Along the Tracks

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Blackwell plays 'Let's Make a Deal'

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, coming off a very successful fundraiser here in Williams County, is known as the “conservative’s conservative” in the three-way race for the Republican nomination for governor. He’s no moderate, and he’s not “establishment.” He’s worked hard burnishing his image as a stick-to-your-guns, tax-cutting, budget-trimming, do-what’s-right-not-what’s-popular kind of leader.

So why all of a sudden did Blackwell back down to the state’s GOP leadership and postpone, from this November’s election until November ’06, his ballot issue to limit taxes and spending?
A hint can be found in the statement of Robert Bennett, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, who praised Blackwell’s decision, then added the tax-and-budget limitation would provide a good issue for whichever candidate gets the GOP nomination for governor in 2006.

Excuse me?

Up until, oh, about five minutes ago, the state’s GOP leadership was dead set against Blackwell’s initiative, claiming it would tie the hands of future governors and legislators (which it would – that’s the whole point!). Why the shift in rhetoric?

I think I smell a deal.

The state’s Establishment Republicans have never warmed up to Blackwell, and were already lining up behind GOP contender and state Attorney General Jim Petro. However, with blood in the water over the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation debacle and other Taft scandal accusations, the state’s GOP may be looking to unify the party earlier than usual in an effort to hang on to power. By shifting to support of a constitutional amendment limiting taxes and spending, the GOP is trying to energize conservative voters who carried George W. Bush to victory in last year’s presidential race.

Those conservatives are also Blackwell voters.

There are no guarantees here for Blackwell. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of the two other GOP candidates, Betty Montgomery and Petro, drop out of the race in the next few months – with a little urging from the guys in the smoke-filled rooms.

As an observer of Ohio politics since the mid-‘80s, I’ve noticed that the Establishment in each party likes to bestow its favors on some and withhold them from others. Blackwell has been given the short stick for at least six years while the GOP Establishment’s golden boy, Bumbling Bob Taft, has run the state into the ground. The Establishment seems to be changing course.

How’s it feel, Ken?

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