups that have been opposing Blackwell's amendment are also behind the RON amendments. The competing amendments would have forced these groups to split their scarce resources and staff between the two campaigns. Now the decks are cleared for an all-out, pro-RON drive that we think would ultimately become the battle-tested structure to challenge Blackwell in 2006.

We use the subjunctive "would" here because we aren't convinced that Blackwell's amendment will be on the ballot in 2006, at least in its current form. Yes, we understand that Blackwell says he will file his petitions on Aug. 11 for 2006, but that doesn't really mean anything.

The fact of the matter is that the Republicans, themselves, have been trying to water down the amendment for some time. Support for softened legislative version never reached a critical mass this year, but there was plenty of debate and scheming behind the scenes, and now Republicans seem to be hinting that this is the direction they intend to go in 2006. For example, a bulletin from the Gongwer News Service (subscription required) raised this possibility:
Key Republicans have argued that a modified version of the plan would aid GOP election efforts in 2006.
Why a modified version? Because many Ohio business people and elected officials have what a mess Colorado's TABOR amendment has made of that state's educational, health care, tax and infrastructure systems. At the same time, many legal and public policy experts who have read over Blackwell's amendment have reached an opinion that it will trigger major service cuts, expensive special elections and a tidal wave of lawsuits. When even groups like the Ohio Chamber of Commerce express doubts about a Republican amendment, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Pols and pundits will debate this development for sometime. It will be interesting to see what Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro have to say, publicly and privately.

Regardless, we see Blackwell's decision not to proceed this year as a sign of fundamental weakness. We strongly believe that the RON amendment backers are the only winners in the short run. Long term, we'll have to see how the various groups take advantage of the extra year, but we think that the chances are good that none of it will ultimately work out in Blackwell or the Ohio GOP's favor.

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