Wednesday, August 30, 2006

In Which Michael Meckler Squares Me Away

A couple of days ago, Michael Meckler, a veteran observer of Ohio politics, emailed me in response to The 12th District: In the Shadow of John Kasich. With great courtesy he set me straight on a few things, and his email was so informative I asked permission to post it here. Michael was kind enough to agree.


Your recent post on Bob Shamansky compelled me to point out a couple of things.

First of all, Shamansky is, and back in 1980 was, as credible a candidate as, say, Ted Strickland when Strickland won a congressional campaign for the first time in 1992. Yes, I take your point about Shamansky's age, but his background does not compare unfavorably with other congressional challengers. And remember, here in Ohio, we've had several former congressmen trying to get back into politics this year. (Bob McEwen and Tom Sawyer actually filed as candidates, and Dennis Eckart openly flirted with the idea of seeking some sort of office.) To call Shamansky a "yellow dog with money" is a bit harsh.

The 12th as it was constituted in 1980 was not as strongly Republican as it is today. Keep in mind, the congressional districts drawn in 1971 were done under narrow GOP majorities in the General Assembly, but with a Democratic governor (John Gilligan). During the Watergate-era elections of the mid-1970s, Sam Devine was seen as being EXTREMELY vulnerable, and he barely defeated popular Columbus City Councilmember Fran Ryan in 1974 and 1976.

Shamansky's 1980 campaign was remarkable for its use of television advertising. Shamansky ran an ad that has gone down in the annals of political history. A sumptuous desk of a businessman was seen from the back, with the businessman thumbing through a Rolodex (remember those?). A voice was heard over this picture: "When big oil needs a favor, they call Sam Devine." This ad was magic. Devine, who certainly didn't take Shamansky seriously enough, never recovered. In what was generally a good year for Republicans, Devine lost his bid for re-election.

The 12th as redrawn in 1981 (under a solidly Democratic Ohio House, a narrowly Republican Ohio Senate, and a Republican governor, James Rhodes) became MORE Republican, but that was primarily due to Shamansky not getting along with Vern Riffe, the powerful Democratic speaker of the Ohio House. Kasich, who lived in Westerville (and still does, I believe), was a young state senator who wanted to run for Congress. (Both Devine and Shamansky lived in Bexley). With Ohio losing two congressional seats, the geographic extent of districts expanded. Kasich and the GOP-led state senate wanted to add voters from adjoining areas of Licking and Delaware counties from what was the old 17th district, since GOP congressman John Ashbrook of Johnstown was running for the U.S. Senate and so his strong GOP district was one that could be carved up.

Riffe saw himself -- and expected others to see him -- as the state's Democratic leader. Shamansky, however, is not a go-along-to-get-along type of guy, and the congressman believed he didn't need to kowtow to a state representative from Portsmouth. So Riffe was more than willing to approve a redistricting that made it tough for Shamansky to hold the seat. (I believe that additional urban Democratic voters were also shifted from the 12th into Chalmers Wylie's 15th district.)

Certainly, at the national level, the 12th this year is not viewed as a competitive district -- in contrast to the 15th. But Shamansky is probably as strong a candidate as can be found. (I'm not certain Maryellen O'Shaughnessy still lives in the 12th after the boundary changes in 2001.) Would Columbus mayor Michael Coleman, who does live in the 12th, be able to attract the suburban and exurban voters who form a majority in the district? A wealthy suburbanite like Shamansky gives Democrats their best hope in such a district. (Compare Paula Brooks of Upper Arlington, who won a seat two years ago as a Franklin County commissioner to enable the Democrats to retake the majority.)

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post.

All the best,

Michael Meckler

A Toe-Tapping Ode to Corruption

This State

Jeepers, I Never Thought of That

Pastor Rod Parsley explains why same-sex marriage would be intolerable:
The legalization of same-sex marriages is far-reaching and has consequences that we have only begun to imagine. If same-sex marriage is legalized, then on what basis can marriage be denied to any other group or coupling? If marriage were a civil right, than what would stop group marriages or what would stop someone from marrying their pet?
(From The Center for Moral Clarity FAQ)

I would imagine the same thing that stops someone from marrying their daughter or the toddler next door.

Admittedly, that's the dumbest portion of Parsley's explanation, but the rest of it isn't much better. You'd think that if you were going to draw a line in the sand over an issue, you'd at least have a more compelling rationale than the slippery slope fallacy coupled with the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, wants to marry their poodle.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Gaze Into the Crystal Ball

MyDD : : Direct Democracy for People-Powered Politics -- a mouthful -- has taken a fairly sophisticated stab at forecasting the outcome of the 2006 U.S. House and Senate races. They think the Democrats will pick up the House (Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos disagrees ) but that the Republicans will narrowly retain the Senate. Based on the latest polls they're confident that Sherrod Brown will unseat Mike DeWine -- despite the fact that DeWine is spending more lavishly on his campaign -- and they see the 15th Congressional District leaning Republican, principally because Deborah Pryce is the third-ranking House Republican. The 12th District doesn't figure into their calculations, which presumably means they regard it as safely Republican. Rats.

Forum: Church and State in Ohio's Electoral Politics

Some members of my church are organizing a forum on “Church and State in Ohio’s Electoral Politics,” to be held on the afternoon of October 8 in downtown Columbus. They’ve done an impressive job of lining up discussants with a variety of perspectives, including several from the conservative evangelical community. All they needed was a website to help publicize the event, so naturally, I guess, they approached me. I put it together last evening. I’m still waiting on good digital head shots of the six principal discussants, but otherwise I think it’s pretty much done. You can check out the page by clicking on the image, above.

Cross-posted from Radical Civility

Monday, August 28, 2006

The 12th District: In the Shadow of John Kasich

It's an amazing fact of life, when you get down to it, how little most of us know about the people who represent us or aspire to represent us. During the hours I spent yesterday updating this blog to get it into campaign fighting trim, I knew maybe two-thirds of the people who are standing for the offices I'll be voting for come November, and I did that well only because I knew the incumbents.

The single most startling discovery I made is that Bob Shamansky is running to become the next Congressman from the 12th District, which happens to be my district now that I've moved from Clintonville, which was in the 15th District, long dominated by two formidable Republicans, first Chalmers P. Wylie and now Deborah Pryce. During the time I lived in Clintonville (1996-2003), the chance of unseating Pryce was pretty much zilch. Things weren't a lot better in the 12th District, where the hard-charging John Kasich had been Congressman since first winning election in 1982.

Kasich gained the office by defeating this self-same Bob Shamansky, 88,335 votes to 82,753. (A Libertarian candidate, Russell A, Lewis, received 3,939 votes, most of which would otherwise have gone to Kasich.) [See this link for 12th District election results.]

Shamansky had been in office only two years, having handily beaten 12-term Republican Samuel L. Devine, known in some quarters as "the Abominable No-Man" because of his penchant for voting against everything that might disturb the status quo. The 1980 vote was 108,690 for Shamansky and 98,110 for Devine: an impressive performance, particularly in a district that has been gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates for as long as I can recall. I can only guess why Shamansky lost after only a single term, despite the advantage of incumbency. The demographics of the district probably hurt, especially in an off-year election, and Shamansky was unfortunate to have to square off with perhaps the best natural politician to come out of central Ohio in, well, forever.

I can't say I ever liked Kasich. It was a purely personal thing. Interested in politics and aware that Kasich was sure to run a first-class campaign, as a 22-year old college senior I placed a call to his headquarters and volunteered to work for him. An hour or two later Kasich phoned back, his voice far more bold and booming than necessary. He was apparently under the impression that I had significant previous experience and at first behaved as if I were someone worth trying to impress. Once he divined that I had simply worked for a couple of campaigns in very minor capacities, he didn't bother to hide the fact that he had no time for the likes of me. I could go to his headquarters and stuff envelopes. Over and out!

I have had one or two other encounters like that with politicians. They say you can measure a person by how well or poorly they treat those who can be of no use to them. By that standard, Kasich failed to cut the mustard.

But what the hell. Kasich did run a great campaign, he handily bested Shamansky, and once he got the 12the District seat, beat the crap out of every candidate that challenged him. After a while the Ohio Democratic Party couldn't get anyone of real stature to run against him.

Not only that, Kasich became a prominent figure in Congress, especially after the Republicans won control in 1994, and his name was sometimes bruited about as a possible presidential candidate. He might even have run but for the fact that when his best opportunity came, in 2000, the annointed one was . . . George W. Bush, son of an ex-president. With no new worlds to conquer in Congress and, I would guess, no scope for a U.S. Senate run because Republicans already held both Ohio seats, Kasich decided to pursue other opportunities in business and the media. He was then just 48 years old.

I suspect his ship has sailed in terms of a run for the presidency, but as late as October 2000 -- despite his dutiful support for Bush -- Kasich still told a New York Times reporter he'd like to be president some day.

[O]only the next time he will not be so starry-eyed. ''I was not prepared for the fact that money was the dominating factor,'' he said.

The solution, he says, is to eliminate the $1,000 limits on individual contributions so that a candidate can raise a significant amount of seed money from relatively few people.

''No more pied piper for John Kasich,'' he said. ''Pied pipers don't win in America.''
Nowadays he's a managing director at Lehman Brothers and host of Heartland With John Kasich on -- yuck -- FOX News. I run into it occasionally and encounter that too bold, too booming voice, now in the service of some trumped-up piece of fake indignation that is the bread and butter of cable news commentary. It's kind of a waste, if you ask me.

Kasich's decision not to run in 2000 emboldened the Democrats to actually run someone of substance, Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, who comes from a distinguished family in central Ohio politics and had won a seat on the Columbus City Council in 1997. She's running for reelection to council again this year. Among the things not in her charming campaign bio is the fact that she met defeat in her run for Congress at the hands of Republican Patrick J. Tiberi. The vote was 139,242 to 115, 432, with a few thousand votes going to minor candidates.

Following Tiberi's victory, the Democrats went back to running Ed Brown, who got blasted by a 2-to-1 margin by Kasich in 1998 and lost just as about as badly to Tiberi in 2002 and 2004. Have a look at Brown's amateurish web site, with its frantic text and anemic political track record, and you will be forced to conclude, as I was, that only a Yellow Dog Democrat would waste a ballot on him. (For the uninitiated, a Yellow Dog Democrat is someone who would vote for a yellow dog before he'd vote Republican.) Brown was going to run again this year, only to be told by the Democratic steering committee that their nod was going to Bob Shamansky. Brown was incensed, writing in his campaign blog:

I stated to the steering committee that my campaign was about "The People and their Rights" and described many of my concerns and what I thought was needed to correct the problems that presently confront us. Several times I was questioned as to how much money I could raise and/or contribute. When I tried to expand on Social Security, Taxes, and Medicare problems, the raising campaign money question was again asked.

It became apparent that while my priority is "The People and Their Rights", their's [sic] is Money. Why should I have any reason to expect their endorsement when our priorities are so different?
Yes, Ed. Their priority is winning.

There are three great things about the 79-year old Shamansky. First, he is not Ed Brown. Second, he is not one of five other contenders for the nomination in the Democratic primary, one of whom I met in March and who assured me, in all seriousness, of her deep belief in UFOs and alien abductions. Third, he has money.

Lots of it.

As Columbus Dispatch reporter Joe Hallett put it after interviewing Shamansky in June, "[H]e has made millions as an attorney and real-estate investor, and he’s willing to spend some of it on his campaign. How much? 'I’m prepared to help,' he says. 'How’s that for a precise answer?'"

It's the kind of answer that would hack off Ed Brown, who doesn't have millions, only a passion for the People and Their Rights. And it impressed Hallett less than his observations of Shamansky's staff, which struck him as first-rate.

So why is Shamansky, "who spent a minute or two in Congress twenty-five years ago," vying once again to become the 12th District's representative? Not, apparently, to spare Democrats like me the ignominy of tripping a lever for Mr. People and Their Rights. Rather, he sees the Bush administration as incompetent, the Republican-dominated Congress as a disgrace -- these are not exactly profound observations -- and Patrick Tiberi as a softer, gooier version of Sam Devine.

Which for all I know isn't far from the mark. In six years I've never heard of Tiberi doing a damned thing, nor have I even received, to my knowledge, one of those starchy "Your Congressman Reports to You!" bits of franked mail that used to be de rigueur.

But let's face it. Suppose Shamansky unseats Tiberi in November. How likely is he to hang on to the 12th District for any length of time? How effective is he likely to be? Why can't the Ohio Democratic Party cultivate some young blood with grit, guts, and staying power, someone with a too bold, too booming voice? Someone likely to really make a difference?

Am I going to vote for Shamansky? Sure. What the hell else can I do? And I hope he wins in November because I don't think the country can afford a continued Republican majority in Congress and every defeated Republican is a step in the right direction. And I'll give Shamansky closer scrutiny than I have so far managed to do. But I've got a suspicion that what we've got here is a yellow dog with money.

Upcoming Forum: Separation of Church and State

Cross-posted from Radical Civility

On Sunday I made it to church -- well, mostly -- and arrived in plenty of time to warble tunelessly through a couple of hymns before listening to the liturgical reading a sermon. The sermons at North Church UCC bear only a nodding acquaintance to those I heard in my evangelical past. There's no verse by verse exegesis, for instance -- not that I ever found that sort of thing exciting. Rather, the day's scriptural text served as a jumping off point for mobilizing the congregation in favor of greater community and political activism -- for with the mid-term election now just two months away, it's time to either organize or cede the political battleground to the Christian right.

After church about a dozen of us hung around to participate in one of several "listening sessions" apparently being organized under the auspices of the Industrial Areas Foundation Ohio and, even more to the point, We Believe Ohio. The focus was to ask attendees, "What is the one thing the next governor of Ohio could do to make life in Ohio easier for your family and community?" The purpose of the sessions, ultimately, was

  • To identify the issues for our Faith Vote Columbus agenda platform which are most widely and deeply felt across congregations and neighborhood associations.
  • To identify leadership for the Fall 2006 voter mobilization effort.
  • To identify stories and testimonies which exemplify the issues of our agenda of our aganda platform.
  • To create a broad, diverse constituency that has the experience of listening and of being listening to.
Here's the rest of the game plan:

The point of the operation is to create a sort of counterweight to the legally questionable but politically effective efforts of the Fairfield Christian Church's Ohio Restoration Project and the World Harvest Church's Reformation Ohio, both of which function brazenly as religious PACs (political action committees). The key difference between the contemplated effort by We Believe Ohio and those of the ORP and RO is the determination to operate within the restrictions imposed by the IRS concerning partisan political activity.

Some of us approach the task with misgivings about the wisdom of entangling our Christian witness with the rough and tumble of electoral politics. Underscoring this ambivalence about partipation by religious organizations in the political process is an ambitious forum being organized by a member of my church, the indefatigable Leslie K. Although a moderator and additional panelists are still being lined up, the heavy hitters are already in place. These include:

  • Marc Owens, JD, Former Director, Exempt Organizations Divisions, IRS, Washington DC office. His thorough grasp of the relevant IRS codes were indispensable in crafting a stong case against the excesses of the ORP and RO.

The forum will be held on Sunday, October 8, from 2:00 to 4:00 PM in the Vern Riffe Center, Columbus.

Basically, this event will be required viewing for anyone interested in the question of church involvement in the political process.

Once I know more I'll start cobbling together a website devoted to the event. In the meantime, consider this a heads up.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

It's the Campaign Season Again

and consequently it's time to invest some effort in studying -- sigh -- the current political scene. I'm therefore going to embark much more frequently on politically-related posts. I thought about doing this on my other blog, Radical Civility, but then I figured, the central issues discussed over there are different, the tone of the comments is gratifyingly polite, and all in all I'd hate to pollute it with the hurly burly of partisan politics. So I'll do my politicking here.

Just by way of reminder: I'm a centrist Democrat who might easily be a moderate Republican if such animals still existed. But the fate of Christine Todd Whitman's PAC, My Party Too, has not exactly fired me with optimism on that score. Like it or not, the best organized and certainly the most effective Republicans are self-described conservative Republicans. I say "self-described" because it's usually unclear to me what exactly it is they're trying to conserve and in what meaningful sense they connect to the conservative tradition as historically understood. They basically strike me as stereotypical liberals with a different agenda. They overestimate the ability of government to re-engineer society -- the Iraq adventure is a case in point; they have not the slightest concern about the dangers of unchecked governmental power, so long as they themselves are in charge; and they have obviously forgotten a bedrock principle of conservatism: the law of unintended consequences.

Plus they whine a lot. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I could not imagine a political party that has controlled Congress since 1994 and the White House since 2000, to say nothing of so many governorships and statehouses and arguably the Supreme Court, rage about how besieged they are. I mean, can they possibly believe that?

The last thing -- and this is what really tears it with me -- is the way in which their style of politics, though undeniably successful at winning elections, contributes so signally to the coarsening of political discourse and the fraying of civility. Sure, there are plenty on the left who do the same thing, but there's also a big chunk of us in the center -- probably the majority -- who think it's bad for the country, both in terms of government and in terms of the general health of our society.

It's about time the Republicans took a big hit, because only a big hit is going to shake them loose from their current way of doing business and, hopefully, restore them to a GOP I could vote for and still respect myself.

PS to the Democrats: Get some ideas and grow some balls, will you?