Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

Republican-linked group sues to stop RON amendments

As we have written before, there is a progressive campaign called Reform Ohio Now that seeks the passage of three amendments to the Ohio Constitution that would 1) reduce the campaign contributions ceiling from $10,000 to $1,000 ($2,000 for statewide races), 2) stop gerrymandering and establish an independent commission to redraw legislative districts starting in 2007, 3) take control of the state's elections away from the Sec. of State (Ken Blackwell) and turn the responsibilities over to another independent commission.

Today, a new group connected to the Ohio GOP - called, ironically enough, Ohio First! - filed suit this morning with the Ohio Supreme Court in an effort to stop the amendments from appearing on the ballot in Ohio this fall.

Supporters of RON had expected to place the measure on the ballot by filing petitions with over 500,000 signatures next week.

The Ohio First! press release (no link available yet) says:
"The lawsuit alleges that the Reform Ohio Now petitions are deficient . . . because they do not include the "full text" of the language that the amendments will delete."
We aren't attorneys, but we have seen the petitions and can attest to the fact that they contain the full text of the amendment. In fact, the petitions, themselves are each 21 pages long because the entire language is included.

We suspect the key words "language that the amendments will delete". Again, we aren't experts, but we don't recall every seeing amendment petitions containing the wording that is being deleted.

Ohio First group is being headed by former Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, a Republican originally from the Cincinnati area. Finan is a GOP insider who joined the law firm of of Calfee Halter & Griswold LLP where he handles the firm's government relations and legislation group. In other words, Finan has become a behind-the-scenes Republican lobbyist and power broker.

Early this week, the GOP caucus tried to derail RON's redistricting amendment. Led by Republican state representative Kevin DeWine, a House committee tried to force a vote on a GOP-crafted amendment Monday night that Republicans hoped would stop the coalition from redrawing districts for the 2008 election. DeWine apparently realized he would fall just-short of the 2/3rds vote he needed.

There have been rumors for several days that the Republicans would still try to stop the amendments because these changes would undermine the one-party monopoly they have had for 15 years.

The issue of redistricting was also brought home by Paul Hackett's strong campaign in a district that had been heavily gerrymandered to deliver 60%-70% victories to the Republican incumbent. Without the gerrymandering of the OH-2 district, Hackett would have been a shoe-in and the GOP seems very aware of that fact.

Against the backdrop of the "Culture of Corruption" in Ohio, it's important to note that Richard Finan, while he was senate president, was co-chair of the Joint Ethics Committee of the Ohio Legislature. If your response is, "What ethics in Ohio?" your instincts are correct. The committee was a joke and Finan was a vocal opponent of stronger ethics rules.

A 1999 story by Minnesota Public Radio reveals the seemier side of Finan:
Ethics and disclosure reform is generally an unpopular topic in state capitols across the country. It's a messy and sensitive issue that lawmakers prefer to avoid. One of the most powerful state legislators in Ohio harbors a certain contempt for such laws. He's Senate President Richard Finan, a voluble, 27-year capitol veteran, and a co-chair of the ethics committee.

"Those legislators that want to be ethical are going to be ethical, " Finan declares. "Those legislators that don't want to be ethical, we could pass laws until the cows come home, and they're not going to be ethical. They're going to find way to get around whatever laws we put in shape. "

Finan adds that ethics laws have deepened partisan divisions in the legislature because lobbyists can no longer take lawmakers out to dinner. Such meetings often brought Democrats and Republicans together, he says, on the neutral turn of a lobbyist's expense account.

In Finan's view, a friendly night at the steak house meant more civility at the state house.

Finan's comments about the steak house should strike a chord with Ohioans given that Coingate maestro Tom Noe frequently wined and dined politically connected Republicans at Morton's Steak House in Columbus.

We haven't heard an official response from the RON coalition, but organizers issued the following response to the announcement of the creation of the retrograde Ohio First group:
Ohio First? Yes, we certainly are:
First in corruption
First in scandals
First in defending big money
First in young people leaving the state and
First in job loss

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