Thursday, May 18, 2006

No TELlin'

No more TEL. No more albatross. No more easy puns.

What a difference a year makes. Last year this time I was driving regularly to Columbus to attend meetings of the Coalition for Ohio's Future, dedicated to fighting something called TABOR. The coalition, strong and growing as it was, ran scared. In early polls TABOR was getting approval ratings in the low seventies. TABOR proposals were popping up all over the country as hard right conservatives planning ’06 runs on a radical TINY GOVERNMENT agenda used their sponsorship of TABOR to build name recognition and grassroots support. Word was Blackwell was doing the same thing here. We were bracing for a hard, multimillion dollar fight. We were dreading the double-whammy of TABOR in ’05 and Blackwell in ‘06. Prof. W. and I didn’t just talk about moving out of state, we were actively looking.

Then, miraculously, Blackwell blinked first. Republican leadership, which wasn’t at all happy with TABOR was genuinely scared of RON. They convinced J. Ken to file one day late to put it on the ’06 ballot. J. Ken made with the brave face, but it was pure retreat.

As has been true of retreat through the ages, the TABOR retreat gave J. Ken’s adversaries the advantage. First, voters in Colorado, the only state with a budget cap like TABOR, voted to release themselves from its grip for five years. It was a rebuke so firm that the previous “TABOR or if you prefer TEL” nomenclature changed forever to just “TEL.” J. Ken pretty much ignored TA-, er, TEL throughout the postelection fall, save for the occasional tap with a 9 ½ foot pole. It was bad enough that the Ohio Taxpayer’s Association, one of TEL’s more ardent supporters, ponied up for robocalls to light a fire under Blackwell.

Meanwhile, anti-TEL forces were regrouping and seeking reinforcements. The delay meant more time for the Coalition to talk to local government groups about what a disaster TEL would be for them. More groups came out against it, newspapers constantly denigrated it, and Jim Petro made opposition to it the centerpiece of his primary campaign.

So now it is gone. Maybe. I still haven’t seen legal authority for anyone to remove it from the ballot. Supposedly if the issue committee agrees unanimously it will be removed. All well and good, but if anyone farther out there than Blackwell on taxes and budget wants to sue to reinstate it, it’s an open question whether they will succeed. A lawsuit by the Coalition to knock it off the ballot on technicalities may succeed, but again another group may intervene to defend TEL, leaving it all an open question.

So what does this mean moving forward? For Blackwell it means a radical change in narrative. J. Ken’s story so far was that he was the One True Republican. He was the authentic heir to the Reagan mantle with W’s “Decider” persona layered on top. The economic straights of Ohio were to be blamed, not on the Republican theory of governance, but on pretenders unworthy of the letter R. All of this put Blackwell on the outs with the Republican establishment, which is where he wanted to be. He ran as much against his own party’s lite conservatism as against Ted Strickland.

Oh, um, do-over. Blackwell the decider has now decided his centerpiece is no longer worth pursuing. Blackwell the keeper of the conservative flame has extinguished his most conservative proposal. Blackwell the outsider has now made a backroom deal with the party whose legacy of failure he now inherits.

Republicans are calling this a victory – kind of like the poker player who folds after a bad bet congratulates himself for not chasing his opponent’s raise. True, no TEL is better for J. Ken than TEL. But he’s in a far weaker position than anyone would have dared dream a year ago. Strickland is predictably crowing about it and is hopefully devising strategies to remind people that J. Ken had one idea and has admitted it was a stinker. If Strickland is sufficiently deft, he may be able to taint J. Ken’s other dubious proposals – 65%, leasing out the turnpike – as equally defective products of Blackwell’s policy mill.

Meanwhile, times will be tough in Ohio under Baby TEL. Blackwell’s one victory in this is perpetuating the Ohio’s “Out-of-Control Spending” meme. As someone who has worked with and/or has ties law enforcement, health care, K-12 education and higher education, I can’t see where all that out-of-control money went. If anyone is getting fat outside the bad investment industry, I’d sure like to hear about it. With a rebounding economy and reformed tax structure, things were looking up. Now BabyTel will keep the legislature from replacing what they have cut.

I’ve been digging through the various factoids used to perpetuate the spending meme and will report sometime in the future about what I find. It’s an article of faith among Democratic political consultants that government spending is indefensible. Maybe. But Republicans have spent decades changing the conventional economic wisdom on the government’s role in the economy (and not all for the bad – price controls anyone? I thought not.) Democrats need to devise ways to talk about government activity that go beyond winning the next election or parroting the last focus group. Republicans are winning because they trained for a marathon where Democrats keep running sprints.

I must admit to some pangs about TEL’s demise. The issue was one that prompted me to get into blogging in the first place. My second post ever was anti-TEL. I had planned to blog the hell out of it over the summer. But now, we may be able to engage in a more measured discussion about what we want out of government and what it can provide.

Stay Tuned.


TKE House said...

Ding Dong! The Witch is dead.

TEL was just another example of an attempt to use a formulaic solution to solve a complex problem. Spending has always been a problem, but TEL didn't address the real issue which is the entire governmental budgeting process. Rather than fixing the leak, TEL wanted to turn the water off.

UnixGuy said...

Actually, Pho...Republicans are winning because Democrats keep allying themselves with people whom most of us would not admit to our homes.

That's the truth...from a Republican who's lived in the Sunbelt for the last ten years, now lives in a blue state and is looking back at an Ohio he barely recognizes.

Do you really want to fix the Democratic party? Honestly and truly? Usher Kate Michelman, Kim Gandy, David Geffen, Eleanor Smeal, Barbra Streisand and a few hundred of their minions into a hotel ballroom. Tell them that the party is changing its platform and their services and support are no longer needed. If they make trouble, tell them that their individual careers will be ruined if they get in the way of what is about to happen. make the changes. The party becomes less about feminists spreading their legs and gay men running back and forth to the bathhouses in the middle of the night and more about rebuilding America's manufacturing base, fixing public education, becoming less dependent on foreign oil and securing our borders.

You need new leadership. Every time I see Nancy Pelosi, she looks like she needs a Xanax! You can't expect southern whites to take that flaky little dingbat seriously...and those are the people whose votes you are going to need. Jane Harman would be better than what you have.

You need to get rid of the people who hate God. If you want the votes of southern whites (and blacks), you will do this. One of Joe Biden's staffers was heard to say he thought Biden's mother praying to the saints was "quaint", to which Biden replied on national television that he wanted to "rip the goddamn adams apple" out of that staffer's throat! When I heard it, I immediately sat up and listened...because if Biden runs and starts talking like that on the campaign trail, he'll win the nomination and probably be elected President. Guaranteed.

The fact that Biden said this tells me that there are people in the party who understand what's going on. They get it! They know the party has to realign...but they can't get certain powerful people out of the way in order to make those changes.

If doing all of this meant a tax increase, so be it. I wouldn't mind paying more in taxes to get something done...but the work has to get done!

Does this make any kind of sense to you?

54cermak said...

Pho, great roundup on this issue. I just hope Dems remain vigilant. TEL was not the only thing that makes Blackwell a lethally dangerous candidate for Ohio.

As for unix guy, both parties have their own share of unsavory patrons. Though I'm a fan of neither, I'd much rather let David Geffen into my home than Jerry Falwell. But thats just me. Still, I think you make a strong point about real leadership unfortunately you have to couch it with language about "leg spreading feminists" and "gay bathouses". Its bigotry like that which makes the current face of the GOP so unappealing. (well that and a bunch of unnecessary foreign adventures, a legislative agenda thats written by and for corporations only and a base voting bloc that would like to bring about the apocalypse)

UnixGuy said...

If you'd rather allow David Geffen into your home over Jerry Falwell, you're probably not from the South...and those people's opinions will MATTER, now and in the future.

Americans (outside of Northern California, the upper Midwest, Chicago, New England and Maryland) vote God, Guns and Gays. It's a fact...and you don't have to like it but you will deal with it.

You can call my opinions and the opinions of southerners "bigotry" all day long, but nothing changes the fact that there more of us than there are of you!

In the end, you'll lose. A prime example of this is Clinton's winning the White House in 1992. He didn't wait twelve hours after his swearing in to start screwing around with the military...and he was rewarded two years later with a Republican Congress that remains in that party's control to this day!

I have a feeling that you're too young to remember how many House Dixiecrats jumped to the Republican party after Carter's defeat in 1980...many of whom remain Republicans today. I don't think it's any coincidence that most of the transplant auto industry is located in those very same states that used to be moderately Democratic and are now Republican...and also have Right To Work laws.

There's no mistake. The Old Guard Democratic party alliances are slowly being strangled to death, and it happened because you people let it happen!

It's your party, so clean it up! Get rid of the filth and perverts and weirdos. You need make it nationally competitive again...because what you have right now...isn't.

TKE House said...

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

--quote by Rev. Jerry Falwell

"Sorry Jerry, but I got it right the first time."

--quote by Swanny

The only way I would let Jerry Falwell in my house would be to give him the stomping that self-important, bloated old windbag deserves.

UnixGuy said...

This is gonna sound really stupid, but the cultural figure I think of when someone says "Conservative Democrat" is Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H, and Harry Morgan was the perfect actor to play that role for eight years. He was intelligent, tough, had common sense and focus but at the same time was a human being.

That's what Democrats used to be like. Go talk to your grandparents, if they're still around. Ask them what life in the United States was like between 1950 and 1965. If you're under thirty, they're gonna paint a picture for you of a nation that you wouldn't recognize today.

This is why I post, here and elsewhere. Americans had something special during those years...and now it's gone, for whatever reason. Go talk to someone who's about seventy...who remembers Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy.

Better yet, go down to your local library and pull out copies of some old television shows from the early Sixties!

Since I live about an hour from Los Angeles, I have access to the Museum of Radio and I can go there on a weekend and look at this stuff all day. The reason I don't go there very often is because if I did, I'd come back here so livid and angry that I'd probably get myself kicked off the forum for what I'd say.

The campus intellectuals basically ruined America in the late Sixties. We lost something that we can never get back. That's the bottom line...but you're young enough that you don't understand what we lost and have no connection to what America was and should still be.

54cermak said...


There aren't more of you. The problem is that there are more of you that vote right now. And I think thats because where Democrats have failed is by their own inertia and lack of leadership. They've sold out many of their constituencies. Not to Hollywood but to corporate America. There's a reason why the "they're all the same" meme has taken hold so strongly, because there's some very real truth in it. And when you don't see a difference you don't vote. There are other reasons why urban residents don't vote in the numbers that they should, but thats for another discussion.

I don't know what backwoods holler you live in, but if you want to brand gay people, union members, artists and others as "perverts", "filth" and "weirdos" then thats called being a bigot. The trajectory of American history is one of expanding tolerance and inclusion. If you want a country of oppression and regressive ideas, then it's your right to fight for it, but know that what you're fighting for is against the grain of the American spirit and that if you win, you've created a new country, one that I want no part of and you shouldn't be so surprised when you see people start to mobilize against your efforts.

As for the south's growing auto industry. You act as if the Japanese moved there out of virtue and thats a load of you know what (this is Pho's space and I will hold my tongue). The foreign automakers wanted cheap, uneducated labor that they could pay depressed wages to and they found just the suckers in Mississippi and Alabama, which are still two of the poorest states in the country. Some good "right to work" (sic) laws are doing there!

Incidentally, the other place Japanese automakers are flocking to is Canada, because there they can pay their workers a living wage without having to pay health costs. But I suppose you still don't see the wisdom of national health care either.

54cermak said...


As to your second comment. I agreed with it 100% until you get to the part about "campus intellectuals". I may be too young to remember these things (I'm 29), but I consider myself a student of history and I long for Democrats (or someone) to put forth real leadership and new ideas like a New New Deal, or a virtual equivalent of Eisenhower's interstate system.

Where we went wrong was not from "campus intellectuals", "Hollywood elite" or other right wing straw men, but in letting corporate power usurp democratic (small d) power. It was Nixon who shamed a nation and with that came apathy, lower voter partcipation and an opening for fundamentalist theocracy to begin taking hold. This is obviously an oversimplification, but the narrative is there.

Believe me, I don't always like what I see when I look at Democrats, but what I see on the other side of the aisle scares me to death and when I read something like these right wing talking points that you've posted here I feel compelled to comment.

Pho said...

Well this is what I'm talking about. I wind up the blog and let it go. Come back at night and find a nice healthy discussion going on.

54 is doing a fine job without me, but I'll hit on a few points. First off, Unix thinks I'm young which probably means my writings sound naive to him. Oh well. In fact I describe myself as approaching middle age and in doing so, I am taking optimistic liberties with the actuarial tables.

Beware of Republicans bearing gifts. Whenever a Republican offers advice for Democrats it always turns out to be "Act more like Republicans." Unix thinks doing so will woo Southern social conservatives back to the party. I respond with the wise words of Lyle Lovett: "If I were the man you wanted, I would not be the man that I am."

I happen to believe that allowing gay couples to sancitify their relationship is a moral issue. I don't approve of gay bathhouse culture, but then I don't approve of straight fraternity culture either. In point of fact, the most accomplished stick men I knew in college turned out to be almost uniformly Republican. I don't mind having a dialogue about advocating for sexual morality but I don't think Democrats can win much with it because 1) the social conservatives can always move farther to the right and 2) too much of that 49% who voted for Kerry won't stand for the sort of hypocrisy Unix is embracing.

Yes, that 49% is really a fly in Unix's "It's a done deal" ointment. Democrats face many challenges, but we are not the overwhelming underdogs that U says we are. And that's considering the snapshot of today. The Republican coalition is showing the same signs of strain that have bedeviled Democrats for years.

Finally, if you are going to pepper your lecture with "you are too young to remember" bromides, you might want to avoid discussing the defection of the Dixiecrats. Back then the party switches were about nothing so much as race. Dixiecrats were an accident of history. They were pro-segregationist southerners who (now I'm paraphrasing John Prine) voted against Eisenhower because Lincoln won the war. Lyndon Johnson predicted when he signed the Civil Rights Act that Democrats had lost the South for a generation. Were it not for Nixon's brazen criminality, he would have been right.

fansnote said...

It's a shame that Blackwell pulled his Edsel out of the parade, though surely Strickland will provide a detailed autopsy on its demise.

Having failed to deliver cost reductions via TEL look for a Blackwell income tax proposal that seeks to lower personal income tax rates for all (though in a regressive fashion - rich would proportionately benefit more), as well as create/increase tax credits targeting the usual Republican causes (vouchers, faith-based charity, purchase of certain goods and services).

However in order to be revenue neutral, look for targeted discretionary cuts in education and health, legislation to make worker's and unemployment compensation tougher to get both in terms of time and qualifications. Finally, expect a large reduction in state employees, and "hidden tax" increaes on licensing fees, and egad...gas taxes.

All this under the frame of "Middle Class Tax Relief". Strickland would do well to paint Blackwell's policy mind and judgment to be bereft of common sense.

Unix Guy laments the loss of how things used to be. That is, of course really a normative statement of "how things ought to be". The stridency and anger of your message eventually accumulates into various ad hominem attacks. I'm glad that tv shows from 30-40 years ago provide a balm for your festered values, but really what you feel like you lost due to the campus intellectuals remains darkly steadfast in your heart.

Anonymous said...

One reason the TEL was pulled was buried in a Plain Dealer article today, it said:

"In a confidential May 8 memo to its executive committee, the Cincinnati chamber characterized the TEL as ambiguous and noted that "numerous tax and expenditure limitations" exist in current law.

It pointed out that a similar amendment in Colorado generated more than 200 lawsuits and warned that Blackwell's plan could invite lawsuit abuse."

No one in the business community apparently supported the TEL and Blackwell knew it, his campaign was desperate to save face and to avoid having the corporate community funding the campaign against his failed TEL amendment.

Jason Sonenshein said...

Ask them what life in the United States was like between 1950 and 1965.

Ah yes, the days of black-market abortions and segregated lunch counters.

Pope Urban II said...

Is Unixguy401 serious?

For someone who disdains celebrities with influence, he should consider that the "great leader" of the conservative movement was an actor prior to his time in office, that the list of former jock and acting politicians is far longer than that of Democrats (Sonny Bono, Steve Largent, J.C. Watts, Arnold Schwarzennegar, Fred Thompson, Jack Kemp, Ken Blackwell, Tom Osborne, and so on and so forth).

The Democratic Party is not about feminists as Unix would lead you to believe.

Is his party about Pat Robertson and the anti-gay, anti-Muslim point of view?

Well, yes. They made that part of their national platform in 2004 and it led to their electoral victories all over the country.