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


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