By Bertram de Souza
Not long after the November 2006 general election in which Ohio Democrats captured all but one of the statewide administrative offices, state Sen. John Boccieri, D-33rd, suggested that his party was poised to take control of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2008. Boccieri pointed out that a four-seat swing would change the balance of power.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to this year’s general election in November. Well, perhaps not so funny — but certainly disastrous for state Democrats. Their chances of taking over the House have dwindled to a precious few; the sure-thing that once was the presidential election in the Buckeye State is now a toss-up; and, despite the popularity of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, the party is being looked at by Ohioans with same jaundiced eye they had reserved for Republicans two years ago.
So, what happened to cause this political implosion?
At the top of the list is the scandal in the attorney general’s office during the 16-month tenure of AG Marc Dann of Liberty Township.
Dann resigned in shame after admitting to having an affair with his scheduler and after his director of general services, Anthony Gutierrez, also of Liberty Township, was accused by two female employees of sexual harassment. Gutierrez was fired by Dann (a few months before his own fall from grace), as was another crony, Leo Jennings III of Poland, the communications director. A fourth friend, Edgar Simpson, the chief of staff, resigned.
But being out of sight has not meant being out mind. Each week brings a new revelation about the goings-on in the attorney general’s office during Dann’s tenure.
It is clear that as the criminal and civil investigations unfold, there will be charges filed against the former attorney general and his cronies. And, because of the timing of the probes, this continuing saga could bump up against the Nov. 4 general election.
Republicans are going to have a field day. They’ve been gunning for Dann ever since he tagged them with the very persuasive “pay to play” tag stemming from the influence that Thomas Noe, a major Republican contributor, had with GOP officeholders and others.
Dann, at the time a state senator, showed that Noe had used his connections to get a major contract with the state. Voters decided to punish the GOP by giving Democrats the reins of power in state government. The only administrative office the Democrats did not win was state auditor.
Now, payback is a ... morally corrupt former attorney general.
It doesn’t matter that Strickland and other Democrats moved quickly to force Dann’s removal. The brand has been damaged.
Add to that scandal the fact that the presidential election in Ohio is slipping through Democrats’ fingers as a result of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama being the party’s nominee-in-waiting.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s primary win in Ohio led party elders to believe they would be able to hold on to this battleground state with her as the nominee. Four years ago, the GOP snatched victory for President Bush. That win in Ohio gave Bush a second term.
But although Clinton won all the major states, Obama emerged as the ultimate victor.
The Republicans won in 2004 by bringing out voters that Democrats had not considered: Right-wing Bible thumpers. They did so by placing on the general election ballot an issue that carried a warning: If Ohio does not pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, gays will flood the state to claim marital benefits.
“The homos are coming” strategy worked.
This November, the GOP, covertly of course, will play into the fears of a black man with a Muslim middle name, Hussein, occupying the White House.
If that doesn’t resonate, they will launch another morality play — this time against casino gambling.
And the simpleton voters who followed blindly four years ago will not think to ask Republicans why they haven’t used their majorities in the House and Senate to get rid of the state lottery, horse racing and bingo.