Politics & Policy

A Taft Too Far

The Ohio GOP is in shambles--can Blackwell save it?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the October 10, 2005, issue of National Review.

Obsessive concern for tennis schedules isn’t usually regarded as one of Jimmy Carter’s virtues, but a similar attention to detail might have saved the Ohio GOP a lot of grief: On August 18, Republican governor Bob Taft pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts of failing to report golf outings and a variety of other gifts on his financial-disclosure forms. He became Ohio’s first sitting governor to be convicted of a criminal charge. There’s now a chance he’ll be stripped of his law license, just as Bill Clinton was following his admission of false testimony. Democrats in Columbus even began to mention that other word associated with Slick Willie–impeachment–but then realized that a scandal-plagued Taft is more useful to them than no Taft at all.

That’s because Democrats finally stand a good chance of breaking the Republicans’ lock on this swing state. Taft’s indiscretions are a key reason for the Democrats’ improved odds, but hardly the only one. More important is the Ohio GOP’s bizarre determination to refashion itself as a party of higher taxes and bigger government. Since the Republican sweep of 1994, no Democrat has held any of Ohio’s statewide offices. The GOP also dominates the legislature. Democrats have been so desperate to find candidates that they’ve even flirted with the idea of drafting talk-show buffoon Jerry Springer. Republicans, however, have used their period of uninterrupted rule to govern as anything but the fiscal conservatives most voters expect them to be. When they came to power, Ohio’s tax burden ranked 24th among the states. Today, it has risen to 7th. At the same time, spending has grown faster in Ohio than in any other state.

In next year’s race for governor, it will be difficult for Republicans to stick to the formula that has worked so well for them in recent years: slapping the label of tax-and-spend liberalism on Democrats. That will be especially true if they nominate yet another wobbly moderate for the state’s top job. “The environment out here is not very good for Republicans,” says David Hansen of the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank in Columbus. In next year’s primary, however, there’s a real possibility that GOP voters will chart a new course. Will their second thoughts come too late to make a difference?…

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John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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