Monday, October 21, 2002

Democrats try to put squeeze on incumbents

Republicans occupy all but two statewide offices

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Democrats running for statewide offices are hoping to break the GOP grip on Ohio's top elected positions.

The jobs of governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer are all held by Republicans.

• Petro campaign:
• Herington campaign:
• Montgomery campaign:
• Smith campaign:
• Blackwell:
• Flannery:
• Deters:
• Boyle:
Gov. Bob Taft is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Tim Hagan. Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and Treasurer Joe Deters are also running for re-election after short-lived campaigns for other offices earlier this year.

Attorney General Betty Montgomery and Auditor Jim Petro are hoping to trade jobs. Term limits are forcing each out of office after eight years.

One-party rule has swung between Democrats and Republicans over the past 20 years.

Democrats held all statewide offices from 1983 to 1990. After four years of mixed offices, Republicans won all five seats in 1994, when Betty Montgomery was elected attorney general and Jim Petro was elected auditor.

Democrats have only two statewide offices today: Supreme Court Justices Alice Robie Resnick of Toledo and Francis Sweeney of Cleveland.

The public has little interest in which party holds an executive office, such as treasurer or auditor, said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University who has followed state elections for 30 years.

However, he said the party holding the office could benefit in terms of office jobs and fund-raising.

Besides governor, the most watched of the statewide races this fall has been between Mr. Deters, a former Hamilton County prosecutor, and his Democratic opponent, Mary Boyle, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner.

Mr. Deters cites his use of technology to improve his office and the 13 national awards the office has won for efficiency and innovation.

Ms. Boyle says several counties and states have done better with their investments than Ohio.

Mr. Petro, a former House lawmaker and Cuyahoga County commissioner, emphasizes the hard-line approach he took as auditor, including special audits that turned up stolen money and questionable spending at a variety of agencies.

His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Leigh Herington of Ravenna, says Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office has hired too many outside lawyers and is too slow in processing evidence for local law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Petro says he would build on the success of his fellow Republican.

Ms. Montgomery, a former Wood County prosecutor, faces Cleveland City Councilwoman Helen Smith.

Ms. Montgomery emphasizes her record of protecting taxpayers through her consumer fraud division. She also cites her skill at managing an office of 1,400 that oversaw nearly 30,000 active cases.

Ms. Smith proposes changing the auditor's fraud unit to better investigate Medicare, prescription drug programs and the state's school construction program.

Mr. Blackwell planned to leave office after one term and run for treasurer, a job he held from 1994 to 1998.

He changed his mind after Mr. Deters abandoned a plan to challenge Mr. Petro for attorney general. State Rep. Bryan Flannery, a Democrat, is running against Mr. Blackwell.

Mr. Flannery wants to upgrade Ohio's voting system and register thousands of new voters.

Mr. Blackwell points to improvements he made in the operations of the office, including a network linking the office to each county board of elections.

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