Sunday, March 12, 2000

Governor's favored candidates fell short

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Last week's primary elections amounted to a slap in the face for Gov. Bob Taft and fellow Republicans who lead the General Assembly.

        Of the six Ohio House primaries that Mr. Taft got involved in, only two of his favored candidates won. Mr. Taft basked in the glow of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's decisive victory in Ohio's presidential primary. That saved Mr. Taft the embarrassment suffered by Michigan Gov. John Engler after Arizona Sen. John McCain trounced Mr. Bush in that other state to the north.

        But Mr. Taft's joy may be short-lived. Term limits are ushering in a new crop of lawmakers who will help shape and control the governor's agenda.

        Call it Bob Taft's headache. Or Senate President Richard Finan and House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson's nightmares.

        Two of the most painful results for the GOP troika came from the Cincinnati area, where Tom Brinkman Jr. beat Steve Adams, a protege of Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, and Jim Raussen topped Tawana Keel Simons, a Princeton school board member.

        Conservatives closely aligned with the Christian right and anti-tax and anti-abortion activists also trounced the anointed candidate in a Columbus House district and in a Northwest Ohio Senate district, where state Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana beat Rep. Jim Buchy of Greenville for the GOP nomination.

        The governor, Mr. Finan and Ms. Davidson lent their images for TV campaigns, helped raise money and tried all they could to stifle the conservative insurgents.

        The Republican leadership point of view was best described by Mr. Deters, who last month declared the insurgents represent “intolerant, extremist views. This is not a religion. In politics, you have to lead by consensus. That means working with people who disagree with you.”

        Mr. Deters was more charitable on the day after the election. But he also fired off a not-so-subtle warning to the the party's nominees.

        “We've got to make sure we hold on to those seats,” said Mr. Deters, who took over as chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party following a flap over the local party's endorsements of Mr. Adams, Mrs. Simons and former Madeira Mayor Michelle Schneider.

        “Primaries are a good thing for the party because they activate voters,” Mr. Deters said. “The key now is to make sure these candidates can work well with the governor and legislature.”

        Mr. Finan was vacationing in Florida and was unavailable for comment. But one of his top campaign consultants, Scott Borgemenke, sounded a similar theme.

        “It's going to be a challenge to get things done if everybody wants to rock the boat,” said Mr. Borgemenke, formerly one of Mr. Taft's top aides.

        Mr. Brinkman, for one, made it clear he won't be a pawn of the influential Mr. Finan.

        While the Senate president earlier this year quashed a proposed 5 percent reduction in state income tax rates — “They weren't here when we had to raise taxes,” Mr. Finan protested - Mr. Brinkman vows to push for a 20 percent tax cut.

        He also wants Mr. Taft to “uphold his campaign promise” to eliminate the E-Check tailpipe emissions tests and plans to join other conservatives pushing a bill that would allow most Ohioans to carry concealed weapons.

        “I want them to keep the faith with the party and its platform,” Mr. Brinkman said. “If we lose the next election because we stand up for our beliefs, then so be it.”

        Not exactly the words establishment GOP leaders want to hear as they defend their 21-12 majority in the Senate and 59-40 edge in the House.

        But they better get used to it. Before long, the so-called insurgents may be running the place.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.


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