You can usually count on reporters at National Review to get the story right, or at least provide the context, but ocasionally they let their enthusiasm for conservatives get in the way of an accurate story. Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments today about events in Ohio are a good example. Let me note a couple of issues:
- First Ramesh has this to say:
The Ohio Republican establishment has made it unmistakably clear over the years that it has little tolerance for Ken Blackwell or his boat-rocking conservatism.
While this is certainly true it also somewhat misleading. Blackwell isn’t neccesarily disliked for his conservatism, after all there are a number of conservatives in Ohio (the Speaker of the House Larry Householder for example). What tends to annoy the ORP is Blackwell’s tendency to think about Ken Blackwell first and the party second. This is not ideological but logical – parties are there to balance interests not promote one person’s agenda or career. Blackwell stepped on a lot of conservative toes for example, when he tried to ram through a plan to modernize voting in the state.
- Ponnuru continues:
The party establishment’s hostility to the secretary of state is even higher now that he is campaigning for a referendum to repeal the Republican governor’s tax increase. Gov. Bob Taft raised the sales tax from 5 to 6 percent. Supposedly, the increase is temporary. But his budget director has already suggested that it may be made permanent.
Again, this is disingeuous. Taft didn’t impose the tax increase unilaterally. The sales tax was part of an very complex and controversial budget process that obviously involved Taft but also involved the Republican majority in legislature. Neither the Speaker of the House nor the President of the Senate are exactly flaming liberals. Ponnuru acts as it this is just between tax and spend Taft and principled conservative Ken Blackwell. That is an overly simplistic view at the very least.
The budget situation in Ohio is not as clear cut as many would make it. Over the last few years the legislature has had to wrestle with state spending and the tax structure. The fact is that there are no easy answers. Spending outside education and Medicaid are flat at 1996 levels. Cutting further will not be easy as popular programs would suffer and the Democrats would use the media to blast the GOP (that may not be fair but politicians need to get elected). Ohio deeply needs tax reform and Taft can fairly be faulted for not pursuing it when the economy was good. But this Blackwell referendum is populist grandstanding and positioning for future elections. Why does Ponnuru think it is wise for Ohio’s Secretary of State to push for a refernedum that overturns the hard work of the duly elected legislature led by members of the same party? This type of popular ballot revolt has led to all kinds of trouble in California, I would just as soon not import it to Ohio.
Perhaps, Ponnuru should report the larger picture next time he offers insight into Ohio politics.