Tavares urges 4-way debates; Democrat says all candidates should be included

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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State Rep. Charleta Tavares has broken ranks with the leader of her Democratic ticket on the issue of debates.

Ms. Tavares (D., Columbus), who is her party’s nominee for secretary of state, said gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher should be willing to debate the three other people running for governor – including the two minor-party candidates who stand little chance of winning.

“It’s got to be inclusive,” Ms. Tavares said. “Whatever is good for Republicans and Democrats should be good for Libertarians, Greens, and so on.”

Mr. Fisher, trailing in polls to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft, has said he would participate in a four-way debate only if Mr. Taft agrees to a series of one-on-one debates.

Mr. Taft, Ohio’s secretary of state, has said he won’t do that, and would only participate in debates that included Reform Party candidate John Mitchel and Natural Law candidate Zanna Feitler.

Both Ms. Feitler and Mr. Mitchel receive less than 4 per cent support in statewide polls. Each raised less than $1,000 in the last campaign-finance reporting period, compared with $1.1 million each for Mr. Taft and Mr. Fisher.

But Ms. Tavares said that didn’t matter.

“I would encourage everyone to have all candidates at the debates,” she said. “I disagree with our candidate on this point.”

The secretary of state is Ohio’s top elections official and Ms. Tavares said that, if elected, she would make it easier for third-party candidates to get onto ballots. Ohio has a reputation as a difficult state for third parties, with high ballot requirements.

“Certainly, Charleta is entitled to disagree with us,” said Alan Melamed, Mr. Fisher’s campaign manager. “We don’t have an objection to four-way debates. But there should also be one-on-ones.”

The Taft campaign welcomed Ms. Tavares’ comments as “a pleasant surprise.”

“We’re pleased that Ms. Tavares has the fortitude to stand up to Mr. Fisher and his willingness to exclude people from the election process,” said campaign spokesman Brett Buerck.

Fisher, Taft attack each other’s records in new ads

By James Drew and Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — It’s official. A month before election day, the governor’s race is getting ugly.

Last night, the campaigns of Democrat Lee Fisher and Republican Bob Taft began television ads that attack each other’s records and use unflattering images to hammer home the point.

The flashpoint is the $1.1 billion, two-year property-tax cut that Mr. Fisher proposed Tuesday.

In his 30-second ad, Mr. Fisher appears in a blue sweater, talking amiably with citizens on a middle-class neighborhood street, as two narrators refer to the tax-cut proposal.

Mr. Taft then appears, looking like a silent-movie villain, swallowed by veils of blackness, with the light of his face flickering as he speaks in slow motion.

The narrators, calling him “Robert Taft the Second” and not the more familiar Bob he prefers, criticize Mr. Taft for opposing the tax cut and bring up the story that first hurt him eight years ago.

In 1990, when Mr. Taft sought the GOP nomination for governor, newspapers reported that the property tax rate in Hamilton County had increased 46.5 per cent since he was elected county commissioner in 1980. At the time, Hamilton had the highest property tax rate of Ohio’s 88 counties.

The Fisher ad repeats the charge and adds that county spending increased by 92 per cent over the same period.

“Robert Taft the Second … simply out of touch with Ohio.”

Brian Hicks, Mr. Taft’s campaign manager, said Mr. Taft voted as a county commissioner to put tax increases on the ballot, and he voted for some and opposed others.

The Taft ad is the second to criticize Mr. Fisher’s record.

As Mr. Fisher is shown clapping in a grainy black-and-white film clip run in slow motion, the narrator says: “Remember Lee Fisher? The legislator whose deciding vote passed the largest income-tax increase in Ohio history? The 90 per cent surcharge. He voted for 27 separate tax increases.”

The commercial then shows a television with an image from Mr. Fisher’s ad that began to air Tues day, in which he touts his proposed tax cut and drops a penny into a piggy bank.

The narrator of the Taft ad says: “But Fisher’s tax scheme is really a tax trick, leading to another huge tax increase. And you can take that to the bank.” The piggy bank then breaks in half.

Mr. Hicks asserted that Mr. Fisher has made $486 million in campaign promises, compared with Mr. Taft’s package, which would cost about $150 million. He said Mr. Fisher’s plan would lead to a state budget deficit, hence the predictions that it would trigger a tax hike, since the state by law can’t show a deficit.

Mr. Fisher has said the state can afford the tax cut and boost funding on K-12 education, and he has used projections by the state budget office to buttress his argument.

Alan Melamed, Mr. Fisher’s campaign chairman, said Mr. Taft’s ad is a “scare tactic.”

“They know that voters want to have those dollars in their pockets, and they are afraid they missed the boat,” he said.

Mr. Melamed said Mr. Fisher is challenging Mr. Taft to debate the tax-cut idea.

“If he won’t do that, he ought to shut up,” Mr. Melamed said.

Mr. Taft has called the proposal “intellectually dishonest” and the “height of irresponsibility.”

Mr. Hicks said the Taft campaign is filing an elections complaint against Mr. Fisher, claiming that a Fisher campaign flyer falsely states that Mr. Taft won’t “hold insurance companies accountable for their actions.” Mr. Fisher’s aides defended the statement as true.

Candidates’ political philosophies influence role of judiciary in Ohio

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page B1

COLUMBUS — Both candidates in the race for chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court say it’s easy to tell the differences between their judicial philosophies.

They just don’t agree on how best to spin them.

Thomas Moyer, the incumbent Republican, says he shows restraint on the bench, willing to follow the will of the General Assembly in most cases, and not using the immense power of the court too often.

Gary Tyack, the Democratic challenger, says that means his opponent doesn’t do enough to fight for the little guy.

Mr. Moyer, of Bexley, first elected chief justice in 1986, is seeking a third term. Mr. Tyack, who lives in Columbus, is a judge on the 10th District Court of Appeals, based in the capital.

The two disagree on how active the court should be in forming or evaluating state policy.

“I think he sees the role as simply writing the law the way the judge thinks it should be written,” Mr. Moyer said. “The problem is, where does it stop?”

The chief justice said that, except in very rare cases, he opposes overturning laws passed by the General Assembly because “they’re an expression of public will.”

The most obvious example of Mr. Moyer’s judicial philosophy is his dissent last year in DeRolph v. Ohio, the case that declared the state’s school-fund system unconstitutional and ordered sweeping changes.

The chief justice, on the losing end of a 4-3 decision, wrote that the court had no business ordering such a complete overhaul.

“As an application of my philosophy, I don’t believe I’ve written anything better,” Mr. Moyer said. “The [school-fund] system is far from perfect, but it was an expression of judicial restraint.”

Mr. Tyack, in contrast, has said Mr. Moyer’s dissent showed a lack of leadership on an issue critical to the state’s future.

He said that Mr. Moyer’s judicial conservatism has led him to side too often with big business. According to Ohio Chamber of Commerce ratings, Mr. Moyer sides with business 77 per cent of the time in workers’ compensation cases, the highest ratio on the court. He also sides with insurance companies 79 per cent of the time.

“I think, `What does this do to the person who has been injured or hurt,”‘ Mr. Tyack said. “Justice Moyer thinks, `How does this im pact a large group, an insurance company, or a big business?”‘

The challenger is also making an issue of the significant tension the court has seen in the 1990s, as its two dominant personalities – Mr. Moyer and Justice Andy Douglas of Toledo – have feuded on a variety of issues.

The turmoil peaked earlier this year, when Mr. Douglas blamed the heart attack he suffered on the stress Mr. Moyer put him under.

“People in Toledo know just how bad the interpersonal relations have been,” Mr. Tyack said. “[Mr. Moyer] has engaged in a whole series of negative comments about Justice Douglas. They each complain about each other.”

But Mr. Moyer, while acknowledging the “strong personal differences,” said the battles do not affect the court’s work.

“I cannot think of a time when someone voted on a case because of personal feelings about a justice,” Mr. Moyer said.

“Six of us, I know, are very committed to a collegial atmosphere. I cannot speak for Justice Douglas on that issue.”

Fisher, Taft talk of aid to youths; Differences in policy shown

By Joshua Benton and James Drew
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — Democrat Lee Fisher announced yesterday that, if elected governor, he would support creating a tax credit for “working poor” families. His Republican opponent, Bob Taft, sidestepped the issue, saying the state faces several “tough priorities.”

As election day looms seven weeks away, the two gubernatorial candidates revealed their plans for protecting the state’s children yesterday at a forum sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.

The event was held a month after the nonprofit group released a 34-page report calling on the gubernatorial candidates to improve the lives of children from low-income and “working poor” families.

A federal tax credit adopted in 1975 offsets regressive Social Security, local, and state taxes, and adds to the earnings of low-wage workers.

A state credit equal to 10 per cent of the federal credit would reduce the state tax bill of more than 600,000 families by an average of $132 a year, said Mr. Fisher, a former attorney general. For some, the savings would reach $365 per year, he added.

“If you can target the tax cut to working families, that’s the way to go. It’s focused on those who need it most,” Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. Fisher said the cost of the tax credit would be about $80 million a year, which he said would come from other sources in the budget – not higher taxes on wealthier Ohioans. Over time, he would like to double the credit to 20 per cent of its federal equivalent, but only if the state budget allows it.

Mr. Taft did not give a point-blank “no” to the audience when asked if he would support starting a state earned-income tax credit.

“It’s a question of priorities. It’s something we have to address together as a state and a community,” Mr. Taft said.

Meeting with reporters after the forum, Mr. Taft referred to a state version of the federal tax credit as an “expensive program” at a time when the state is struggling to find funds to subsidize child care for lower-income families and health insurance for poor children.

“I don’t think it’s timely now for me to endorse a proposal that at 20 per cent of the federal credit would cost $150 million a year,” he said.

Mr. Taft said one of his major goals is that every child be able to read by the end of fourth grade. He has proposed setting aside $25 million a year for a program he’s calling OhioReads.

Mr. Fisher received a thunderous reception, including two standing ovations, from an estimated 300 people at the forum. The audience interrupted his speech more than a dozen times with applause, including when Mr. Fisher recounted what he considers his accomplishments for children during his four-year term as attorney general and in the state Senate.

Among other proposals Mr. Fisher made were making more families eligible for day-care assistance and child health-care coverage; toughening child support collections, and increasing education on child safety issues.

An hour later, Mr. Taft received a standing ovation but the audience gave him a cooler reception than Mr. Fisher. Mr. Taft’s remarks were interrupted with applause four times.

Mr. Taft noted that Governor Voinovich, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, has attracted attention to Ohio by supporting early-learning programs.

“It is my hope to build on that foundation and to move our progress to a higher level,” he said.

Mr. Taft said he supports expanding eligibility for the state health insurance program for poor children, evaluating the track record of children who are in Head Start programs, and boost ing child support collections.

He said that, if elected, he would expect a report on his desk soon after taking office that would outline which counties are doing the best job of helping welfare recipients make the transition to work.

Fisher: Clinton merits censure; Taft: Decision’s up to the House

By Joshua Benton and James Drew
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 4

COLUMBUS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher wants President Clinton to face some sort of rebuke from Congress for the Lewinsky affair.

His opponent, Republican Bob Taft, wasn’t so definite.

Mr. Fisher described the President’s conduct “not only inappropriate, but inexcusable, and literally indefensible.”

He said that a censure or some kind of congressional statement was “necessary,” but that the President should not be removed from office.

“From what I have seen, the evidence does not merit impeachment,” he said.

Mr. Fisher addressed the Clinton issue after speaking to a conference of children’s issues advocates yesterday.

After his own speech to the conference, Mr. Taft declined to say what he believes should happen to Mr. Clinton.

“I’m not a member of Congress,” Mr. Taft said. “In my view, the President has really lost his credibility, lost his ability to lead, but he has to consider very carefully what is best for the country, and that could include resignation.”

“[It is the job of the House] to determine what is the appropriate penalty.”

Dole aids Montgomery, predicts Clinton survival

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 5B

COLUMBUS — Bob Dole thinks his 1996 opponent will survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but he wants Congress to follow the procedures outlined in the Constitution to decide President Clinton’s future.

“I think you let the process work,” the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate said yesterday. “You don’t overturn the results of an election easily.”

Mr. Dole was in Columbus to speak at a fund-raiser for Attorney General Betty Montgomery. Ms. Montgomery, a Republican and former Wood County prosecutor, is running for re-election against Democrat Richard Cordray.

But, not too surprisingly, questions for Mr. Dole focused less on Ms. Montgomery than on the melange of sex, lies, and audiotape that has transfixed the country in recent weeks.

“I know you’re going to ask me a lot of questions about Betty’s record,” he jokingly told re porters, showing the sense of humor he has put on display since his loss to Mr. Clinton.

He pointed out that his apartment in Washington’s Watergate building, No. 112, is next door to Ms. Lewinsky’s No. 114.

“I live in an exciting neighborhood,” he said. “Every 25 years, something exciting happens. Maybe in the next 25 years, Strom Thurmond will move in,” he said, referring to the 95-year-old senator from South Carolina.

When asked a hypothetical question about Mr. Clinton leaving office, Mr. Dole said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But Mr. Dole noted that with foreign policy crises looming in places such as Kosovo and Russia, it is important that the President be able to concentrate on the affairs of state.

“It’s a period of time that cries out for strong leadership,” he said. “When the President speaks, are people going to listen?”

Kaptur pledge urges against big spending

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur is asking politicians to do something that doesn’t come naturally to many – stop spending money, voluntarily.

Miss Kaptur (D., Toledo), at a news conference here yesterday, introduced a voluntary pledge she is asking all statewide candidates to take, restricting the money they would spend in campaigns, stopping negative ads, and limiting so-called “soft money.”

“This is the most important issue we face in this country today,” she said. “It is so critical that we stop these unreasonable amounts of spending.”

Under the Kaptur pledge, candidates would agree to spend no more than either three times the salary of the position they are running for, or the average amount spent by all candidates for that office in the last 10 years.

They’d also agree to limit soft money – unregulated money from corporations, labor organizations, and wealthy individuals – to one-third of what candidates for that office have spent in the last decade.

After years of failed attempts at campaign finance reform in Washington, the time is right to take reform to the state level, Miss Kaptur said.

“Our state capitals have the ability to be in the lead on this issue, and I hope our candidates for public office will do their part,” she said.

Statewide candidates running in Ohio this fall did not seem to leap at the chance to take the pledge and restrict their own spending levels.

“We will spend money within the federal laws,” said Caryn Candisky, spokeswoman for the Senate campaign of Republican George Voinovich, declining to accept the tougher restrictions of Miss Kaptur’s proposal.

Governor Voinovich’s Democratic challenger, Mary Boyle, will consider taking the pledge, said her spokesman, Steve Fought. “Marcy’s made a great contribution to the debate,” said Mr. Fought, who last year was Miss Kaptur’s press secretary.

Brett Buerck, spokesman for the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Bob Taft, said he would want to wait a few years to see how current campaign finance reforms fare before considering adopting any new ones.

Lee Fisher, Mr. Taft’s challenger, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Among other parts of the Kaptur pledge: a promise to avoid all negative advertising; electronic disclosure of all campaign contributions, and support of free TV airtime for all candidates.

Miss Kaptur said she will be taking the pledge to individual candidates in the coming months, as well as to the editorial boards of the state’s newspapers, which routinely interview all candidates for major office to determine who will get endorsements.

Lucas GOP survives tiffs, skirmishes to elect Talmage

By Joshua Benton and Fritz Wenzel
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

It was a difficult birthing for the new Lucas County Republican Party yesterday, full of fits and starts, anger and accusations.

But when it was all over, the Grand Old Party was left with an outlook more optimistic than anything it has been able to muster for years.

“I am very, very excited about the party’s future,” said Toledo Clerk of Court Maggie Thurber, after the GOP’s biennial reorganizational meeting of its central committee yesterday at Churchill’s Supermarket in Sylvania.

But before party members reached that stage of self-confidence, they had to struggle through almost two hours of insults and infighting, mostly pitting more than a hundred committee members new to organized politics against the party’s more experienced wing.

All the battles made the most anticipated part of the meeting – the appointment of a new party chairwoman, Diana “Dee” Talmage – almost seem to be an afterthought.

The origins of yesterday’s conflicts can be traced to last year, when a grassroots coalition of Republican activists, led by Paula Pennypacker, announced they would be aiming to retake control of the party from a leadership they considered stagnant, unoriginal, and dictatorial – the old guard, they called them.

Their proposed method: recruiting political newcomers to run for the office of precinct chairman, known as precinct captain. The party’s central committee is made up of all those precinct chairmen and they are responsible for party policy, as well as electing a party chairman.

The coalition’s efforts were rewarded in last month’s elections, when a record number of men and women were elected precinct chairmen, most of them without any previous political experience. When the 223 people present at yesterday’s meeting were asked to raise their hands if they were first-timers, about three-quarters did. The total attendance was at least twice as high as the last meeting’s, party members said.

Several incidents stoked the passions of the newcomers and some political veterans alike, but the most notable was a flap over who should be the central committee’s chairman.

Mike Griswold has held that post for the last two years. In pushing for his re-election, he said he had been a source of stability in a period when the party has cycled through five chairmen.

Before the meeting started, a competitor emerged in Susan Abood, the Ward 21 chairman. She promised to make precinct captains work harder to push up the party’s profile. “We are stagnant. We cannot go back to two years ago,” she said.

But when nominations were opened for the job, only Mr. Griswold’s name was offered, by former mayoral candidate Nick Wichowski.

Ms. Abood said Ms. Thurber was supposed to nominate her, with state Rep. John Garcia (R., Toledo) seconding, but “there was a miscommunication.”

That absence started the confusion among newcomers, most of whom were holding Abood fliers in their hands and wondering why the candidate was not being mentioned. A motion to close nominations was met with about half yeas and half nays, but party leaders said it passed.

Under parliamentary procedure, the next step should have been to have a vote on Mr. Griswold’s candidacy. And the men running the meeting – Mr. Griswold, John Birmingham, and Paul Komisarek – said one was indeed taken.

But dozens and dozens of precinct captains and independent observers didn’t hear any vote, no matter what those three said.

“There was no vote, no,” said committeeman Jan Scotland of Precinct 6-F.

“There was a vote, absolutely,” said Mr. Birmingham, who as parliamentarian ruled several motions seeking to open debate out of order. He was wearing an “I Like Mike” button supporting Mr. Griswold.

As the meeting went on, more and more precinct captains began to voice aggressive objections to the proceedings, and the old guard responded in kind.

“If everybody didn’t hear [the vote], I’m sorry, but you have to pay attention,” Mr. Birmingham said.

“How do I get on the railroad committee?” yelled one man, to a round of applause.

“I ran for office because I thought the party had an arrogant attitude,” said newly elected Joe Hoken of Precinct 18-D. “The new folks don’t need things lectured to them like they’re children.”

When he spoke, Mr. Griswold was faced with calls from genuinely confused committeemen. “Did we elect you?” one asked. “We don’t know who you are,” said another. “What’s your name?” a third asked.

Mr. Griswold said he would not support reopening the nominations process. “We’ve already taken the vote,” he said.

But support for a reopening was strong, and when several precinct captains moved to reopen nominations, the body approved it overwhelmingly. Ms. Abood was nominated, and a roll call vote was taken amid more fiery arguments over even the smallest procedural decisions.

When the votes were tallied, Mr. Griswold was still re-elected, 145-77. He invited Ms. Abood up to the podium, hugged her, and kissed the top of her head, calling for unity.

There were other battles, including a sometimes nasty fight over whether the committee should readopt its current bylaws. Almost none of the newcomers knew what was in those bylaws; the party had not given them copies.

That battle featured many new Republicans saying things like “How can I vote on something I’ve never seen?” and more experienced ones exasperated at the conflict over what they considered a procedural issue.

“For goodness sakes, let’s adopt these bylaws!” said Mark Berling, a former GOP executive director.

They ended up doing so by voice vote, with a smattering of no votes outnumbered by a chorus of yeses.

The old guard, unaccustomed to the battles, were barraged all meeting long by questions from the rookies – some inquisitive, some accusing.

For those who helped bring all the newcomers into the committee, the experience was rewarding.

“This room had to show them today that the same old good-old-boy stuff is done,” said Dennis Lange, one of the founders of the grassroots effort. “I was about to go to my van and get the train whistle I bought for today, because we were getting railroaded.”

But after the final vote for central committee chairman, the mood clearly shifted. When Ms. Talmage’s candidacy was presented for party chairman, no opposition candidates were offered, and she was swept into office on a unanimous voice vote.

“Thank you so much for the honor of serving the party,” she said.

Ms. Talmage, an Ottawa Hills school board member and the first woman to lead the party, said she will emphasize a “big tent” style in her time as chairman, reaching out to the young, the old, and women.

“We are the party of inclusion, of fresh ideas,” she said.

“You would not be far off calling it revolutionary,” Ms. Thurber said about the new chairman. “She’s so totally different in personality and style.”

But some Republicans worry that her other community commitments could distract her.

“I’m happy for Dee,” said Ms. Pennypacker, who moved to her new home in Arizona Friday. “But I remain concerned about whether she will have enough time to devote as chairman. It’s going to take a lot of work.”

Party leaders said a transition team would be set up to help Ms. Talmage in her first months in the office.

“I know this if a big job, but I’m committed to doing whatever it takes,” she said.

At the meeting’s end, Mr. Komisarek presented an imported Italian ashtray to Jim Brennan, the party chairman Ms. Talmage replaces and who has faced criticism for not being inclusive of others’ opinions.

“There are a lot of people out there who, admit it or not, know that you did a good job,” Mr. Komisarek said.

“You have seen democracy in action,” Mr. Brennan said of the morning’s fights. “It’s just a little messy, and it’s not as efficient as a dictatorship, which is something I’ve been accused of plenty of times.

“But the important thing is: it works.”

Talmage gets panel’s nod to head GOP

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

As expected, Dee Talmage has gotten the nod from a Lucas County GOP committee to be the next party chairman, but a prominent party activist fears the job may be too big for the Ottawa Hills school board member.

Ms. Talmage, 58, won the unanimous support of about 20 search committee members in a voice vote last night at party headquarters downtown.

Until yesterday, Ms. Talmage had not committed to taking the position because of the level of her other community activities. But last night, she said she had decided, “If elected, I will serve.”

Search committee Chairman Jim Smythe said: “I think she has the greatest opportunity ever to unite this party.”

The Republican Party has faced significant internal dissent in the last year, as activist Paula Pennypacker has led a grass-roots campaign to topple current party Chairman James Brennan, 72.

Thanks in large part to her efforts, about two-thirds of the party’s incoming central committee hasn’t held a position in the party.

They were elected in a massive write-in campaign last month.

Ms. Pennypacker said Ms. Talmage was “the best of the candidates who were interviewed.” But she said she feared the nominee might have too many community obligations to do a good job.

Ms. Talmage is involved with a number of civic groups – her resume lists 16 – and is planning to be very involved in a school levy campaign in Ottawa Hills this fall.

“I hope she’s not biting off more than she can chew,” Ms. Pennypacker, a former Toledo mayoral candidate, said. “This is a big job.

“I envision it as being a full-time position,” she said.

In addition, she said she will encourage new central committee members to consider other options when they vote on the chairman’s post during the party’s organizational meeting, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Church ill’s Supermarket on Monroe Street in Sylvania.

“I want them to know it is just a recommendation, and names can be brought forward at the meeting from the floor,” she said.

Ms. Pennypacker is moving from Toledo tomorrow to relocate her business to Arizona.

Last week, an interview subcommittee of the search committee gave Ms. Talmage the nod over Sylvania Township Trustee Dock Treece and Paul Hoag, GOP state central committee member. Party leaders said they believe Ms. Talmage can bring together the party’s warring factions.

“She seems to be able to unite all the different perspectives in the party,” said Jan Scotland, head of the subcommittee that interviewed candidates. “We need that now.”

He said Ms. Talmage would make party membership “more fun,” with party social events to be held throughout the year.

Obituary: Kent B. McGough

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 17

COLUMBUS — Kent B. McGough, a Lima, O., native and former state Republican Party chairman who helped the GOP gain some rare political victories in the wake of Watergate, died of a stroke Wednesday at Riverside Methodist Hospital here. He was 80.

“He was very, very brilliant politically,” said former Gov. James A. Rhodes, who won his third term in 1974, when Mr. McGough was party chairman. “He helped my political career significantly, and he was one of the finest gentlemen I knew.”

Mr. McGough led the state GOP from 1973 to 1977. When his term began, the Republican Party was in a nationwide slump. With President Nixon embroiled in the Watergate scandal, the party’s candidates were reeling.

In the 1974 congressional elections, Democrats gained 49 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and five seats in the Senate.

But under Mr. McGough, Ohio bucked the trend.

Mr. Rhodes defeated incumbent John J. Gilligan in the gubernatorial race, making Ohio the only state that year to defeat a Democratic governor. Ohio’s congressional delegation added a Republican in 1974 elections, making Ohio the only state to do so.

“That’s a tribute to his leadership, when he was faced with incredible unpopularity at the national level,” said Brett Buerck, director of communications for the Ohio Republican Party.

Mr. McGough was born in Harrod, O., and attended Miami University in Oxford, O. He graduated in 1939 with a degree in political science and economics.

He served in the army in Alaska during World War II, then returned to Lima to open an insurance agency with his brother, William.

He became active in local politics, first as a precinct chairman in 1950, then as Allen County party chairman in 1954. He held that post until 1974.

Mr. McGough was elected state party treasurer in 1968 and 1972, then won a battle with Cuyahoga County party chairman Robert Hughes for the state leadership post in 1973. He replaced John Andrews of Toledo. Mr. McGough was the last GOP state chairman from northwest Ohio.

Mr. Buerck credited Mr. Mc Gough with adapting to a political process that, during his time in charge of the party, moved from traditional backroom politics to an emphasis on television and media exposure.

“He had to face the stark reality that fund-raising for that television time would take up a large part of his efforts,” Mr. Buerck said.

Mr. McGough was not pleased with the new politics, however. Upon his resignation, he said he was saddened that, unlike his predecessors, he had to spend half of his time raising money and not enough time building a grassroots organization.

Mr. Buerck said Mr. McGough was a successful organizer, starting campaign schools for prospective candidates and reaching out to groups usually considered Democratic strongholds.

In 1977, Mr. McGough ran for chairman of the national Republican Party and finished third. He was the top moderate vote-getter, losing to a conservative, former Sen. William Brock of Tennessee.

After quitting as state party chairman, Mr. McGough formed a consulting firm, McGough and Associates, and moved to Columbus. He advised the re-election campaigns of Presidents Reagan and Bush, and retired in 1992.

Mr. McGough is survived by his wife, Wilda; son, John; daughters, Sandra M. Shelar, Debra M. Halliday, and Cindy Long, and 11 grandchildren.

Services will be at 3:30 p.m. today in Trinity United Methodist Church, Columbus. Arrangements are by Schoedinger Northwest Chapel, Columbus.

The family requests tributes to any local chapter of the American Red Cross or to Miami University.