Sunday, March 12, 2000

Roeding makes himself a target


Backs hotel tax despite fallout

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's too easy to become cynical when you spend time around politics and, particularly, politicians.

        They don't always say what they mean or mean what they say. They have been known to duck out of a room when it's time to cast a tough vote. They pander to their campaign contributors. They revel in — and sometimes abuse — the power bestowed upon them by voters.

        But every once in a while, an elected official stands up and not only welcomes the heat, but invites it.

        That's what happened last week in Frankfort, when Lakeside Park Republican Sen. Dick Roeding showed the kind of leadership Northern Kentucky hasn't always received from its contingent of state lawmakers.

        Mr. Roeding came out in support of a controversial plan to allow Northern Kentucky's hotel tax to be raised by fiscal courts. The $1 million or so the 1 percent tax hike will raise each year will be spent on marketing to attract tourism to Greater Cincinnati and help bring business to convention centers in Covington as well as downtown Cincinnati.

        Mr. Roeding said the tax is not really a tax, it's a “user fee,” and that he isn't supporting a tax increase in the legislature. All the General Assembly will do if the bill passes is give the fiscal courts in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties the ability to raise the tax.

        So much for semantics. Sorry Mr. Roeding, but it's a tax. That's what everybody in Frankfort is calling it, even its supporters.

        And that's what Robert Hay, the Boone County commissioner challenging Mr. Roeding in the May GOP primary, will most certainly call it.

        Mr. Hay is against the tax. And he'll use Mr. Roeding's support of it as a major campaign issue against the senator.

        “I know I'll hear about it again in the election,” Mr. Roeding said last week. “But it's the right thing to do.”

        Mr. Roeding isn't alone in supporting the tax. Another unlikely proponent, Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger, actually voted for the tax last week when it passed out of the Senate budget committee.

        The two senators believe that boosting the tax will help increase tourism and economic development in Northern Kentucky. And even though Mr. Roeding in particular will get cracked for backing the increase, he listened to the business and community leaders who said the tax hike will help bring tourists and convention business to Northern Kentucky.

        Democrats, including Mark Guilfoyle, a party strategist who has clashed with Mr. Roeding in the past, were impressed by the support from the Senator.

        “He's showing some real leadership,” Mr. Guilfoyle said, “especially when he knows it will come back up in his race.”

        Mr. Hay, a staunch Christian conservative, will certainly blister Mr. Roeding for backing the tax.

        But will the attacks stick and resonate with voters?

        Mr. Roeding has a long-standing record of opposing taxes and pushing tax cuts in Frankfort. This is a tax local folks won't be paying.

        Mr. Hay has already absurdly attacked Mr. Roeding for not being more aggressive in pushing anti-abortion legislation. That's a joke because few lawmakers in Frankfort have been more supportive of so-called “pro life” bills than Mr. Roeding.

        But just in case, look for Mr. Roeding to handle a couple of anti-abortion bills once they get to the Senate. That will help deflect the criticism from Mr. Hay and his anti-abortion cronies.

        ALL IN THE FAMILY. Now that Boone County Commissioner Rob Arnold has announced his resignation from the county fiscal court, Gov. Paul Patton will appoint a replacement.

        The appointee, who will most certainly be a Democrat like Mr. Patton, will serve until November's election. But whoever gets the appointment will probably run for the seat.

        The leading candidates for the appointment are Richwood lawyer Lance Lucas, son of U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, and Shawn Carroll of Florence, a member of the Boone County Board of Education.

        It would seem Lance Lucas would have the big inside track for the appointment. He's a good lawyer and an active Democrat, but those family ties don't hurt either.

        Ken Lucas is not only a member of Congress, but he is also the former county judge-executive and a fraternity brother of Mr. Patton's. The two were at the University of Kentucky together in the mid to late 1950s.

        Ken Lucas is also a hero of sorts to the Democratic establishment in Kentucky. Though he often votes with the Republicans in Congress, he is the only Democrat in Kentucky's Washington delegation.

        And when he won the 4th District seat in 1998, it was the first time a Democrat had held it since Lyndon Johnson was cursing at aides in the White House.

        “It would be hard for the governor to go against Ken and the Lucas family,” said one Boone County Democrat.

        But Mr. Carroll reportedly has the support of some big name business people who also happen to be large contributors to Mr. Patton and the Democratic Party.

        Stay tuned. The appointment should come later this month.

        Meanwhile, the Republicans are blowing a lot of smoke about how they are going to have an open process and listen to all candidates.

        That's easy to do when the chance of actually receiving the appointment are down around zero.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at crowleys@cinci.infi.net, (606) 578-5581, or (502)875-7526 in Frankfort.