Sunday, January 07, 2001

County has become bizarre hall of mirrors

        Welcome to Bizarro World. That's what Hamilton County politics has become.

        It's like the parallel universe Superman used to find himself in from time to time, where “yes” meant “no,” good was evil and evil good, and where the Man of Steel's powers were so useless he couldn't see through a lace doily, much less reinforced concrete.

        There's no other way to explain it. Hamilton County politics assumed the mantle of bizarreness for good the moment Democrat Todd Portune swore the oath as Hamilton County commissioner on the stage of Memorial Hall last week.

        We have entered a world where the Democrats are the fiscal conservatives and the Republicans the tax-and-spend liberals.

        Look at how Mr. Portune got there in the first place.

        He ran against a Republican incumbent county commissioner, Bob Bedinghaus, in a county where no Democrat had been elected county commissioner since the year Lyndon Johnson was elected president.

Bedinghaus on hook
               Mr. Bedinghaus, of course, played a large role in persuading Hamilton County taxpayers to pass a sales tax increase to build new stadiums for the Bengals and Reds.

        He was also the county's point man in negotiating a lease with the Bengals for Paul Brown Stadium, a lease that gave the Bengals the right to do everything short of charging people to draw breath inside the stadium.

        He was also the one left to explain why the football stadium was $50 million over budget.

        Guess who was the angriest about this turn of events? Conservative Republican voters in Hamilton County, of course.

        So what many of them did was either vote for Mr. Portune or the Libertarian candidate, Paul Naberhaus (who drew 9 percent). Mr. Bedinghaus, who won with 60 percent of the vote four years before, lost with 43 percent of the vote this time.

        So, Hamilton Countians were treated last Tuesday to the spectacle of a Democratic Cincinnati city councilman - one who had never been accused of being a tightwad with the public dollar before - swearing the oath of office and mouthing every conservative buzzword he could think of. If you had closed your eyes, you would have sworn Steve Chabot had resigned Congress and taken his old job back at the county.

Wild talk
               Mr. Portune, in his inaugural speech, used these terms: “fiscally responsible,” “focused on delivery of basic services,” “property tax rollback,” “no more pay-outs for cost overruns.”

        This is the kind of wild talk that gets you thrown out of the International Association of Bleeding Hearts and Wild-Eyed Liberals.

        The Democratic Party leadership promises that in two years they will find another “conservative Democrat” to run against Mr. Bedinghaus' me-too buddy, Commissioner Tom Neyer. Their goal: break the grip of tax-and-spend Republicanism and get a Democratic majority on the three-member commission that will restore fiscal sanity to county government.

        It just doesn't get more bizarre than this.

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