Thursday, January 04, 2007

Democrats Take the Helm; First 100 Hours Begins Without GOP Voice

As Nancy Pelosi takes the helm of command as the new Speaker of the US House, the first 100 legislative hours become key to their legislative success. But, unfortunately, they've already started out on the wrong foot. Congressional Democrats have decided to silence the Republican Minority and prevent them from offering amendments or any other legislative motion to the bills that Democrats plan to bring to the floor of the House. Pelosi, Hoyer, & Co. have promised over and over again to make the 110th Congress the most open and bipartisan Congress in this nation's history. This first step does not seem like a move in the right direction to make that campaign promise a reality.

The Democratic agenda for the first 100 hours includes:

-raising the national minimum wage rate to $7.25 per hour

-enact lobbyist and ethics reform legislation

-slashing the interest rates on college student loans

-enact furter recommendations of the 09/11 Commission to prevent other terrorist attacks

-mandate that the federal government directly negiotiate with drug companies for lower prescription drug prices

-widening stem cell research beyond what President Bush has previously allowed

Yesterday, President Bush held a press conference at the White House after his first cabinet meeting of the new year to articulate his hopes and wishes for what the new Congress will tackle. In a very shrewd political move, President Bush underscored the need for a balanced budget and said his Administration would introduce a proposal to balance the federal budget by the year 2012. Bush also mentioned reforming Social Security and Medicare as other top legislative priorities on his agenda.

Taft Signs Math and Science Standards into Law

As one of his last major acts as Ohio Governor and his last public appearance as Governor, Bob Taft signed stricter math and science standards into law for Ohio's elementary schools. The new law requires that the fifth graders of today pass math and lab-based science courses before they're allowed to graduate from high school in 2014. Gov. Taft cited the ever changing world economy and the new requirements in the job market for implementing these academic standards.

The signing ceremony of this education bill coincided with a study released that placed Ohio's schools in the middle of the pack compared with the education systems of the 49 other states. The areas that seemed to really hurt Ohio were preschool and post-high school. Taft's education program seems to at least attempt to solve the post-high school problems with Ohio's students. While offering proper and effective K-12 education, Ohio is severely lacking in its training for students after high school. Hopefully, this new law will give Ohio students a boost and much needed head start in a worldwide competitive job market.

On the preschool end, incoming Gov. Ted Strickland has claimed he wants to make quality preschool education programs available to all of Ohio's preschool-aged children. Strickland, however, has yet to offer any specifics or how such a program would be funded.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Good Riddance to Bob Taft?

Conservative malaise over Bob Taft has boiled over to the point of welcoming Ted Strickland into the Governor's Mansion in Bexley and rehashing Strickland campaign messages at the direct expense of the Ohio Republican Party. A column by James Uhrling recites the typical mantra about how horrible Taft's reign as Governor was. But exclusive focus on Bob Taft, his record low approval ratings, and state tax increases is precisely what has gotten us to this point. The GOP candidate for Governor, despite being on the verge of electoral history in Ohio and garnering the support of national political celebrities like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani lost to the generic and virtually unknown (and surely untested) Democratic candidate by a 23 point margin. Republicans lost all statewide offices but one and Democrats came very close in capturing the state house.

Nobody likes Bob Taft or his reign as Governor. Fine. But let's put that fact to bed already.

Bob Taft is a nice man with noble intentions. His executive leadership and management skills are certainly lacking. But to purge the Republican Party of so-called "RINOs" simply because they supported the legislative agenda of a GOP Governor seems short-sighted at the very least.

The fact of that matter is that the Ohio Republican Party needs as many members as possible now. The balance of power in the state house now stands at 53 Republicans and 46 Democrats. Purging the party now could lead to vindictive legislators joining the Democratic caucus.

The 2006 election results in Ohio were a part of a national wave of discontent with Republicans and their political leadership. In Ohio, specifically, Taft became a punching bag for that voter discontent. But the election result involved much more than Bob Taft. After all, his name appeared nowhere on the ballot and Ken Blackwell ran far to the right of Bob Taft on nearly every issue. In the Republican Primary for Governor, Blackwell tried to tie both of his primary opponents (Petro and Montgomery) directly to Taft. Blackwell tried to cast himself as the anti-Taft, with a conservative solution for every problem Taft has caused. Yet Blackwell's candidacy went down in a crushing defeat.

Beyond the Governor's race, characterizing Rep. Jean Schmidt as a RINO is beyond ridiculous. Schmidt is solidly pro-life, pro-gun with high marks from the NRA, supported President Bush's tax cuts, opposes gay marriage, obviously supported the President's policy in Iraq, and . There's not one issue that Schmidt has a moderate-to-liberal position on, let alone any evidence indicating tagging her as a RINO is fair.

These hardline conservatives of Ohio need to realize that a Gov. Taft and Sen. DeWine are much more hospitable than Gov. Strickland and Sen. Brown. The real RINOS appear to be those so-called conservatives who openly welcome the defeat of Republican candidates and the election of Democrats solely for the sake of purging a party that has already been purged of its most recognizable and experienced candidates.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Taft Signs Stricter Sex Offender Laws

Outgoing Governor Bob Taft (R-OH) signed two pieces of legislation that will institute new and stricter sex offender laws in Ohio. Each new law, called Jessica's Law and Nicole's Law respectively, will require courts to consider prior criminal behavior when setting bail, require convicted sex offenders to wear GPS satellite devices, and judges will now be required to sentence sex offenders with a child under the age of 13 to a minimum sentence of 2 years in state prison. Nicole's Law will require a sexual offender to appear before a judge and also a parole board.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Era of Government in Ohio

This past Novemeber Republicans were smoked at the polls. Republicans lost statewide races for Governor/ Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, US Senator. Ohio Republicans also lost a significant number of state legislature seats as well.

But the news isn't all bad. Despite all the damage done this election season, Republicans were able to pick up a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court with the retirement of Alice Robie Resnick due to her drunk driving charge from February 2005. Republican Apellate Judge Robert Cupp (R-Lima) was able to survive the toxic political climate for the Ohio GOP and defeat his Democratic political opponent former State Senator Ben Espy (D-Columbus) by a 53%-47% margin. Cupp's victory in 2006 was nothing short of a miracle. Despite Ken Blackwell heading the GOP ticket in Ohio and losing by about 23 points, Cupp as a non-incumbent Republican candidate, carried 70 of 88 counties in Ohio and kept Espy's margin of victory in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) down to about 54, 000 votes. Cupp even managed to carry heavily Democratic Lucas County (Toledo)!

Incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell easily defeated his Democratic opponent William O'Neill. O'Neill refused to accept any campaign contributions as a sort of protest against Ohio's current elected system for the state judiciary. O'Neill's quirky campaign style (which included using an old printing press he purchased and used in his garage) earned him glowing press coverage from the esteemed New York Times. The Times portrayed the Republican Terrence O'Donnell has always siding with big corporate donors and O'Neill wanting to fight for the little man. The NY Times didn't make much of a difference in the race as O'Donnell went on to defeat O'Neill easily by 18 points.

In the state senate, Democrats had only one pickup in District 12, Jeffry Armbruster's seat. Democrat Susan Morano defeated Republican Martha Wise by 26 points in that race. In all the other competitive state senate races, Republicans were able to hold on.

The closest state senate race on election night came in the Akron area with incumbent State Senator Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls) defeating Democrat Judy Hanna by nearly 5 points. Hanna's campaign was hampered by numerous gaffes, most notably a blog entry she authored for a liberal blog called Week. The article is filled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and is largely incoherent. Another interesting note to make with State Senator Kevin Coughlin is that his name is already being floated around as a possible GOP contender against Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012. Coughlin has some baggage due to allegations of sexual harrassment but that allegation has been used over and over by his former opponents and all have been defeated.

The state house was full of GOP campaign mishaps and seats with candidates who did not campaign vigorously. Democrats ended up picking up a total of seven state house seats, leaving the balance of power count at 53 Republicans and 46 Democrats. This was a major upset of sorts for Ohio House Democrats. No pundit paying attention to Ohio would have even considered the possiblity of Democrats coming as close as they did in overtaking the state house. I suppose this is the story of the 2006 election cycle and Republicans should be thankful we're entering a new year.