By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Although he realizes a tax increase for the state is probably needed, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan said it would be near political suicide for him to endorse one now.
"I'll be damned if I'll be put in a situation where [Gov. Bob Taft] hasn't done anything about raising revenues for 31/2 years, and that forces me to be the tax-hike guy," Hagan said Wednesday during a meeting with The Vindicator. "I won't buy into that. The Republicans should be held accountable. They're in control now, and they're getting away with posturing."
If he defeated Taft, a Republican, in the November general election, Hagan said he would work with the state Legislature to address the state's budgetary crisis. But he admits it will be a challenge because many in the Republican-controlled Legislature oppose any kind of tax increase.
"As governor, you have the ultimate ability to shape the agenda and if you can't get the Legislature to listen, you go to the public," he said.
Hagan said he would support some form of gambling, although he did not give specifics, to help raise money for the state.
"We're hypocritical about gambling in the state," he said. "When I was a kid [in the Mahoning Valley], you could place a bet on any corner in" Youngstown.
Hagan acknowledges that he trails Taft, but he hopes to make up ground between now and the November general election.
"If you're betting today, you'd bet on Taft," Hagan said. "I have to work very hard. I have to spend all of my time on the road. I'm at a disadvantage. I know what I'm up against. I'm not fooling myself. I've got an uphill battle. I understand what the challenge is."
Hagan, who has raised about $400,000 for his campaign to date, expects to raise between $2.5 million and $3 million by November. He said Taft could raise upwards of $12 million for his re-election effort.
Hagan, who is unopposed in the Democratic Party May primary, said Taft has done nothing to distinguish himself in his first term as governor and is leading Ohio down a path that will cause more hardships for the state. If elected, Hagan wants to focus his attention on investing in education and job growth.
Criticism for party
Hagan criticized the Ohio Democratic Party for failing to raise money for statewide candidates, including himself. Hagan said the state party should have raised between $1 million and $2 million for his gubernatorial run, pointing to the $1.62 million given to Taft from the Ohio, Franklin County and Hamilton County Republican parties.
Hagan is counting on the Democratic-dominated Mahoning Valley to help him during the gubernatorial race. Hagan grew up in Girard and is a son of the late Robert E. Hagan, a former Trumbull County commissioner and state legislator. One of his brothers, Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, is a state senator.
"I was born and raised and shaped by this community, and I have a real attachment to this area," said Hagan, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner.
Although proud of his association with the Valley, Hagan said the area does not have a pristine reputation in the rest of the state. During a recent trip to Dayton, Hagan said he was asked about his hometown and when he said it was Youngstown, the reaction was not positive.
"The public's perception outside this community is pretty devastating," he said.
Much of that poor reputation has to do with political corruption, Hagan said, specifically citing the recent federal conviction of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. on racketeering and bribery charges.
"He betrayed the people he represented," Hagan said of Traficant, who defeated the gubernatorial candidate's brother, Robert, in the 2000 Democratic congressional primary. "Hopefully, he'll go quietly into the night."