J. Caleb Mozzocco

State of Disunion

Ohio is a state of electoral contradictions. It is socially conservative enough to have one of the most muscular same-sex marriage amendments in the nation on its November ballot and its state government is completely in the Republican Party's control. At the same time, Ohio voters have opted for Bill Clinton twice, and there are hundreds of thousands of newly registered Democrats on the rolls.

Ohio likes to call itself "The Mother of Modern Presidents" because eight presidents came from Ohio, and because Virginia already had dibs on "Birthplace of Presidents." While John Kerry's defeat of Cleveland congressman Dennis Kucinich during the Democratic primaries guarantees that the next president won't be an Ohioan, that president is still going to have to at least come through – if not from – Ohio. This year Ohio can consider itself the "Midwife of Presidents."

Ohio's 20 electoral votes give it more than all but six other states, and of those six, only two of them are up for grabs – Pennsylvania and Florida. And while George W. Bush won Ohio in 2000, he did so only by a margin of 3.5%, or 165,000 votes, and only after Al Gore's campaign pulled out and abandoned the state 45 days before the election, mistakenly thinking Bush already had it locked down.

That's the practical rationale for the fevered campaigning in the state this year, though there's also the oft-cited trivia that no Republican has ever won the White House without first winning Ohio, and Ohio has successfully voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1960. As goes Ohio, so goes the country – or is that the other way around?

Neither Republican Red nor Democratic Blue, Ohio is technically "purple" in punditese, although it's recent history can make it look like more of a fuchsia. Democrats haven't won a statewide election in Ohio in 13 years, when the last Democratic governor left office. Since then, Republicans have (comfortably) controlled not only the governor's office but both houses of the state legislature, both U.S. Senate seats, two-thirds of the representatives to the U.S. House and every single non-judicial elective statewide office.

Of course, presidential politics is an entirely different matter than state politics, as Bill Clinton illustrated by winning the state twice during this Republican reign, so history can only go so far toward predicting how Ohio will vote. Especially considering the unpredictable issues involved this year – terrorism, war and the polarizing effect of President Bush – and the slew of out-of-state players coming in to get out the vote.

For a state used to flyover status, whose very capital city of Columbus is derisively nicknamed "Cowtown," all of this attention can be a little flattering – and a little wearisome. In the space of a few short summer weeks, the League of Pissed-Off Voters, Clothing Of The American Mind, Driving Votes, Fuck The Vote, Run Against Bush, Mothers Opposing Bush, Billionaires For Bush and sundry other anti-Bush activists have barnstormed Columbus. The city gets such attention lavished on it because Central Ohio is considered to be the most in-play part of an in-play state.

The other politically distinct sections of Ohio – referred to as "the Five Ohios" in a Cleveland Plain Dealer reported series – are easier to divide between political parties. The northeastern industrial area, including Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, is solidly liberal. The northwestern farm lands, whose only big city is Toledo, is very rural and tends to be fairly conservative. To the southeast is Ohio's section of Appalachia; low-income and often-ignored, it's chock full of veterans and conservatives. The southwest, including Dayton and Cincinnati, is the most reliably Republican part of the state.

The way for a party to win an Ohio election, traditionally, is to win big in the most loyal of their five Ohios, not lose too badly in the other party's Ohios, and make swinging central Ohio, consisting of Columbus and its sprawling suburbs, their own.

With a relatively steady economy driven by government, education and service jobs rather than manufacturing, central Ohio is immune to some of the problems afflicting the rest of the state. Cheap cost of living draws immigrants, including a surprisingly large Somali population, to Columbus, and Ohio State University and several other colleges attract students, teachers and campus hanger-on types from around the world. The results are a state government dominated by Republicans that does business in a city completely dominated by Democrats that is housed in a Republican-controlled county. The fact that the Bush and Kerry campaigns all but collide into one another as they campaign in and out of the area shows just how hard both are working to win it.

Demographics there, as throughout the rest of Ohio, have shifted dramatically since 2000. The Latino population, which often leans Democrat, has grown in the state, as it has throughout the country. Gay voters in the big cities who were split between Gore and Bush in 2000 will likely swing to Kerry this year after Bush's support of the so-called "federal marriage amendment." And Muslim voters, more populous in Ohio than many other states, are overwhelmingly turning on Bush, who won a majority of their support and endorsements in 2000.

If that all sounds like bad news for Bush, here's some good news – Ohio will most likely vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would make same-sex marriage even more illegal than it already is. If the issue continues to survive court challenges, conventional wisdom holds that social conservatives will have that much more motivation to show up at the polls. Phil Burress, chairman of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage that has been working to get the issue on the ballot, told the Toledo Blade in September that efforts to keep it off the ballot are to boost Kerry's chances of becoming president.

The most important demographic of all, however, may be new voters, who weren't even in play in 2000. According to the secretary of state's office, on Oct. 4 – the deadline to register to vote – Ohio had estimated 7.6 million registered voters, up 500,000 since the March primaries.

A recent analysis in the New York Times that has been warming the hearts of state Democrats found registration among Democrats to be up 250% over that in 2000, while registration among Republicans is only up 25%. That seems like a pretty clear advantage for Democrats, but Ohio Republican Party spokesman Jason Mauk isn't worried.

"Where we believe we have the upper hand is turnout," Mauk said. He notes that the Democrats have completely ceded registration efforts to independent ally groups like America Coming Together, Project Vote, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and others.

ACT has 200 canvassers working Ohio, and, together with their allies, have registered and talked issues with some 300,000 people, some of whom they've visited repeatedly. Project Vote says it registered 147,000.

But those numbers don't take into account change of address forms, double registration or invalid forms, Mauk said.

"You can go down to the local bus stop or the courthouse and see these folks blitzing the sidewalks, they'll sign up anyone on the street whether they're Republican or Democrat or independent," Mauk said. "We're confident that at the end of the day, the 200,000 people that we've registered are not only Republicans, but they are loyal supporters of President Bush and we will be able to turn them out on Election Day."

If they can't, then the Republicans could be in serious trouble, according to the Democrats' apparent registration advantage. State Sen. Mark Mallory, a Democrat from Cincinnati, a blue city in the reddest part of the state, said the registration advantage cited in the Times puts even his rock solid Republican county in play, since there's an 80-20 split favoring the Dems among new registrants there.

"Here's the situation: Al Gore lost Hamilton County by 38,000 votes in 2000," Mallory said. "We have registered 60,000 new people ...i f you do the 80-20 math I just laid out, we could quite possibly win Hamilton County. It is not out of the realm of possibility."

The major issue among Mallory's constituents is the same among those in every other part of the state.

"It's been the same for the last 30 years," State Sen. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, whose brother Tim Hagan was the last Democrat to unsuccessfully run for governor. "Jobs and more jobs."

Youngstown has been particularly hard hit by globalization and the dwindling of American manufacturing. These jobs are gone, and aren't coming back. Of course, if jobs have been an issue in Ohio, and the northeast in particular, for three decades, doesn't that give Bush a pass on the economy? Not quite. Hagan hope voters will associate the president with the Republican-friendly corporations that fled his Ohio. And as bad as the last 30 years may have been for Ohio's rust belt, the last few years have been worse.

Ohio lost well over 200,000 jobs in the last four years. The state was recently ranked 49th in year-to-year job growth among the states, and August's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, up from 6 percent in July (and way up from just over 3 percent four years ago), while the national rate in August was 5.4 percent and decreasing. Ohio had 370,000 unemployed workers in August, up from 354,000 in July.

A public school funding crisis has led to skyrocketing property taxes, and a recent budget shortfall led to a $3 billion tax increase, including a temporary 20 percent increase of the sales tax, extending taxes to new services like manicures and satellite television and increasing certain state fees.

Taken all together, that's enough to put the economy at the top of the list of issues concerning Ohio voters, above war and terrorism. Conventional wisdom holds that Democrats win when the economy is the issue, but State Sen. Teresa Fedor said she doesn't have a prediction one way or another on how Ohio will vote, apparently breaking a cardinal rule of campaign season – aren't partisan politicians always supposed to predict victory for their side?

"If the secretary of state conducts a fair and honest election, I believe Sen. Kerry will win Ohio and be the next president of the United States," the Toledo Democrat said, but that's a big if in her mind.

Apparently, being a must-win big swing state isn't the only thing Ohio has in common with Florida – it could also be ground zero in a scandal-plagued recount nightmare. At least, that's the message Democrats were pushing on Sept. 27, when they filed a lawsuit in federal court against Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, accusing him of trying to "cook the vote" through his directive on provisional balloting, and warning that he could be the "Katherine Harris of 2004" – minus the eye shadow, of course. By week's end, Fedor and other state senators were calling (in vain, it's safe to assume) for Blackwell's resignation.

Fedor's been fretting over the integrity of the election for well over a year now, when she first became aware of the dangers of electronic voting machines and had a hard time getting Blackwell to meet with her, or return her calls, or write back to her. Today she can tick off a list of strikes against Blackwell – he's been slow to respond to how many voters were purged from Ohio voter rolls and why, he disenfranchised ex-felons by misinforming them about their voting rights, he cited an arcane ruling that only registrations issued on 80-pound paper should be considered valid (at least until public pressure caused him to reverse it), and he sent a directive regarding provisional balloting that Democrats say is in direct violation of the Help America Vote Act and is the subject of the Dem lawsuit.

"I consider this, at this point, with all of the things we've had to go toe to toe with him on, a very partisan attack to corrupt Ohio's election," Fedor said. "How much more proof do you need? Do we have to wait until after the election?"

Blackwell's spokesperson, Carlo LoParo, responded to the lawsuit by saying they had anticipated a slew of "frivolous lawsuits and legal shenanigans" related to the election, and that they would be more than able to deal with such "distractions" while conducting a competent election. As for Fedor's accusations, he responded simply "I'd advise Senator Fedor that she has an obligation to tell the truth."

Of course, why bother trying to steal an election when you can win it the old fashioned way? Republicans have an excellent shot, and the Bush campaign knows it. President Bush has visited Ohio 27 times in his presidency, 14 times this year alone, including such high profile stops as a speech to over 20,000 in a Columbus arena the day before his speech to the Republican National Convention and a September rally with over 50,000 supporters near Cincinnati.

At the Columbus event, Bush pointed out that his grandfather was raised there and asked his supporters to send a local boy (actually, he said "home boy," but you know what he meant) back to Washington D.C. He was joking around, of course, but in 2004, the candidate who convinces the most Ohioans that he's one of them will likely be the winner. Provided the Midwife of Presidents doesn't experience any unforeseen complications during labor, of course.

The Sierra Club at Your Door

Knock knock. Who's there? Larry Fahn, president for the board of directors for the Sierra Club. Larry Fahn, president of the board of directors for the Sierra Club who? Larry Fahn, president of the board of directors for the Sierra Club who wants you to vote for John Kerry in November.

OK, so that's not very funny. But then, Fahn's not exactly joking either. The Sierra Club has been increasingly involved with presidential campaigns since the '80s, and this time they're more engaged then ever before, participating in "retail politics" like phone banking and knocking on doors, Fahn says.

He visited Columbus last Saturday to deliver a speech at Goodale Park and join volunteers going door-to-door in the Short North/Victorian Village area to let voters know that George W. Bush is anything but a conservative (compassionate or otherwise) when it comes to the environment, while Kerry received a 92-percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

I spoke with Fahn on the phone about the Sierra Club's view of the race.


OK, so say you just knocked on my door. What's your pitch?

We're just making sure people are registered to vote, then we're telling them about the various environmental policies impacting their communities, making sure they know, for example, that Ohio has seen a 10-percent increase in emissions at a time when we have the technology to reduce emissions.

And we're going to be talking to them about energy. You have a situation where we could triple the gas mileage of all our cars and trucks if we wanted. We have the technology to do that. But the Bush administration's chief of staff [Andrew Card] is the former [CEO of] the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, and that administration has been fighting every effort to improve fuel efficiency. Instead they're trying to open up public lands, fragile areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling, instead of conserving by using technology to build more hybrid vehicles.


Why has the Sierra Club become so involved in this election?

Primarily because we have an administration in Washington that is the most environmentally destructive since our country was founded. There's no question. Every president going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt has helped protect the environment by setting aside public lands, parks, wilderness areas, national landmarks, antiquities. Every single president, Republican and Democrat.

And this president has not only not protected any new public lands, but he has removed from protection hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, like the Rocky Mountain Front in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico, and just all over the country, with loosening of drilling restrictions and increasing public forestry timber cutting on public lands and so forth. The contrast between that record and the record of Senator Kerry is just so dramatic – it's more dramatic than any election in history.


What's been this administration's worst move on the environment in the past four years?

Oh, there are so many. It's hard to choose – the rollback of the road-less policy, which will be increasing the building of roads into national forests, and then increasing timber harvesting and calling it the "Healthy Forest" initiative and making it sound like they're doing it in order to protect communities from fire.

The air rollback is probably the other worst one. They rolled back a whole host of new rules that would clean up the air. And they call it a "Clear Skies Initiative." They use nice-sounding words to mask the fact that it's very, very environmentally destructive.


I've heard it said that administrations are most dangerous in their second terms, when they don't have to worry about re-election.

Oh, absolutely, if they've done all this in the first term...


Do you think there's any chance that maybe Bush will win in November and say, "OK, the last election's behind me now so I don't have to answer to lobbyists anymore. Now I can start doing the right thing and protecting the environment?�

Frankly, I think the lobbyists that have been controlling him are his friends. He and his vice president both came out of the oil industry, and that's their mindset, explore and exploit. They say, "Let's explore for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Let's explore for more oil and gas in the Rocky Mountain Front. In our coastline areas. In the Otero Mesa of New Mexico. Let's explore or exploit everywhere we can."

We're trying to say, "No, let's explore tripling the gas mileage of our cars and trucks so we don't need to drill in these areas. Let's explore using more wind energy and solar energy." We could do so much on energy if we exploited solar and wind energies, which are renewable, and they've done nothing, nothing on that.

And Kerry's record is very much in favor of alternative energy and he's always been talking about using technology to increase efficiency, increase conservation and reduce our dependence on Saudi oil.


I know a lot of people who want Bush out but question whether Kerry's really that different from him. When it comes to the environment, if you take Bush off the table as someone to compare him to, do you think Kerry still looks good?

Oh, he was the best of all the Democrats. He has an outstanding record on energy, on pollution, on environmental justice, regulatory reform, a whole host of issues.


The environment is consistently cited as a major concern among voters, but politicians don't seem to talk about it as much as other issues. Why is there this sort of disconnect?

Well, it depends on where you're from. I think we're hearing about it more and more. Obviously the war, and the war on terrorism and 9/11 and all of that is much more dramatic. The environment is more of a long-term, esoteric concept that people care about, but it's not immediate, generally. These emission levels get worse over many years until it's too late and your kids are getting asthma.

But we've heard Kerry talk about it; we've heard John Edwards talk about it. They're talking about many of these issues like global warming, about hybrid technologies. They're talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil by conservation and renewable energy.

And there's also, of course, the big issue of trade, and how this Bush administration has been pushing a so-called "free trade" agenda which is exporting jobs overseas and reducing environmental standards both here and around the world.


John Kerry also supports free trade.

Well yes, but he's calling for all trade agreements to include very tough labor and environmental standards that the Bush administration has walked away from.


With the foreign policy issues you mentioned dominating people's attention, it seems like it's been harder for advocacy groups to grab the public's or media's attention. What have you been doing to break through?

No doubt about it, after 9/11 we were off everyone's radar screen for close to two years. But we started using the analogy that if you care for America, you need to care for America. And that is, go to a public place, go to a national park, go to a stream, do something with your family. Bush called for going shopping, if you remember.

The great conservationists – many of them were Republicans in the early days, like Teddy Roosevelt, who saved more land than anyone else. We would like to see the word "conserve" be back in the Republicans' conservative message.

That's why I'm also going to the Republican [National] Convention. We are non-partisan. We have endorsed some Republicans. We love the Republicans who embrace environmental ethics and environmental protection as a policy. There are fewer of them all the time, which is kind of a sad commentary.

Corporate Crime for Morons

We can�t all be astronomically wealthy. But we can all enjoy when the rich and powerful are facing financial ruin, public humiliation and, best of all, jail time. So it�s no surprise that the CEOgate story has gotten so big, temporarily eclipsing our neverending battle against terror and our self-righteous indignation over the Pledge of Allegiance.

It probably doesn�t help that both the President and Vice President are closely linked to big business and believe in their entitlement to secrecy so adamantly they refuse to turn over any documents anyone asks to see (like Bush�s SEC investigation files). Even Martha Stewart is being sautéed in insider-trading allegations, and if you can�t trust Martha Stewart, who can you trust? (Does this soufflé recipe really call for four eggs, or is Stewart just trying to help her friends in the poultry industry?)

Now what began with Enron last fall as simply the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history has spiraled into a steady stream of scandals, scaring the crap out of investors, spooking the already shaky economy and forcing the government to leap into regulatory mode. With elections a mere four months away, you can bet even the timid Democrats will keep the story alive, since it casts such a poor light on our MBA President and his big business-beholden party.

But as sexy as the corporate corruption scandal has become, why should you care about the shady (or straight-up illegal) accounting practices of a bunch of fat cats? Because even if you�re not a shareholder in Enron, WorldCom, Xerox or Martha Stewart Omnimedia�or even if you�re not a shareholder in any corporation�we all have an interest in the health of the economy. A bad American economy, it stands to reason, is bad for Americans.

Maybe even more important, if these CEOs are criminals, they deserve to be treated like criminals. Don�t let all the big business jargon or lawyerly explanations confuse you: Stealing billions from Wall Street investors is no different than stealing 50 bucks from a Main Street convenience store�in fact, it�s probably worse. If thieving corporate officers don�t do serious jail time, that�ll be an even bigger crime.

So, before your eyes begin to glaze over, let�s get right to the most important questions.

What the hell is going on around here?

It turns out corporate America is just as bad as your disgruntled bleeding-heart hippie uncle always said it was. Insider trading, questionable connections between �independent� auditing and high-priced advising, overstated revenues and creative bookkeeping are costing some shareholders their shirts while lining the pockets of the guys in charge of these companies. This has prompted investors to pull out of the stock market and hurt the economy. After all, who wants to hand over their savings to a bunch of suspected criminals? Investment is always accompanied by a certain amount of risk, but you shouldn�t have to take the additional risk that maybe the company you�re investing in is lying to you.

OK, but corporations have always been sketchy, haven�t they? I mean, if you wear Gap khakis and Nike sneakers, drink Starbucks coffee and eat McDonalds hamburgers, it�s like kicking a small business owner and third-world child in the face while pissing on the environment and making a financial contribution to the Devil himself. Big corporations have always been unspeakably evil�why is their bookkeeping such a big deal?

Whoa there, my rabidly consumer-conscious friend. While there may be some truth in what you say, we�re not talking about business practices that are merely morally or ethically questionable. In many cases we�re talking about businessmen purposely misstating their numbers to make their companies�and thus shares in them�appear more valuable than they actually are.

So they�re lying. That�s not cool, but it�s not like it�s illegal, is it?

Actually, it is. The various laws that apply to the security industry, complicated as they are, are based on a pretty simple concept, as the SEC lays out on its website: All investors, from a multibillion-dollar corporation�s vice president with stock options to your grandmother hoping to supplement her Social Security check with a low-risk mutual fund, should have equal access to basic facts about their investments. Therefore, the SEC requires public companies to disclose �meaningful financial and other information to the public.� The Wall Street economy wouldn�t work if people didn�t know what they were investing in.

Oh, so the scam comes in when they�

Deliberately overstate earnings to make a company�s stock seem more valuable than it really is, right. President Bush has characterized the current crop of scandals as unfortunate examples of a �few bad apples� in the business world, but it could be more like a rotten orchard. Some theorize that if you�re competing against a company that�s overstating, there�s a strong temptation to do so yourself. In the most heinous examples, this type of misstatement coupled with insider trading can lead to those in the know encouraging others to hold or increase their stocks to keep values high, then cash out and make a bundle before the company goes to hell and prices plummet.

The bastards! But wait, I don�t have any stock. What�s it to me?

Well, there�s the general disillusionment about corporate America. You�re going to think twice before letting a CEO of a major company hold your wallet for you in the future, aren�t you? But more important, just because you�re not a shareholder doesn�t mean you�re not a stakeholder.

Douglas Cole, a professor at Ohio State University�s Moritz College of Law, helps put it in perspective. �When you invest money in a new company, the company takes it and it and does things with it,� Cole said. �It builds plants, so there�s the hiring of contractors to build the plant. And of course once the plant is built, they need people to work in the plant, and managers to manage it, and there may be, depending on the business, some type of distribution network involved.�

So less investment leads to less development, which can lead to less new jobs, or fewer old jobs staying around. And keep in mind, more people in America own stock right now than at any point in the past.

Oh. I guess it�s a small world after all, isn�t it?

Sure is. And it�s not just American investors who are losing confidence in the system. If Wall Street can�t be trusted, the rest of the world may be just as hesitant to invest their money here as we are. That means billions of foreign dollars potentially going into some other country�s economy.

�It is vital to our economic recovery that we address investor confidence,� Cole explained. �America has to be a place people feel safe investing capital, and remember the U.S. financial market is just a part of the world�s financial market. Foreign investors can take their money and put it in Argentina or Australia or England. There are all kinds of places capital can go.�

The media won�t shut up about this stuff. Is it politically motivated?

It is, for better or worse. Remember, it�s an election year, and short of a pair of genetic material-soaked blue dresses showing up, Bush and Cheney�s big business scandals are about as juicy as Democrats could ask for. Elected politicians in both parties want to look like they�re doing something to address their constituents� concerns. Hence Congress� plans to regulate the securities industry and President Bush�s big speech on Wall Street last Tuesday.

Among the President�s proposals are the creation of �a financial crimes SWAT team,� doubling the maximum prison term for certain types of fraud to 10 years and a prohibition on executives borrowing money from their own publicly owned companies. One point everybody agrees on is that the SEC must be given more money; the only argument is how much more they�ll be given (currently, the proposed figures are $100 and $300 million).

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