Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ohio's schizophrenic political landscape.

              I grew up in a State that was seemingly sane. Most of that feeling came from living in Columbus most of my life. As the Capitol of Ohio, home to one of the largest Universities in the nation along with some excellent small Liberal Arts Colleges and a well educated population Franklin County is rather reliably Blue. In 2004 John Kerry beat President Bush by about nine points. Al Gore also carried the County in 2000, in spite of suspected shenanigans by Republicans in Ohio during both elections. More often than not, Columbus and Franklin County have gone Democratic.

The city of Columbus and County Governments have been under Democratic control for years. However the two US House Districts have been in Republican hands, except for a couple one term aberrations, forever. The US Twelfth and Fifteenth Districts split Democratic Franklin County in half. Both them stretched out into the surrounding rural counties far enough to keep those seats Republican. After every census, the sprawling Districts grew as did Central Ohio. For a couple decades Central Ohio has been the only part of the State showing real population growth.

In 2009, as the Tea Party reared it's ugly head the legislature was fairly evenly split, with a Republican majority. The GOP also held all the Statewide offices throughout the Nineties into the Twenty-first Century. Due to term limits, the Republican office holders played musical chairs. They would swap offices and one would run for Governor. If the timing was right the Governor would then run for Senator. A political farm system.

On the whole, these people were sane establishment politicians. They weren't all competent, but they weren't zealots. Bob Taft is a good example of limited competence. As always there is an exception. Ken Blackwell.

Like the Taft's, Blackwell was a product of Cincinnati. Southwestern Ohio is likely the most conservative part of the State.

At one time there were no strip clubs in Cincy. Hell, you couldn't even buy a copy of Playboy. They outsourced their vice across the Ohio River to Newport and Covington, Kentucky.The staid German influences flourished well into the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Larry Flint helped loosen them up a bit. At least you can buy tacky magazines there now.

Most of Ohio is rural. The population is concentrated in the larger Cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and the Youngstown/Canton/Akron corridor. Except for Columbus the other cities were the manufacturing hub of the Midwest. Cars, rubber, glass and about anything else you'd want. A strong blue collar union counterweight to the rural, small town outlook of the rest of the State.

In contrast to the big cities, the rest of Ohio is mostly white and very conservative. It was a hotbed of Klan activity in the Twenties.There are fundamentalists there that make the Southern Baptists look like Unitarians. Even before the rise of the Radical Republicans, it was getting weird there out in the sticks.

Ken Blackwell was the Ohio Secretary of State in 2004.HE brought voter suppression out of the closet and made it mainstream. He rejected voter registration forms that weren't printed on a certain weight of paper. For some Democratic Counties and areas there was a shortage of voting machines. This, in a record setting turnout caused immense lines.The Ohio election was a template for suppression. Ballots were shredded. A terrorist threat kept observers out of the Warren County recount. Blackwell was the poster child for the brutal, vicious Karl Rove playbook.

Outright theft was denied by all sources. That would be the worst case scenario in our electoral system. We turn a blind eye of denial to all but the most egregious examples.That is Chicago, not Ohio. People forget Hubert Humphrey stole Cleveland from McGovern in the '72 primary. So, attempts to prove nefarious motives here in 2004 were doomed to be concealed behind smoke and mirrors to preserve our needed illusions.

Blackwell did not make it easier by being Blackwell. He has a propensity for outrageous ideas and statements. He was a Tea Party bomb thrower before there was a Tea Party.

Following 2004 Blackwell started his run for Governor. In the Primaries he defeated the moderate, favorite State Attorney General Betty Montgomery and hijacked the nomination. He proceeded to alienate nearly everyone in the State and lose badly to a Democratic progressive populist, Ted Strickland. So, a massive majority voted Democratic.

Then came the Republican Radicalization. The inmates took over the Asylum as they took the Legislature and all Statewide offices. It got crazy in Ohio. The Tea Party here made Ohio look like Texas and Mississippi. We looked like a venal cliche of reactionary whack jobs.

After the rise of the Tea party John Kasich, a self aggrandizing product of the US House, Wall Street and Fox News won the Governorship by a very slim margin. With his cohorts in the Legislature He embarked on trying to make the State a conservative nirvana.

Restrictive abortion regulation was attempted but not quite pulled off. This after Ohio had a fetus testify in committee. War was declared on Public Sector Unions that was rejected 68%-32%. Unions were defended in a State that full batshit crazy had taken over.

The Republicans gerrymandered the State within an inch of it's life ensuring political dominance for the next decade in the Legislature and US House. A safe Dem District was set up in Columbus as a bone to Dems and keep the 12th and 15th safe from occasional insurrections.

Ohio gave President Obama a large margin of victory in the state as the Legislature went further right, thanks to creative redistricting. Sherrod Brown, a huge target of the right, crushed his opponent coasting to reelection. Once more a large victory for a Liberal Democrat in the midst of a sea of red.

Contradictions. Gotta love them.

Following the 2012 election the new Tea Party Legislature went off the rails by deciding the electorate's rejection of the conservative social agenda didn't happen. Ohio enacted  the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation. They went after Planned Parenthood and elevated Evangelical Pregnancy "Crisis" Centers. Rape Crisis Centers are defunded if they even mention abortion as an option. Food stamps were cut. They refused to expand Medicaid. Cut taxes for the wealthy and are going after unions. The State Board of Education is stacked with RWNJ's.

So in this sea of contradictions there is hope tempered with despair.  Te Democratic candidates for State Offices are showing unexpected strength this early in the election cycle. The Democratic candidate for Governor is overcoming name recognition issues and closer to Kasich than he should be a year out. No one expects to take the State House or Senate though a few seats may be turned. It is possible the Legislature may push a Right to Work bill through, but not likely. The Republican Party does not want a replay of the fight with labor from 2011. That wish though is not deterring the Tea Parry and others from trying to put it on the ballot which is the sane Republicans worst nightmare.

A Right To Work Ballot measure would ramp up turnout and redouble Labor's intent to push Kasich out. So, to lower turnout, the GOP is doubling down in voter suppression laws. There are bills to gut early voting.

So as usual, Ohio's schizophrenic political landscape will at least be interesting. The coming election will be vicious and contentious. John Kasich's dreams of the White House will be on the line. The Secretary of State is in for a fight from a progressive firebrand, Nina Turner.

All of this is a warm up for 2016. Ohio again will be ground zero for the Presidential Campaigns. The elections are never easy to call here as we have no clue which Ohio is voting. It's always a surprise. So, if the GOP goes with the far right this time around the same Ohio that supported President Obama should come to the fore. If too many of the State GOP Party leaders get too close they could get burned too.

We can only hope reason returns to our politics once more. We were once sane and reasonable here. Not a laughing stock. Time will tell. Till then, survival mode.

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