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Ohio Party Politics: The Democrats

Friday, July 20, 2001 at 7:03 AM

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Being in the minority is often no fun, and perhaps no one in Ohio understands that more than Democrats occupying state government seats. Democrats have been out of power for a good decade now, and party leaders are itching to regain at least some of their former clout in Columbus. While elections for state offices are still more than a year away, Democratic strategies are beginning to take shape. In the second of two reports on party politics in Ohio, 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice looks at what Democrats see as their best chance for success in 2002.

Bill Rice- State Representative Bryan Flannery has had enough of being on the sidelines. Now in his second term in the House, the Lakewood Democrat says his proposals for school funding and tax policy have been ignored time and again by the Republican majority.

Bryan Flannery- Being in the minority party, it’s very frustrating. It’s something where you don’t expect to get anything, but you try to contribute and do things for Ohioans.

BR- Flannery says he’s seriously looking at foregoing an easy re-election bid in 2002 to run for Secretary of State. And, as a young Democrat, now might be the perfect time to do it. Ohio voters have shown a pattern of turning over power every ten to fifteen years or so. Republicans have been in charge since 1991, and Flannery feels the power pendulum may begin to swing back toward Democrats.

BF- Republicans are making a lot of mistakes, and there’s opportunity there. And so what I’m trying to do is position myself to be there, to be one of the statewide candidates who is successful next year to win a statewide office.

BR- Flannery is one of a lengthy list of Democrats who feel opportunity brewing. Party Chair David Leland points to signs of discord and tension within the majority party ranks, such as disagreement over how best to satisfy a court order to fix Ohio’s method of funding public schools, and attempts by legislative leaders to override certain line-item vetoes during the recent budgeting process. Leland is animated about the possibility of a democratic resurgence, not so much in the legislature as in state executive seats, especially the governorship. And he’s aggressive when it comes to casting the opposition in a negative light.

David Leland- The Republican Party has been a complete disaster. We call it the Taft administration’s four F’s for failures. Failure to educate 1.8 million school children, a failure to make a commitment to higher education. Failure to manage the largest single budget…

BR- Whether these issues will resonate with voters enough to give democrats a leg up is a big question. That’s according to Kent State University Political Science Professor Melanie Blumberg.

Melanie Blumberg- I think if you’re talking about discreet issues - issues like school funding, issues like the problems at Jobs and Family Services or any single issue you can possibly think of, I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to make a difference.

BR- Blumberg, who studies, among other things, the political behavior of populations, says most people aren’t concerned so much with insider politics as they are with issues that directly affect them. She suspects the economy will have the most influence on voters, and a continued faltering of the economy could bode well for democrats. Equally important, she says, is the candidate himself - or herself, although no women hopefuls for governor have so far surfaced. That person will have to be charismatic, experienced, and, above all, centrist.

MB- You can’t have a candidate who is uni-dimensional who will just appeal to the democratic stronghold. You need someone who is more salable to a spectrum of people, like the business community, as well as people who care about social issues and the like, who is more Clintonesque.

BR- The search is on for such a candidate, and Democratic Party chair David Leland cites several possibilities, including former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, U.S. Congressman Sherrod Brown, and State Senator Eric Fingerhut, all of Northeast Ohio. Leland says he welcomes a wide field of potential candidates now, but he’d like to see that field whittled down to one and avoid a primary.

DL- While I’m interested in talking to lots of people and making sure we have the strongest candidate possible, I also want to make sure we come together as a party and coalesce around one candidate so we put the strongest effort against Bob Taft or whoever winds up running in 2002.

BR- Some analysts agree with Democrat Bryan Flannery that Republicans are in defense mode. But a lot can happen in a year and four months, including effective GOP damage control. And that could significantly hamper the chances of a democratic comeback. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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