As best I can recall in my lifetime, a grand total of two people have spoken to me about running for public office. (To clarify, the conversations were about my potential candidacy for the Ohio Legislature, not theirs.)
They were very brief conversations. They contained a good measure of laughter from my side of the table.
One of the discussions was with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (at that time, he was a congressman in Ohio's Second District). He broached the subject during one of those late-winter Lincoln Day fundraising dinners near my hometown.
The other conversation was with the late Professor Bill Horne, a longtime college educator in southern Ohio. I think highly of both men, though we've had our understandable differences on some issues over the years.
That's how it is among friends. It's always OK to disagree. Besides, sometimes they can't help it if they're wrong. It happens.
Much like the Asian flu in late winter, I've always tried to avoid public office. (And yes, for those pedantic English majors out there, I did, indeed, intend to imply that the Asian flu has always tried to avoid public office.)
Other than one weak moment in 2006 – that turned into a six-year (uncompensated) state college board of trustees commitment – I have successfully avoided public office.
I have my reasons. The first and foremost of which is that it's probably a sad day when the likes of this guy is even a remote consideration on any ballot.
And then there's the never-ending fundraising.
Many politicians – most notably the ones in office – have no reservations whatsoever about asking you for your money. In fact, many of them don't even beat around the bush about it.
In last Friday's mail, for example, I received one of those political fundraising letters that began "Dear Friend." (Unless you have a history of writing significant checks to these guys, you get the "Dear Friend" letter. The real check-writers get a Christmas card with the family photo; you know the one, with three dogs, a cat and a canary – with a watchful bird's eye on the cat.)
But back to this week's "Dear Friend" letter.
It was from a current member of the Ohio General Assembly. It included an invitation to this year's "kick off (sic) fundraiser" on Jan. 20.
The "suggested contributions" for attending the gala event were, in this order, as follows:
• Individual attendee, $50;
• Event chair, $1,000;
• Event host, $500; and,
• Event sponsor, $250.
Reasonable minds realize that those making the $1,000 campaign contributions may, at some point, expect a little return on their investment. Lord knows, the utility industry spent a considerable amount of money on Ohio politicians to ensure that legislation was favorable to them. And reminding us that "this is how the system works," does not make it any more palatable.
Simply put, this is quid pro quo politics in action. It's the American way.
In addition to shilling for political donations, the letter included a list of the state lawmaker's "accomplishments." Again, no real surprise. That's the standard operating procedure.
Among the noted "accomplishments" are these gems:
• We succeeded in lowering your taxes by eliminating Ohio's death tax and cutting personal income taxes and small business taxes by $2.7 billion.
• Between January 2011 and December 2013, Ohio incomes grew twice as fast as the national rate.
• The state budget is balanced.
• We now have a fully funded Rainy Day Fund with $1.48 billion.
In response to the first two items, I can only say that my taxes were not lowered and that if my income grew twice as fast as anyone else's, well, to borrow a Bill Clinton phrase, I feel your pain.
As to the last two points regarding the state budget being balanced, perhaps it's worth sharing this editorial opinion by Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, published in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Mr. Rhodes' opinion has been circulating among auditors and other county office holders around Ohio.
Here it is.
"The present policy of the state of Ohio is to fatten its purse at the expense of local governments. It isn’t surprising that the hefty balances in the 'rainy day fund' almost exactly match the amount that has been taken from the local government fund over the past two years.
This was done by the current administration and a compliant Legislature while encouraging us to tighten our belts with 'shared services' and 'conservative government.'
"Here’s what a real conservative said in 1967: On William F. Buckley’s 'Firing Line,' then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan praised 'the local community, where the real basic services that people must depend on every day are furnished.'
"(Reagan) criticized the practice of a bigger government pre-empting tax sources and revenue and then giving some back as special gifts with strings attached. Sound familiar? This year began with The Enquirer reporting on an area 'wish list' for state grants.
"Aside from 'wishing' the state would complete its pledge of $80 million for the stadiums (they’re still $7.5 million short), I’m wondering why these possible new grants take precedence over existing basic local services?
"What the current administration doesn’t want to know is that the vast majority of local governments were operating conservatively, had already tightened their belts and were sharing services whenever possible.
"The most efficient and accountable governments are those closest to the people.
"The state’s deliberate assault on us is not limited to taking a meat ax to the local government fund. After eliminating the estate tax, the state has also canceled two property tax reductions. It is important to remember how they began.
"In the early 1970s, Gov. John Gilligan proposed the first state income tax. He built support by earmarking a portion of it for a 10-percent reduction of local property tax levies. In the 1980s, Gov. Richard Celeste increased the state income tax and again provided a property tax reduction. Both the original 10-percent reduction and the 2.5-percent owner-occupied reduction have now been eliminated for new tax levies. The state has reneged on its promise. This will be an increased burden for taxpayers. We now have two classes of property tax levies, the old ones that get the reductions and the new ones, which will not.
"Adding insult to injury, state lawmakers seem oblivious to all the work and expense required to administer this dual system. If they want to stop by our office, we can enlighten them.
"The state of Ohio’s local property tax relief joins other broken promises of recent memory: 'If you like your present health care plan, you can keep it;' 'Vote for me and I’ll stop the streetcar.'
"Now the state, having conveniently forgotten its historic commitment to local governments, has clearly declared war on our counties, cities, villages and townships. Borrowing from Reagan, 'There they go again.'"
Indeed and amen.
While Mr. Rhodes is a Democrat county office holder, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that a number of Highland County Republican office holders have said similar things about the state's Republican governor and Republican Legislature. Once in a while, a few even forget their party's partisan talking points and accidentally say something candid in a public meeting.
Sadly, none of them will show the courage and conviction of Dusty Rhodes and hold their own party accountable. That will never happen.
So, remember, it's $250 to sponsor the fundraiser and $500 to host it. The more host$, the merrier all will be. E$pecially the incumbent$.
Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk, at Paperitalo Publications and the owner of The Highland County Press in Hillsboro, Ohio. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.