If you're not wondering what's going on within the Democratic Party of Ohio, you're not following the news.
A spectacular series of corruption scandals in the most heavily Democratic counties -- Cuyahoga, Athens, Scioto, and Pike -- has left the impression that the GOP-controlled newspapers are only warming up for the sprint toward November 2010. Collectively, though not necessarily in order, the scandals involve Democratic politicians and appointees performing various "favors" in exchange for hotel rooms, hookers, hoochie, ham, home improvements, hard currency and handouts to family members.
And no, I am not inventing the ham. Some revised Ohio bible must contain the Old Testament formula: "a ribeye for a ribeye" or "pork for pork," as unkosher as that may sound.
Now, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner -- the woman who has tried to clean up the elections mess that stole the White House from John Kerry -- has come out swinging at her own party, accusing the Democratic machine of rigging her primary race for U.S. Senate.
Me oh my oh, what the heck is happening in Ohio?
More below the dangnabbed fold.
2010: A Space Odyssey
Jennifer Brunner has alluded to the troubles within the Democratic Party of her state in a DKOS diary that admirably frames the issue as a matter of truth-telling: http://www.dailykos.com/...
A more hard-core approach came in a recent interview with the National Journal -- http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal... -- in which Brunner recounts a conversation she had with congressman Zack Space. According to the Journal:
Brunner also said several mayors backing Fisher told her they were doing so to protect money headed to their cities.
Space is arguably the most endangered Democrat in the country as of 2012, because he stands to lose not the election but his district. OH-18 is a highly gerrymandered monstrosity, almost certain to disappear after Ohio is stripped of two congressional seats following the 2010 census.
According to Brunner, Space told her that he felt forced to endorse Lee Fisher, Brunner's opponent in the Senate race, because of the Governor's power in making decisions about redistricting. The clear implication is that Governor Ted Strickland has threatened the mayors with loss of funding, and Space with loss of his district, unless they all play ball with the Strickland machine. Strickland is backing his lieutenant governor, Fisher, for Senate, a race against Rob Portman that Fisher cannot possibly win.
Space has denied making the statement, as he must deny it, but I know that Brunner is telling the truth. I know because I had my own "off-the-record" conversation with Space about internal party politics in 2007.
Zack Space is a good and decent man, who detests the Ohio Democratic machine. While I am bound by confidentiality to not disclose the details of our conversation, it is public knowledge that Space won his seat only by defeating Chillicothe mayor Joe Sulzer in a bitter Democratic primary in 2006. That primary campaign was far more gruesome than the one for the general election.
Sulzer was the candidate of the machine. He is, quite simply, a pig. He once argued publicly that developers have no obligation to disclose their plans, even if the "development project" involves a nuclear waste dump on federal land. I know Chillicothe Republicans driven into that party only because of the depradations of Sulzer's Stink-Town Democrats. (Chillicothe is called Stink Town because of the smell of the Meade paper plant, or at least that is the polite explanation.)
If Space was willing to discuss his intra-party dilemmas with me, he certainly was willing to do so with Jennifer Brunner. We Democrats of Integrity in Ohio (it's at least a caucus if not a separate party) do occasionally need to share notes, and that is obviously what occured in the Brunner-Space conversation.
On the other side of this side of the aisle are what a Kentucky friend calls "the Ohio style of intimidation politics." An inherited culture of the old Northwest Territory, Buckeye politicians believe it's their birthright to win office by a combination of threats and backroom deals, and to exercise that office by taking private possession of public assets. or using the withdrawal of public money, as Strickland has done, as an arm-twisting device. Ambrose Bierce, born and raised in southeast Ohio, defined politcs as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage." He was way ahead of his time.
Tell an Ohio machine politician that it's illegal to award public contracts to cronies who repay by kickback, and the reply will be nothing but head scratching. Why the heck else would someone want to run for office?
Since Jennifer Brunner has decided to break the Code of Silence -- and bully for her as the Bull Moose candidate for President used to say -- I will add to the spate of revelations.
Vic Wulsin, MD, lost the OH-02 congressional race against Jean Schmidt in 2006 by a scant 1.5 points. Why? Because, as Vic herself told me, Ted Strickland threatened her and forced her to drop her centerpiece campaign issue in the final two weeks.
That issue was opposition to the nuclear waste dump at Piketon, the same one that Joe Sulzer and Ted Strickland supported. Strickland also hoodwinked Wulsin into hiring his own staff aide, Mary Hutlinger, as campaign manager. Hutlinger thoroughly Stricklandized the campaign, and publicly denounced Vic after the election, guaranteeing Wulsin's larger loss in 2008.
Reportedly (i.e. not from Vic herself), during the 2006 campaign, Strickland offered Wulsin the position of Ohio Health Department director if Wulsin would capitulate to his demands, but the job never materialized after Strickland was elected Governor.
Come on, Vic, it's time for you and everyone to spill the beans. Safety in numbers and all that jazz. The Age of Arm-Twisting has to be brought to an end.
Scandals at the Gate
The orgy of unindicted Democratic criminality has produced quite a long list of instances in the three years of the Strickland Administration. Links to sources for many of the following choice items can be found in my diaries (click on my blogroll):
- In 2006, while running for office, Strickland told the Pike County News Watchman that he was "against the storage of high-level nuclear waste" at the Piketon federal reservation, the same plan that congresswoman Jean Schmidt and Chillicothe mayor Joe Sulzer openly supported. Documents later reveal that both before and after that interview, Strickland wrote letters of support for the consortium proposing the waste storage, and that Strickland accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from consortium head Dan Moore.
- In 2007, the Columbus Dispatch caught the Waverly Police Department in Democrat-run Pike County letting more than a hundred speeders go in exchange for thousand-dollar checks made out to the city. No indictments, and the Party punished the police chief by nominating him for county sheriff (he won against token GOP opposition).
- In 2008, a group chained themselves to construction cranes in Columbus to protest Ted Strickland's lack of action to address systemic corruption in the Ohio family court system.
- In 2008 Strickland proposed applying federal "advanced energy" money intended to help reduce greenhouse gasses to support a plain-old dirty coal plant in Meigs County. The utility company, American Municipal Power, has since canceled the project due to environmental concerns. (see my diary on this subject.)
- In 2008, in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County, virtually the entire staff at an ODOT District office was found to be diverting highway funds through kickback arrangements for in-house stripper parties, Las Vegas junkets, "and ham."
- In 2009, Strickland's home county of Scioto, entirely Democrat-run, became the first Ohio county placed in a state of fiscal emergency by the state auditor.
- In 2009, the Democratic State Representative from Scioto County, Todd Book, proposes the "Cook-the-Books" scheme to resolve the state budget crisis. The scheme would count future taxes on non-approved slot machines as state revenue for the current budget. The Ohio Supreme Court knocks out the scheme, throwing the state into a severe budget crisis.
- In 2009, Portsmouth labor unions discover that the same Todd Book has arranged for his father's Georgia non-union construction company to get a no-bid contract on a state-funded school construction project in Ohio. The revelation forces Book to quit the OH-02 congressional race.
- In 2009, an FBI probe into complex corruption charges against Cuyahoga County Democrats is revealed. Jimmy Dimora, Frank Russo and others stand accused of rigging property appraisals, accepting bribes, and assorted other unniceties. Strickland has refused to call for the officials' resignations, leaving county government paralyzed. One can only wonder what kind of dirt Dimora and Russo have on Strickland. (Google this one on your own, have a field day.)
- In 2009, in Strickland's old congressional district, Athens County Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Gwinn is prosecuted for "bribery and other charges, including theft in office, unauthorized use of property, falsification and money laundering." Her trial started on Thursday. http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/...
These are only the highlights of the low-lifes. The list does not speak to the every-day corruption that Ohioans witness and experience in the awarding of state jobs and contracts, and in the workings of the state courts and county offices.
So now you may begin to appreciate why Ohioans increasingly spell Strickland: C-O-R-Z-I-N-E
The Elephant in the Room
An apropos Russian proverb about political corruption goes: "a fish rots from the head."
At the risk of mixing animal metaphors, when Governor Ted Strickland toured the state in 2008 as an alleged Obama surrogate, his stump speech started off with the rhetorical question: "What's the elephant in the room?"
Wisely, he did not allow time for any answer from the audience. He'd jump in and answer his own question:
"The elephant in the room is RACE!"
Too bad the Obama campaign had specifically asked its surrogates to NOT raise the racial question, since it only played to Republican subliminal strategy. Never mind, it was clear that Strickland, he of the "shame on you" nod, had his own 2010 reelection in mind, and so he had to signal his good ol' boy stalwarts with the exculpation that he was embracing the "black man," if only reluctantly as Ted would proceed to explain, for good ol' boy reasons.
Them's Ohio politics, you could say, and Ted cannot escape his south Ohio upbringing. But if you say that, you'd be ignorant of the facts. You see, Ted Strickland grew up not only in the same country town but on the same street as Branch Rickey. Rickey, one of the great figures in U.S. civil rights, is the man who integrated major league baseball by recruiting Jackie Robinson to the NY Dodgers. Rickey always attributed his progressivism to the proud history of his home town as a key station of the Underground Railroad, and to the racial blindness preached in the same Methodist church where Ted Strickland was ordained.
Strickland could have followed Rickey's lead by advertising Ohio as a standard-bearer for racial equality. Instead, throughout the 2008 campaign, Strickland intentionally fed the media lie that Barack Obama might be too black to win over the key swing area of south Ohio. Strickland actually said to national media before the general election that Ohioans might be too racist to elect Barack Obama, providing himself with a ready excuse if Obama did lose the state. (Taking a cue from the governor, CNN sent a crew to Strickland's home county of Scioto, looking to capture racist voters on air. They never mentioned that in the 1990s, the overwhelmingly white city of Portsmouth had elected a black mayor.)
You see, Ted Strickland had planned on becoming Vice President in Hilary Clinton's Administration. All's fair in love and Ohio machinations.
Predictably enough (and I did predict it), after a year of countless state budget fiascos and Democratic corruption scandals from the Erie lakeshore to Southpoint, Obama is polling ahead of Ted Strickland in the Buckeye State. We in the governor's home province now refer to him affectionately as Otto Strickland. "Otto" is an acronym: One Term Ted of Ohio. The only published poll of the governor's race since early November has Strickland losing to John Kasich by 9 points-- http://www.rasmussenreports.com/... -- and the trend is going down like that other kind of party girl.
So it's time to revisit the question allowing for an audience response. What is the elephant in the room?
The elephant in the room, Ted, is you.
Not since Warren G. Harding brought his "Ohio Gang" from Washington Courthouse to Washington DC, resulting in the Teapot Dome scandal, has one group of Ohio henchmen gone on such a rampage of incompetent greed. Strickland has tried to turn the great state of Ohio into some unholy cross between Hudson County, New Jersey, and Joe Manchin's Mountaintop Removal State.
Bob Taft, the former governor? There's almost Taft nostalgia in Ohio now. At least when the Republicans stole state money, they tried to do it quietly, and they sometimes went to jail (i.e. Bob Ney and the other nabobs). But now, the Democratic plunderfest is unconcealed, and the former Ohio attorney general, who was sacked after his own office sex-ring fiasco, has been replaced by a guy whom Strickland personally picked and pocketed.
The chance of this attorney general going after corrupt machine Democrats is about the same as the chance of Joe Lieberman filibustering for a public option. And that's why the major indictments happening in Ohio are arising from cases prosecuted by the feds.
Strickland has yet to formally announce his reelection bid, or to name a running mate as lieutenant governor. He's expected to do both shortly after the New Year. At the rate things are going, however, down-ballot Democrats would be best served if both of the top state-office spots are left blank.
Even Stink-Town voters have a limited capacity for nose-holding.
Is ODP Down for the Count?
The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) recently held a series of events around the state, given the unfortunate title of "Knockout" rallies. I went to one. It was an upbeat even jovial kind of affair, full of good zinger lines for deployment against the GOP. ODP Executive Director Kelly donned a pair of boxing gloves, and did a little mix-em-up dance reminiscent of Muhammed Ali.
One big problem. In the hour or so presentation, there was not one mention of Democratic Party corruption. Not a hint or a whisper that Rome was burning as Kelly fiddled with boxing gloves.
After the New Jersey disaster, one might think that mention of an anti-corruption campaign might be in order? Not a chance. Denial is river that runs through Columbus, Ohio.
Then there are the self-proclaimed "progressive" Ohio bloggers -- I mean the Plunderbums and the O.D. and B.S. websites. (In defense of their choice of names, I think the shit4brains.com domain name was taken.)
This whole gang of six in total, has taken the curious common position of claiming to support Jennifer Brunner, while maintaining the Code of Silence on Big Otto's depradations. The solution to that enigma lies in the fact that another former Strickland staff aide, and former Hillary Clinton supporter, and former Scioto County machine Democrat named Brian Hester (whose blogging name is ModernEsquire) has dominated all three sites, at least ideologically.
But never mind. The battle lines are drawn in Ohio this election year, though they aren't the familiar lines of red and blue. Instead, the wannabe Boss Tweeds of both major parties have joined forces. And against them stand people of integrity -- Democrats, Independents, and yes, Republicans, too. And our side wins in 2010, because whatever happens at the polls, 2010 represents the end of the 175-year Democratic Ohio Machine.
Which side are you on?