Wednesday, May 21, 2008

History Lesson, Ohio-Style

Got this interesting news release across the ether today from the good folks up at Garfield's historic center in Mentor -- for those of you looking for nice day trips, Lawnfield is worth the visit and brings a sense of where Ohio stood when the nation was rebuilding after the Civil War. Nice to get a history lesson that applies so strongly to today. The more things change, the more things seem to stay the same...

“…I took the 7.30 P.M. train for Chicago. I go with much reluctance, for I dislike the antagonisms and controversies which are likely to blaze out in the convention.”

Diary of James A. Garfield
Friday, May 28, 1880, enroute to
the Republican National Convention

Political pundits, left, right, and center, are asking what would happen if the Democrats fail to select a candidate this spring, and go to the August convention in Denver still very divided. Occasionally someone asks, “Has anything like this happened before?” Yes, in the spring of 1880, the Republicans were as divided as the Democratic Party is today.

In 1880, the Republican Party had no clear leader. Rutherford Hayes (R., Ohio) was president, but his term in office was tainted by the bitter battle that put him there. He had announced that he would not seek re-election. U.S. Grant (R., Illinois) had been president before Hayes. He left office after two terms under a cloud of scandal. But he had just returned from a triumphal world tour and was anxious to return to the White House for a third term as President.

Unfortunately for Grant and his supporters, a lot of Republicans remembered the graft and corruption of his presidency. Many opposed a third term for any president, although it was allowed by the Constitution then. So when the Republicans held their convention in Chicago in early June, 1880, Grant was supported by the largest bloc of delegates. But he did not have enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot.

The “anybody but Grant” Republicans were led by James G. Blaine (R., Maine), Secretary of the Treasury and former Speaker of the House. A smaller group, led by Congressman James A. Garfield, supported Ohio Senator John Sherman. Several “favorite son” candidates were also nominated. But the anti-Grant faction could not muster a majority for any one of those candidates.

Until the second half of the 20th century, nominating conventions actually did choose each party’s candidate. Delegates were elected at district and state conventions, and often were required to vote as instructed by the state party on the first ballot. After that, delegates were free to change their vote. That’s when the wheeling and dealing began.

At the 1880 Republican convention, 379 votes were needed to secure the nomination. On the first ballot, U. S. Grant got 304 votes, Blaine had 284, Sherman received 93. The chairman of the convention announced that no one had received the number of votes needed to nominate, and asked the clerk to call the roll for the second ballot. By the end of the first day of voting the clerk had called the roll 28 times and there was almost no change in the tally—Grant had 307 votes, Blaine 279 on the 28th ballot.

The voting continued the next day. On ballot number 34, at the end of the roll call of states, Wisconsin announced two votes for Grant, two for Blaine, and 16 votes for James A. Garfield of Ohio. Everyone at the convention knew Garfield. He had served in the House of Representatives for eight terms, and was Ohio’s senator-elect. Although he had confessed to his diary that he “dislike[d] the antagonism and controversies” of political maneuvering, Garfield was recognized by all the delegates as a party leader and perhaps the best orator in the nation. He had given the nominating speech for John Sherman a few days earlier. He was not a candidate for president. But on the 35th ballot, Blaine signaled that Maine, and all his supporters, should vote for Garfield. In the longest nominating process in the history of the Republican Party, James Garfield won the nomination with 399 votes. Grant had 306 votes on the last ballot. A delegate declared, “It was the escape of a tired convention.”

Obviously the Grant supporters were bitterly disappointed. They had remained firmly committed to their candidate through every ballot. Some delegates accused Garfield of disloyalty to Sherman, for whom he had been a delegate. A Blaine supporter said, “We have not got the man we came up hoping to nominate but we have got a man in whom we have the greatest and most profound confidence.” Garfield had not actively sought the nomination, and he wasn’t the first choice of any delegate, but most recognized his capacity to unite the party for the fall campaign. As his first step toward re-establishing party unity, the stunned victor selected a Grant supporter, Chester A. Arthur of New York, as his running-mate.

The 1880 Republicans did have a few advantages that the Democrats might not have this year. The convention was in June, so there was plenty of time to work on reunification. In fact, what had divided the Republicans was a question of power and patronage, not policy. And the Republicans of 1880 were able to turn to a well-respected and skilled candidate as their compromise choice. It seems now that the two strongest candidates the Democrats have available to them in 2008 are Senators Clinton and Obama. But if no conclusion is reached by June, the stalemated party could begin to look for a third person to carry their banner, someone unscarred by the battles of the spring.

But they should be warned that the 1880 Republican Party never completely healed the wounds inflicted at their convention. The Garfield-Arthur ticket did win in November, in the closest election in terms of popular votes the nation has seen. A disgruntled Grant supporter then assassinated President Garfield in the summer of 1881, and Chester Arthur limped through the remainder of the term without any significant accomplishments.

In the 47th Congress (1881-1883) the Republicans held only a small majority in the House of Representatives, and the Senate was tied. They were able to gain a majority in the Senate, but lost control of the House in the 48th Congress (1883-1885). Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected the 22nd president in 1884. He is the only Democrat to have won the White House between 1861 and 1913. So the 1880 nomination battle certainly wounded the Republicans politically—a lesson today’s Democrats might want to remember.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Welcome to the Red Planet

Now here's something REALLY cool...getting an up-close look at the almost-one-step for man on Mars. Check out this AkronNewsNow/AP interactive to get a better sense of just how the latest lander on the Angry Planet will do it's thing.

Sometimes it's tough being a Star Trek fan...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

PM: It's Post Marc Time

Now that Dann's done who steps up to the plate to preserve the Democrat's near-total hold on state government's executive offices?

The talk of the town made it back to Youngstown without any major stopovers; his wife had a hand-written note for reporters waiting outside noting the family wanted privacy while showing some respect for the scribes, not surprising since she's a journalism professor at YSU; here's hoping he made her breakfast this morning since he has more time on his hands before trying to figure out how he'll make a living after spectacularly flaming out of the big time along the Scioto.
Now the really hard work for politicians begins, because pushing Marc Dann out of office wasn't the hard work. The door is open again for Republicans to get more than one foot on the doorjam, the opportunity to see to it that Mary Taylor isn't the only hope for a GOP sorely in need of a statewide cocktail.

Amidst all the fuss over which Democrat will replace Dann for a term lasting approximately six months tops -- is it former AG Lee Fisher, the thoughtful Eric Fingerhut, Cuyahoga Prosecutor Bill Mason or Governor Ted Strickland's able-bodied counsel Kent Markus?

Conventional wisdom suggests the Governor needs to move quickly to get an adult in the job, and someone who can run as an independent and not just a more mature baby-sitter holding down the fort after Dann's demise. That would put the ball squarely in Lee Fisher's court with a proven track record of statewide races, name recognition, and nobody -- even his critics -- paint him as just another incoming president of the Delta House fraternity. When Ted talks about making "maturity" his top consideration, there's a photo of Lee Fisher above the quotation marks.

What, then, do the Republicans do? This is likely to be an ugly year for the GOP, ugly with a capitol UGH. John McCain at the top of the ticket in economically-depressed Ohio is like taking swings from the dugout instead of the batters box; a state that went hard for Hillary isn't likely to be marching in lock-step behind a candidate many conservatives still fret isn't "right" enough. With recession, war and $4.00 gasoline on voter's minds local Republicans have every right to be nervous about keeping their folks on target, much less convincing right-leaning independents and Democrats that it's OK to stray in November.

With numbers of voters openly identifying themselves as members of the Republican party as low as they've been in generations is this the time for statewide candidates to hurl themselves atop the November funeral pyre? That kind of action is usually reserved for hapless Democrat statewide races (see: Bob Burch and Tim Hagan) but the chance for the GOP to take an actual bite of the apple again before 2010 will be hard to pass up. Betty Montgomery would be a strong candidate despite the Noe tar-and-feathering she took in 2006, simply because she runs as a credible adult (and it doesn't hurt the guy holding the tar brush went down in flames himself) and still maintains statewide support among grass-root Republican organizations. Among the other lawyers who can (or have) held the job: Jim Petro, who was unable to stop conservative Ohio Republicans from committing Ken-icide with the Blackwell campaign loss to Strickland.

Then again, it's baby elephant versus a herd of adult donkeys in the race and with such lukewarm support for the top of the ticket the Dann stumble may not be enough to convince voters a trip down memory lane is worth the trouble for a down-ticket job opening.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BREAKING Dann End Draws Near

Too much activity from "sources" -- primarily quoted in the latest AP release were the Dispatch and Plain Dealer -- that Marc Dann's days may now be hours. The final straw appears to be the decision by Democrat lawmakers to make good on their threat to impeach Dann for his crimes.

What crimes? Nine counts, says Akron Democrat State Rep Brian Williams in a conversation with relating the big step. It didn't help that Governor Strickland quickly followed up with comments that he supported the move, even after last week's comments that he wouldn't support impeachment unless they could prove something criminal.

What was happening in the AG's office, and the impact on Democrats just getting used to holding power in Ohio again, is apparently criminal enough and even Dann's decision to bluster on despite just about every former friend he ever had standing on the other side of the street can't withstand the very public humiliation impeachment would bring. The filing alone by Democrats, even without the official push it would need from Republicans at the Statehouse, looks like enough to do the trick and this game of political chicken appears to be over.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

If Politics Truly Was Sport

If politics truly is a sport then why is everyone screaming for Hillary to get out of the race before the final second ticks down on the clock?

Watching the Sunday talk shows this morning, the message was hammered home again and again and again: she's hurting the party by continuing to run. Even though Obama hasn't wrapped it up yet with the clinching vote?

Imagine the outcry were Eric Wedge to just decide what the hell, Joba's too good a pitcher so why even duke it out one more inning if the Indians are a run behind the Yankees?

For that matter, why should the Blue Jays yesterday continue to even play the game after coughing up six runs in the first inning en route to the Tribe's crushing 12-zip win? They continue to play because that's what they do -- and it's a nine inning game unless the home team is winning after eight and a half or if the score is tied after regulation.

Given the thought from the political talking heads Sunday, one would think it would be OK for LeBron to tell the rest of the James Gang that it really doesn't make sense to drag everyone out to the Q for a pair of games. For the good of the NBA, let's just hand it to the Celtics so they can move on to eventually playing Kobe and the Lakers and everyone can wax poetic about the Bird v Magic years.

But that's not the way the game is played; in the NBA the final two minutes of the game often provide the most compelling action of the entire game, and we still have three weeks to go before the Democratic Party appoints a nominees (at least in name only; that actually will happen in Denver this summer.)

Is Obama cruising along to a win? Sure, even the most rabid Clinton fans have to admit the O-line is chugging along with momentum. But it's not over until the Lady sings goodnight, and Hillary still has three weeks to prove some of her points and make sure she's positioned her side well for the next race should she get the chance. She's not where she is because she's a quitter and like her or not she understands much better than the experts who aren't putting their names on the ballot what it takes to run the race.

She's not John Edwards with a couple of dozen votes going up against hundreds; she's the second biggest stick in the lineup with a batting average pretty close to number one. History shows that while the batting champ gets the glory that season the one that gets into the Hall of Fame is the one who keeps swinging the big bat consistently over a career.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Impeach This!

Those folks still chomping at the bit for a Dann impeachment will have to wait at least a weekend longer, and educated guessing puts the wait at a lot longer than that, too.

Governor Ted Strickland notes in a Columbus Dispatch interview that any impeachment should hold to a strict standard, even as strict as that required for an indictment. Of course, there's an old joke about prosecutors getting a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich but we'll keep ourselves focused on the real-life and away from lunch.

On tonight's PBS 45/49 NewsNight Akron reporter chat-fest we continue to play more NewsNight Dann with updates on the current spate of political thinking of the Dann mess, how Democrats are now stepping back a bit from their rush to push Dann out with impeachment pressure talk and how the GOP is the slow-things-down and let's deliberate positioning led by Medina County Republican Bill Batchelder. No real surprises, but tying an impeachment to an indictment raises the bar considerably in a case that so far has a slimy but decidedly non-criminal act on the part of the Attorney General: straying from the home fires is not a crime. It is certainly stupid and disrespectful to the woman he promised to love and honor, and it may be grounds to pursue civil sexual harassment and nasty workplace lawsuits, but it isn't exactly criminal activity.

That said, the ongoing probe by the Ohio State Highway Patrol may be the best opportunity to determine if laws were broken. In similar fashion to Richard Nixon in the 70s and Bill Clinton in the 90s, the big question becomes what did he know and when did he know it? Did Dann have knowledge his top communications aide, as noted in the AG's own investigation, advised a co-worker and friend to sidestep investigator questions? Did disgraced former aide Tony Gutierrez really have mob connections as insinuated when showing off to the ladies? Did any connections play a part in illegal use of state vehicles, expenses or even campaign-paid reimbursements?

Without answers to the questions of criminal behavior -- even misdemeanor -- all the talk of impeachment is just talk. While Ohio's law is pretty broad on reasons to impeach it does mention breaking the law, even a misdemeanor, and so far Dann himself is guilty of poor management at the office and poor performance as an elected official and husband.

If those are impeachable offenses let's get ready to fill lots of government positions.

- - -

Program note: WAKR's Ray Horner had an in-studio appearance scheduled for Monday morning's show with Dann, but the Attorney General office is backing away and scrubbed the appearance. No brain surgery here on the why, especially with his request honored by the Beacon Journal to not record his appearance before their editorial board (neither audio nor video); Steve Hoffman reminds me and readers of his column that Dann was very insistent there is "nothing" they can hold him to that would be criminal.

- - -

A very personal observation on why CAK is a better way to go than CLE: I had a business trip to Washington, D.C. at mid-week that had me use Baltimore-Washington rather than Reagan National (about $700 reasons to fly BWI) and put up with the inconvenience of a 45-minute train ride ($12 round trip) into D.C. As always the airport in Cleveland appears dirtier and worn-out, especially in comparing new terminal areas at BWI. This trip the security at CLE was a breeze but when I returned once again it was a hassle using Concourse D where Continental's baby regional flights terminate. That's the half-mile jaunt using a mix of moving sidewalks and two sets of four-story stairs or escalators, and again moving is a relative term. This time the four sets of moving sidewalks did work but the up escalator to the main terminal didn't. For all the business CLE gets can't they keep these things working? Conversations with total strangers familiar with both airports have a clear preference for Akron-Canton; if only some of the flight schedules were more convenient.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dann Sad Story

We are at the intersection of bad news and worst news when it comes to living in Dann's world these days; on a national basis he can probably thank God there's an election in North Carolina and Indiana tomorrow otherwise the only other big story would be killer storms in Myanmar and thousands dead and that's not enough for a hungry national media audience to pass up something as juicy as this story. It is actually a wonder this hasn't hit red-hot overdrive given the Spitzer Siege; so far no camping outside Dann's home on Nancy Grace.

Just about every conceivable friend in the world is urging him to step down; nary a single "wait a moment, give the sinner time to repent" from the Columbus crowd now crowing for his head. Not just on a platter, mind you; this has to be a pike at the Statehouse Gates, to serve as an example that hanky-panky won't be tolerated at the domeless seat of power.

Poor Marc Dann, to be the one carrying the standard to slay Betty Montgomery, the GOP's best chance to hold on to a constitutional office in the 2006 bloodbath, only to be undone by Hawaiian pizza and a penchant for living the fraternity life away from the family. Propelled to power by Coingate, now condemned to political purgatory by Pizzagate. As a friend with a wicked sense of humor writes from Washington, counting coins should not have led to counting condoms.

Today, Stephanie Warsmith reports Dann talked for an hour with the Beacon Journal's editorial board (note to ABJ: record these things...put 'em on the web before the next day) as Governor Strickland played Dean Wormer and told the Delta House president his fraternity was finished, partly because he didn't fall on the same sword he used to lower the boom on his closest lieutenants. Now it's left up to the Democrats to do the smart thing, which they say they will now pursue: they will move to impeach one of their own, in the hopes of ending their nightmare before it becomes a long statewide march to a very public execution of any hope Dann has of rehabilitation and a future as a political player -- although something tells me the days of actually being a player should be counted on a single hand.

To impeach you need something criminal, and there are plenty of questions still needing an answer: payments for the frat house, state cars wrecked, state workers boozing it up, charges of sexual harassment and general abuse of power and just plain decency in the office. One woman says she was afraid of claims Anthony Gutierrez made that he was connected to the mob to spur a hop in the sack. The folks at the Bureau of Criminal Identification (Ohio's BCI is our nearest thing to CSI) have to be waiting for the call for this thing to go into overdrive since the Attorney General's their boss.

Are DNA samples on pizza boxes next?

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Columbus Delta House

One of the most compelling story lines of politics (and life in general) comes when chickens roost; in the sad case of Marc Dann's rise to power and today's fall from grace comes lessons which ought to be required courses for those communications and poli-sci majors who are grooming themselves to become the next James Carville or Karl Rove.

In another of the industry's ironic moments Dann, who campaigned on a wave of ethics reform and high-minded judgment good enough to unseat the formerly-unbeatable Betty Montgomery, is now causing Democrats to mull over musical chairs a year and a half post-taking power in one of the state's most important offices. It is the lead on tonight's NewsNight Akron program on PBS 45/49 (shameless plug) with almost all the elements needed to move from current events to HBO drama.

Dann, in an Eliot Spitzer-like moment, looks into the camera and begs the forgiveness of his family, friends, supporters, co-workers and most of all fellow citizens for the lapses in thinking that led him to an affair with a woman who worked for him. Two faithful lieutenants (one of them, Leo Jennings III, is well-known in Akron circles for his political media work) fall on their swords for trying to keep everything hush-hush; another gets the outright boot for his behavior in a tale that includes drunken driving and debauchery in Ohio's very own Capitol Animal House.

It has been ten years since the nation watched the President of the most powerful nation on earth explain what "is" meant and how sex really wasn't sex; in the past decade we've seen a U.S. Senator face charges for toe-tapping in a men's room, a U.S. Congressman fall from grace for pursuing pages, another U.S. Senator wrapped up in a D.C. call girl scandal that led to suicide, and most recently New York's Governor skip out of office for high-priced call girls. What, don't these guys read newspapers, watch TV or listen to the radio?

We can't say what Dann was thinking when he used campaign funds to set up that hip bachelor pad for swingers; we can't imagine what went through his mind when underlings messed up again and again and again without retribution from the man who rode the surf of outrage over counting coins and insider dealing to become Ohio's top lawyer; we can't explain why he stepped over those boundary lines every husband -- every husband -- knows is the marriage line of death. The list of public figures who haven't made the connection to destruction because of private failings grows by one more, adding another line to the laugh riot that is American and Ohio politics.

This is tragic because Dann's wife and children deserve far better than the sympathy going their way while the public ridicule envelopes him. It's sad for the Strickland Administration which has been trying to prove government can handle it's business the way voters expect their business to be done. We don't vote for our leaders because they are like us; we vote for our leaders because we want to believe they will represent what's best about us, and this isn't the best.

The Republicans predictably are calling for Dann to step down, but that's like Democrats in 2005 calling for Bob Taft to step down: the GOP's best interests are for Dann to tough it out, fight for his job and make as many public appearances as he can to apologize and promise he'll do better. The wishlist for Republican party leaders is for the opposite, giving them what Tom Noe gave Dann and the Democrat party what it wanted most in 2006: a face, a poster boy, a target to use to convince voters weary of scandal that neither side has clean hands. That would take the high ground held since January 2007 by the Ted Administration in Columbus and give the GOP what they know doesn't exist in 2008 following the economy, gas prices and war: a door back in.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

GOP: Alex Primer 101

Now that the free world can catch it's breath with the factional intramural over (at least for a day) on the Summit County GOP front here's some observations and thoughts coming out of Alex's victories and one small step turning into a giant leap for the opposition.

First, it was pretty clear from the start that despite the appearance of chaos with a full house squeezing into tight Tangier quarters the A-team had a plan and strategy, and it included making the New Summit Republicans eat some of their own strategy. Tops: you wanted a secret ballot, you'll live with it. With party cameras rolling to keep everything on-the-record -- a nice lesson learned from the impact of Jennifer Brunner's deposition -- Alex Arshinkoff cloaked himself in the Mr. Fairness mantra, telling his own supporters they had to sit in place and not escape to the bathroom as each vote was called out one-by-one, all 365 counted. That set the tone on just how long it would take this game to play out by the NSR's wishes and most in the crowd clearly wanted to get going, especially after seeing the Arshinkoff forces work up a dominating more than 2-to-1 vote margin. Voting by raised hands was a no-brainer after that.

I don't think the threat of "intimidation" voiced by the NSR's had a thing to do with it; it had everything to do with individual convenience and comfort, a basic consideration in event planning and something clearly taken into account by Arshinkoff. He could easily afford to overrule his own vocal supporters when they booed or tried to silence NSR's Kevin Coughlin, imploring them to let Kevin be heard. It's easy to be magnanimous when you hold the cards, and the first vote was a clear sign Alex was ready to clear the table.

There's been plenty of confusion on just what post does what: a colleague called this morning trying to figure it out as well, asking who won to be the party boss? The answer in politics, as in the military, is never that simple. The strategy of securing the overall Central Committee chair position was brilliant and clearly set the NSR's on their heels. They could only watch as Arshinkoff extended every possible courtesy to make sure there were few grounds to grumble they'd been run over by the A-train. Carol Klinger, prepared to campaign, found herself a warrior without battlefield when the decision was Arshinkoff versus Varian. Even some of the more vocal Alex critics think the GOP was skunked by Brunner's decision to insert herself in local GOP politics and it isn't much of a leap to see Democrat meddling underneath the rocks. Local republicans may be paranoid...but that doesn't mean Wayne Jones isn't out to get them.

What makes this struggle fascinating is just how political skill and maneuvering, despite the overreaching and some nasty tactics, played a role in Arshinkoff's victory. It was clearly his crowd last night, showing the NSR's have more work ahead in building their parallel organization. For all the talk of party building, the best strategy for NSR is to make sure they put a majority of their own butts in those Central Committee seats so they don't even need to sabre-rattle over rules. Arshinkoff knew how to run his meeting: his lieutenants Jack Morrison and Jim Laria had their orders and troops ready to go and it didn't hurt that the "surprise" move to run for Central Committee chair meant the fight over who would chair the Executive Committee didn't mean a thing. It took away the standard from the NSR's standard-bearer, leaving them with a front man tainted by the stench of the Board of Election's musical chairs whether he deserved the criticism or not.

It's important to note there are TWO chair positions in most party structures: the Central Committee boss usually runs the annual meeting, presides over the annual dinners and can serve as a figurehead. The Executive Committee is where the heavy lifting comes in providing people, vote support, organization and money and those folks don't even have to be members of the Central Committee. The EC has it's own chair and while that position usually serves to run the day-to-day, Ohio law pretty much allows local political parties to set their own guidelines and structure as long as they don't go overboard and start trampling over the rest of the Ohio Revised Code. It's why Brunner's actions seem so heavy-handed; government has a long tradition of being formed by politics but for the most part staying out of how political parties want to do their business. It's the ultimate expression of Capitalism: let the parties (business) do their thing and let the voter (buyer) sort it all out when it's time to buy

Important to note: Arshinkoff was ready with strategy supporting his rules, including plans to revise the rules; he had his slate of officers up-front and clearly expressed and listening to his slate for Executive Committee, which includes Klinger and other critics, shows he knows the wisdom of the old adage about keeping your friends close but keep your enemies closer. Working with the NSR quiets the storm and helps refocus the party message on candidates. His message of putting the rancor behind everyone and work toward November positions him as a uniter, taking away a top issue his critics use against him. When he says he wants resources used to help candidates instead of in-fighting it has resonance with rank-and-file Republicans who would like to see more wins and less sibling squabbling.

There were bright spots for the NSR effort: 115 voters show there's a chink in the armour and serves to keep the King aware he's being watched. It establishes a credibility baseline for the next challenge in two years, which should be enough time to do what they tried to accomplish in six months: truly build the grass roots support to the level where they can win and not just serve as the opposition.

The question leading into November is whether they will be loyal opposition; given the historic nature of the race at the top of the ticket and two solid candidates in Laria and Pry facing off for the County's top executive position makes sitting on the sidelines unpalatable but the GOP does have a record of preferring to be right than win (see: Goldwater in 1964) but even those occasions helped lay the groundwork for revolutions to come (see: Reagan in 1980, Bush in 2000) when managed correctly. 115 is a number that shows a good start; 260 shows the Old Guard is paying attention.