By James Drew and Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
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.