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April 2011 | A Matter of Opinion

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April 2011

Editorial: It’s good to have IRG betting on Dayton

Industrial Realty Group, the developer that is buying the former Moraine truck plant, is becoming a big name in Ohio.

IRG also is taking over United Parcel Service’s lease at its former air freight hub at the airport, and it owns a former Delphi building near the University of Dayton Arena.

With nearly half of the 70 million square feet of property it owns concentrated in Ohio, the firm is showing a lot of clients options in the state.

The Moraine plant sale was supposed to take place on Friday, but was delayed. The snag is reportedly technical and not anything to worry about.

IRG thinks, in due time, it could attract as many as 3,000 jobs to the Moraine and UPS sites. Though it’s not promising any overnight miracles, the California firm has a track record of success.

The company has gone so far as to say it’s bullish on Ohio. It knows communities, including Dayton, are hungry for development because of the collapse of the manufacturing sector. The company is getting idled industrial property at fire-sale prices. Ohio is in a centrally located spot. And IRG officials say that, notwithstanding the state’s problems, it has a reputation for having a strong workforce.

Moraine City Manager David Hicks, who deserves much of the credit for convincing IRG to take a look at his city’s former GM plant, is among those who like to point out that IRG doesn’t make any money by simply owning a vacant building.

It profits only if it attracts tenants and buyers. Tenants and buyers translate to jobs.

IRG’s niche is reclaiming shuttered space and starting over. In Moraine, that will mean downsizing the complex by half and breaking it into four buildings. The plan is to make the site suitable for light manufacturing, logistics, research or any number of mixed uses.

Meanwhile, at the airport, IRG is taking over UPS’s lease payments, with the option of renegotiating with the city in 2016. The payment could then be reduced.

The appeal of working with IRG is that it says it has clients who are possibly interested in locating at the facility.

UPS employed 1,400 people before it pulled out in 2006 and consolidated operations in Louisville.

Dayton, with the chamber of commerce, initially wanted to market the facility. But that’s not the city’s or chamber’s expertise. Having a private entity with knowledge of the marketplace scouring for prospects enhances the chance for success.

Mayor Gary Leitzell objected to the airpot deal, saying that a local small business man hadn’t been given a chance to make a case for turning the 188-acre site into a renewable energy facility.

One problem with that pitch is that UPS has had every financial reason to work with anyone who brought money to the table. It didn’t think Mark Herres had a business plan.

Given IRG’s bona fides, given the fact that the company is obligated to invest more than $1 million back into the facility, it’s hard to understand the mayor’s objections.

It’s easy to get the impression that attracting developers and new business to Ohio is an uphill climb. But in defying what some see as conventional wisdom, IRG is creating opportunities for it and for Dayton.


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Editorial: VA wrong that critics will go away

There’s a pattern in the way the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is responding to the debacle at the VA dental clinic in Dayton.

Critics — in Congress and some reviewers of VA practices — believe they’re being stonewalled. The right people aren’t available to be interviewed or to testify; people who have direct knowledge of important facts have taken retirement or have been moved to other positions; the VA has redacted so much from documents that it’s impossible to make judgments about where responsibility really rests.

If you were cynical, you might think that VA officials are hoping that if hostile questions go unanswered long enough, that will end the matter.

If that’s the strategy, whoever hatched it needs to think again.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Mike Turner have become more, not less, interested because they think they’re getting the runaround. Sen. Brown held a hearing Tuesday, questioning how a dentist could, for almost two decades, violate the most basic infection-control measures — not changing his gloves between patients, reusing equipment that hadn’t been sterilized.

Two of his patients have tested positive for hepatitis B, and a third has tested positive for hepatitis C, which may or may not have been acquired at the dental clinic. (Determining how the diseases were acquired may not be possible.)

On Thursday, April 21, a task force of local hospital and medical personnel put out its interim review of the situation. More than a dozen times in the 15-page evaluation of the VA’s investigation into Dr. Dwight Pemberton’s work, the group said it “agrees with the conclusion based on the limited and redacted information provided by the Dayton VA.”

Twice the committee said it had too little information to make a judgment.

It also disagreed with major decisions by the VA, including limiting notification and testing to just certain patients of Dr. Pemberton.

The message wasn’t subtle: The VA isn’t telling us what we need to know to understand the problems and risks. And based on what we do know, we don’t believe the VA is being aggressive enough.

In recommending much more testing of patients, the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association is asking for no small thing. Giving blood tests to patients is not hugely expensive. The costly part is going through old files and tracking down so many individuals.

Dr. Pemberton saw 3,241 patients since 1992 and an unknown number between 1975 and 1991. The VA has contacted 535 people, restricting its notification only to people who had invasive procedures.

The criticism of that approach is that all dental procedures are at some level invasive.

Next week, there will be yet another congressional hearing, It’s being billed as “Sacred Obligation: Restoring Veteran Trust and Patient Safety.” That name tells you all you need to know if you’re a VA official.

What critics want is accountability. Who let this happen? Where are those individuals now? Why did it happen? Who knew what and when? Who didn’t act?

The goal is not just ensuring that heads roll. The goal is to make sure that something so repeated, so potentially harmful, so avoidable and so reckless never happens again.


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Editorial: Obama gives foes a chance to back off

President Barack Obama has done the Republican Party a favor by releasing a longer version of his birth certificate.

For years now, the “birthers” — the people who believe, despite indisputable, long-documented facts, that the president wasn’t born in this country — have said this: If he was born here, why not just release his birth certificate?

In truth, the short-form birth certificate that he released in 2008 is Hawaii’s legal birth certificate, the form the state gives residents for getting a passport, driver’s license and such.

Of course, some people called the short form a forgery. And they claimed erroneously that only the long form is valid. In truth, under normal circumstances, the long form isn’t even released to the individual it names.

Keep in mind, too, that Barack Obama’s birth was reported in Hawaii newspapers.

The repetitive, insistent denial of reality caused the White House to say there was no point in providing more documents, that some people were just determined to deny reality.

In truth, some Democrats liked having the issue simmer. A lot of politicos in both parties believed it only hurt the Republicans, being such nonsense.

But apparently the president never imagined a potential presidential candidate, Donald Trump, coming along and running on the issue and showing well enough in the polls to get taken seriously by the media. That changed things.

Contrary to the president’s insistence, the press has certainly not given this issue more attention than the deficit and budget lately. But, shortly after delivering his speech on the debt, he found himself in a television network interview being asked about the birth issue. He reportedly found that absurd and decided to act.

Some say the president made his decision because polls show that a lot of people believe he was born outside the United States. But the people who tell the pollsters that and who care — who understand that the Constitution says a foreign-born person can’t be president — are mainly Republican voters who are not accessible to the president anyway.

Some might also speculate that the president wanted to give a boost to Mr. Trump, thus discomfiting the adult forces in the Republican Party who want another pick for president.

But maybe the president should be taken at his word when he says he simply saw the issue distracting from monumental issues.

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” he said.

Whatever his reasons, by releasing the document, he has given the Republicans — who were becoming more divided on the issue — an opportunity to unite. They can all say the issue is now over.

Those who have known all along that the foreign-birth claim was nonsense can patronize the others, saying their persistence got the issue resolved. Those who pushed the birth issue can claim they got what they wanted.

Mr. Trump says, “I’m very proud of myself. I feel like I’ve accomplished something very, very important.” That shows something about his sense of perspective.

What’s important here is this question: Are there any facts anymore? Or are people just going to believe whatever they want to believe, based on their politics?

President Obama has not done anything to clear up the facts. The facts were always clear. He’s just given some foes an excuse for backing away from a discredited position. Now it’s up to them.


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Martin Gottlieb: How quickly they forgot Ken Blackwell

Ohio Republicans should welcome Ken Blackwell back to electoral politics with open arms.

That’s kind of a tough sell.

When he lost a race for governor in 2006, getting just under 37 percent of the vote, it was the most overwhelming defeat in memory in a major statewide race that didn’t involve an incumbent. You had to go back to John Glenn’s first victory to find one of that size.

In a tightly balanced state like Ohio, such losses just don’t happen unless one party has basically given up, putting up an unfunded no-name against a popular incumbent (or national hero). But Blackwell was no no-name.

He was a national conservative celebrity, a television talker, universally seen as a comer, besides being a longtime officeholder. He was the future, and he had been for a long time.

But that was then.

His statement of interest in running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012 is not exactly a dream come true for some party leaders.

Big players in the party have been encouraging newly elected state Treasurer Josh Mandel. A group of staunch conservatives — leaders and former leaders in the likes of the Tea Party, Ohio Right to Life and Citizens for Community Values Action (the Phil Burress group out of Cincinnati) — has tried to “draft” him.

That’s Blackwell’s natural constituency.

And that happened remarkably early, as if the whole point was to avoid a primary.

Blackwell seemed to have disappeared from the consciousness of his own people. That’s intriguing, because he has spent the intervening years burnishing his conservative credentials.

He’s been with the Family Research Council, the group that gay organizations associate with a fellow who thinks gay sex should be prosecuted. Blackwell has served with the Club for Growth and National Taxpayers Union, written conservative columns for a conservative website and worked with the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank.

One might have expected him to take a different course after 2006. After all, nobody saw him as insufficiently conservative. If he was still interested in elective office in Ohio, he might have decided to get involved in some nonpartisan issues, say economic development for Ohio’s stricken cities and Appalachia.

But even the Buckeye Institute connection has ended as he has focused on the national scene. He’s also written books, co-authoring “The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.” Another is coming out in May.

The draft-Mandel effort notwithstanding, Blackwell has been leading in polls among Republican voters.

Would his return hurt the party? The rap on primaries is that they risk dividing the party; and they risk using up money and energy that will be needed in the general election. In fact, though, the rap is wrong. Thirty years ago, a researcher found that Senate candidates who were nominated by the party that didn’t hold the seat in question were more likely to win in November if they had been through a tough primary.

A victory in a tough race can add to the stature of the nominee and make him or her more visible. (Also, the very fact of a primary is an indication the incumbent is seen as vulnerable; that’s an indication the incumbent might actually be vulnerable.)

Blackwell, 63, made some Republican critics in his day. That’s part of the explanation for the fact that the establishment didn’t reach out to him for 2012.

Also, some politicians think Mandel is a particularly strong candidate because of his Marine service in Iraq. A primary against Blackwell could test that. If Mandel wins, he’ll be all the stronger.

But if the case for Mandel, 33, is that he gives the conservatives what they want, somebody’s going to have to explain not going with somebody who’s done that for a long longer.

Ken Blackwell is forgotten, but not gone.


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Editorial: Prison is not West Dayton’s only concern

The good news for residents near West Dayton’s prisons is that state officials are coming back again soon — this time with a plan.

Gary Mohr, the director of Ohio’s prisons, said on Monday, April 25, that possibly he, but definitely his staff, are committed to giving neighbors and the staff better information about his decisions to close the Montgomery Education Pre-Release Center and to turn the Dayton Correctional Institution into a women’s prison.

He said the maximum number of female offenders he wants to house at the Gettysburg Avenue site is 960, up from the current 800 men.

Some neighbors are concerned. The prison’s population has been a moving target since the facility opened in 1987. First, there was a promise of 500 inmates, then it was 800, and then twice the state proposed double-bunking, raising the number to potentially 1,600.

The only thing that prevented such a large influx was a lease agreement with Dayton. The limit was negotiated in the first place because the prison is so close to a residential area.

Mr. Mohr said he won’t ask the city commission to vote on any changes to the lease until residents hear his plan. Any lesser commitment would be a non-starter. People are entitled to know what’s being contemplated; open-ended deals are unacceptable.

Besides how a bigger women’s prison would operate, residents will want to know how many jobs will be kept. That information is important for two reasons: the staffing level affects security, and, second, if people are going to be asked to live with a bigger facility, they at least want to know that the community will get a payback — that people will still be working.

Mr. Mohr said Monday that he’s not planning layoffs, but that as many as 45 to 50 of 300 jobs could be eliminated through attrition.

He insists that the lower staffing will still meet accreditation standards.

The reason the numbers can be reduced without compromising standards, he said, is that putting all prisoners in one building will reduce the total number of security “posts.”

Initially, Mr. Mohr complained that Dayton’s per-day cost for prisoners was too high, averaging $88 versus $44 per day elsewhere.

Obviously if the corrections department could just add more prisoners, that number could come down in a hurry.

But housing women won’t dramatically change the cost, which will be about $76 per day. Mr. Mohr says incarcerating women costs more because typically they need more medical care.

The other thing that people are going to want to hear more about is the proposal to move parole officers to the pre-release center. The officers see an average of 300 former offenders a week. What would that new foot traffic mean for residents?

Meanwhile, Mr. Mohr also is dedicated to persuading judges to put more low-level offenders on intense probation and increasing their supervision. If the pre-release center were to become a check-in spot for probationers, that would mean even more troubled people frequenting the prison site.

Depending on how strict the department is with ex-offenders, their presence could add to neighbors’ frustrations. They’re already fuming about men who stay at the Gettysburg Gateway for Men homeless shelter roaming the neighborhood.

The corrections department request of Dayton to change the lease is not happening in a vacuum. It’s actually turning into an opportunity for neighbors to get attention for multiple things they have every right to insist must be fixed.

The 99-year lease that Dayton cut more than two decades ago is still proving useful.


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Editorial: Appleton ruling shows tough balance at work

The U.S. Commerce Department has decided on a 3.77 percent tax on thermal paper made by a German company that competes with Appleton Papers’ West Carrollton plant.

The tax on the Koehler Paper Group is being reduced from 6.5 percent. But Appleton and some supporters in Washington are pleased because, until last week’s decision, Commerce was planning to lower the rate to zero.

Thermal paper is used in ATMs and such machines. It is not to be confused with coated paper, made by Miami-Twp.-based NewPage Corp. and another Appleton company, not the one with operations here.

Tax battles like this are fought frequently in paper and other industries. Another German maker of thermal paper — a Mitsubishi company — is considered by Commerce separately from Koehler. And an Appleton spokesman said Monday that taxes on Chinese companies in the industry range from 19.77 percent to 252.54 percent.

At issue in the Koehler case was dumping, the practice, basically, of selling a product for less than it sells at home. Under international free-trade agreements, if such practices are found to hurt a domestic company, the product may be taxed, but under rules designed not to amount to blatant protectionism.

Some people — call them free-trade purists — are deeply skeptical of anti-dumping rulings, seeing them as hurting consumers and businesses that purchase foreign goods and services. These skeptics say that degrees of cheating cannot be reliably measured, especially in fast-changing circumstances.

However, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says, “If not for our antidumping and countervailing duty laws, we would be seeing Depression-like situations in communities” throughout Ohio.

(Countervailing duties try to offset the government subsidies that foreign companies get in a country like China — which doesn’t have a market economy.)

Sen. Brown, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, pushed the Commerce Department for the thermal paper tax.

The cooperation of the two senators is notable. They have nearly opposite reputations on trade. Sen. Portman is a free-trader, while Sen. Brown criticizes treaties his colleague supports and calls instead for “fair trade.” He also says Washington isn’t aggressive enough about enforcing trade provisions designed to prevent American companies from being put at a disadvantage.

The fact that both Ohio senators are supporting an Ohio employer is not unusual, of course. Politicians do tend to unite around local interests, just as management and labor unite when a company is under siege from foreign competition.

But the Portman-Brown partnership tells you something about the difficulty of selling the purist position on trade, the notion that the marketplace should be allowed to rule with no government intervention.

Whatever the merits of the purist theory might be, politicians in a troubled state like Ohio don’t want to defend the right of foreign companies to dump their products here or to underprice local companies by taking advantage of subsidies back home.

The current overall scheme of things — characterized by free-trade agreements with rules that are enforced — leaves a lot of fights to be had about just how free trade should be and how energetically the rules should be enforced. But it represents a compromise worked out over decades.

It is good to see a Dayton-area employer get a ruling it likes. Some might have preferred something even stronger. But the process that resulted in the ruling was long and complex and had to be conducted according to international agreements designed to, among other things, give American companies access to foreign markets.


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Editorial: Dead people aren’t stealing any elections

The revelation that Greene County has more dead people on its registered-voter list than all but three other Ohio counties is concerning, of course. But just moderately concerning.

Dead people, after all, remain on all kinds of lists. Some of them keep getting sales pitches, even bills, for years.

The important question about dead people with regard to voting is not whether they are registered, but whether they actually vote — that is, whether somebody votes in their name. Nobody is alleging that is a big problem in Ohio. Elections directors in Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties say there’s no record of it in their domains. Much of the noise about election fraud is just that.

Montgomery County’s Steven Harsman does acknowledge that the names of dead people have shown up on petitions gathered to get candidates and issues on the ballot. But, he says, “They get deleted, because their signatures don’t match” the signatures on their registration forms.

Even if just a few people are signing another’s name, that’s not good. So county elections boards do have to keep their records up to date.

Secretary of State Jon Husted was right to count the number of dead registrants. He compared the state’s records about deaths with the election rolls.

But the fact that 18,460 dead people are on the rolls is less than scandalous, in a state of 11.6 million people.

The dead-registrant numbers for Greene, Montgomery and Warren counties are 903, 434 and 396, respectively. That makes Montgomery County look pretty good, given its size. Smaller Clark County had 511. Hamilton County led the state with 1,637.

One big reason there are dead people on the rolls is that, when people die in a county other than the one where they’re registered, that information doesn’t necessarily get communicated back to other county.

Anybody who could find a solution to that would be doing good work.

What isn’t needed is the raising of false alarms. Often, when there’s a hot election, one side or both set out to create doubts about the legitimacy of votes on the other side.

This is especially true when organizations are trying to register people to vote or when they’re gathering signatures needed to put an issue on the ballot. Organizers often hire people to round up new voters or signatures, and canvassers might be paid by the number of registrants or signatures they bring in.

When election officials conduct their verification process, phoney names can be discovered on petitions, and non-existent people are found to have been registered.

Alarms about these practices are fair when they’re based in fact. But there’s a great big gap between those charges and stolen elections.

Dead people have been known to vote, of course. The word Chicago comes to mind. But to be worth doing, an effort would be have to be organized and big. Such efforts become harder all the time.

With political passions seeming to run higher all the time, the possibility of that leading to real election fraud in such a crucial swing state as Ohio cannot be laughed off.

For that reason and others, whatever can economically be done to keep the registration rolls reasonably current should be done.

Trouble is, just as dead people don’t vote, they typically don’t take themselves off registration lists either.


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Editorial: Leitzell finds some good news, fairly enough

In the big picture, Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell did pretty much what anybody in his position would do in his State of the City speech on Thursday, April 21.

He pointed to promising projects and looked to the future for more.

He noted that not much help will be coming

from outside governments, and he concluded that better times are ahead anyway.

In pointing to a better future, he mentioned a nice bit of recognition.

“Don’t take my word for it,” he said. “Just ask the Financial Times, who just yesterday named Dayton one of American’s Top Cities of the Future.

“Dayton was chosen out of 405 cities across North and South America. Among cities with populations less than 250,000, we ranked second in foreign direct investment strategy, third in small business friendliness, and ninth as a City of the Future,” he said.

(“Direct investment” is investment in tangible projects, as opposed, say, to stocks.)

The mayor continued: “The Financial Times praised Dayton for our Tech Town technology park, the Ohio Aerospace Hub, our focus on advanced manufacturing and information technology, our abundant water supply, and our skilled workforce.”

His details got a little confused, perhaps because the news was so new. It was actually not the Financial Times (a business-oriented newspaper out of England), but a publication put out by the same company. The magazine is called fDi Intelligence, a reference to foreign direct investment.

The publication divided more than 400 Western Hemisphere cities into four categories: major, big, small and micro. Dayton figured into the third category, along with the likes of Richmond, Va., Mobile, Ala., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

The cities got rated in eight categories, with “city of the future” seeming to be a sort of catch-all. Dayton ranked in the top 10 in three of the eight. (In the category about direct investment strategy, cities submitted their own material.)

In recent years, Dayton has come out near the bottom of some of these media-generated lists. So it’s good to get a break. Concretely, what the study means is that some business people will see the name of Dayton mentioned in a favorable light. That can’t hurt.

The lists also mean that you don’t have to be a mindless cheerleader for the city to see promise.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that the magazine is clearly speaking about the region. It certainly isn’t making any distinction between Dayton and Kettering, Beavercreek, Vandalia or Springboro.

Mayor Leitzell’s speech was gracious in mentions of other commissioners and officials, but he missed an opportunity to reach beyond the city limits for a sense of shared mission (though he did mention county officials and his good relations with them).

As for his own role, he said, “I have spent my first year in office not focusing on politics as usual, but strategizing ways to empower our entrepreneurs and business owners, who have the power to lead our economic recovery.”

He said he had “116 appointments related to local businesses.” He did not say what those meetings have led to concretely. In truth, he has yet to make a major mark. Most of the good news the city has seen was underway before he took office.

Perhaps the best news about the aftermath of his election is that overt war has not broken out at City Hall, where his colleagues are all Democrats. The elected officials are doing a decent job of keeping things civil.

That’s not nothing. The city does need a sense of cohesion and needs to communicate cohesion.


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Editorial: Cheap beer sales bring out drunks

The decision by CVS to stop selling single servings of alcohol at its downtown store isn’t going to make any alcoholics turn sober. But it will make it less convenient for a small group of people to get drunk and soak up precious police time.

Dayton police, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Downtown Priority Board have been appealing to CVS and Stop-N-Save to stop selling cheap beer and malt liquor in single cans and what are known as “40 ouncers.”

They say the people who are buying these drinks, more often than not, are using money that they got from panhandling. The alcohol content is high enough to get them drunk, and then they annoy or intimidate downtown residents and workers.

Until this week, CVS, at 32. N. Ludlow St., has essentially said it wouldn’t give up this business. The manager at Stop-N-Save at 36 W. Third St., has had a good relationship with police, and has led some people to believe he would quit selling the products if CVS did.

But now he’s being coy. Maybe he will; maybe he won’t.

He has other issues with the city — he wants the alcove near the Arcade gated so people don’t hang out there and run off his customers, and he opposes the ordinance allowing panhandling licenses. He’s using his alcohol policy as a bargaining chip.

Police believe that CVS’s decision will make a difference because typically the people buying the single cans can’t afford a six-pack or 12-pack. If they can, it will be a bigger risk for them to drink in public because police will confiscate all six or 12 cans.

This fight has been fought in other cities. In Columbus, CVS stopped selling these products in a downtown store after that city’s equivalent of the downtown partnership complained publicly, saying CVS was to alcoholics what a “crack house” is to drug addicts.

In Dayton (and undoubtedly in Columbus, too), no one wanted CVS to close. Residents like being able to walk to a drug store, downtown workers like the convenience it adds. At the same time, a drug store and convenience store aren’t things people want at any cost.

Last summer a Cincinnati development company bought the KeyBank Tower (formerly the Mead Tower), and since then it has been putting money into a closed parking garage on Second Street. Easy parking is important to tenants in the KeyBank building.

If you’re trying to recruit tenants and much of downtown is talking about the trouble drunks are causing, that’s a problem. With the weather warming up, the situation must get fixed.

Stop-N-Save has to come around — for its own good and downtown’s. Courthouse Square and downtown generally are still paying for the complaints about rowdy young people hanging out at Third and Main streets when the Greater Dayton RTA was using downtown as a bus hub for Dayton Public School students.

That issue was years ago, but negative perceptions are stubborn.

Dayton’s police have better things to do than argue with drunks. But they can’t not deal with troubled individuals who can have an impact way beyond the threat level of their petty crimes. Dealing with these people is frustrating, because even when officers ticket them, there’s no room in the jail for them, and some nuisance crimes don’t carry jail terms.

The Dayton community’s social services network is stretched thin, with nonprofits absorbing cuts from the feds, the state, the county, United Way and philanthropists. There are fewer resources to help alcoholics, the homeless and the mentally ill. Those who don’t want to be helped are definitely not getting much attention.

Dayton police, and particularly Maj. Larry Faulkner, are trying their best to not let a nuisance problem become an economic development problem. They could use help — especially from Stop-N-Save.


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Martin Gottlieb: Boehner dream of new kind of House languishes

The Boehner Watch, part umpteen:

The fact that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 2012 budget blueprint that reinvents Medicare has won plenty of attention. However, for those interested in how local boy John Boehner is faring — and how he’s performing — as speaker, also worth noting is just how the House did that.

The budget was the work of Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee. As recently as late last year, Boehner was lukewarm toward the Ryan plan. He said it was worthy of attention, but he was careful not to buy into its most controversial aspects. He clearly worried that they might hurt the party.

At the time, the national political media were treating his coolness as part of a general tension between Boehner and some of the younger, hotter conservatives in the party. Meanwhile, on another front, Boehner was saying that if he were speaker, he would make the House a more democratic, open place.

He hated — his sincerity was clear — the practice under his Democratic predecessor of having all the major decisions made by a handful of people.

He said far too few members of the House were actual legislators. That is, they weren’t crafting bills, mastering the details, amending bills, building support, searching for coalitions.

He wanted openness, inclusion and respect across party lines. He said that just shoving a partisan agenda through backfires in the long run.

Since then, many have noticed the absence of his promised reforms on specific occasions. That started with the House’s quick adoption on a party-line vote of a call for the repeal of the Obama health care initiative.

Boehner’s response to that criticism was that he never promised that his new thrust would be evident on every piece of legislation.

Now comes the Ryan budget. It was officially unveiled in early April, showed up at the Budget Committee on April 6 and was passed by the full House on April 15.

That process is incomparably faster than what happens on a normal or minor piece of legislation, much less a sweeping new approach to the entire federal budget and the elimination of the government as the insurer in Medicare.

Despite complaints from Boehner and other Republicans about the failure of the Democrats to let the public examine their legislation in 2009 and 2010, there can be no pretense that the Ryan budget vote was timed to let the public weigh in. The whole idea was to get it done fast.

(According to a Washington Post poll after the vote, people oppose the Ryan Medicare plan by about 2-1.)

The House vote came a day after Congress and the White House had belatedly agreed to a 2011 budget, a fight that had consumed Congress. It came on a straight party-line vote, except that four Republicans bolted.

Some might look at these facts and conclude that Boehner was never sincere about his desire not to let his House be a Republican version of Nancy Pelosi’s.

In truth, however, he was naive rather than dishonest. He described and wanted something that just isn’t possible in these polarized times.

The political atmosphere is actually more partisan on his watch than it was on Pelosi’s, not because he’s more polarizing, but because the Republicans who were elected last year are on a tear which simply has no common ground with Democrats.

Keep in mind that just over a fifth of the House’s members are freshmen, overwhelmingly on the Republican side.

You’ve heard, perhaps, about the leader of old who said, “There go my people. I must follow them. I’m their leader.” Boehner isn’t the first leader to be forced to follow.

Truth be told, he basically shares the views of the freshmen on policy issues. He’s the first to say that. He just has different views about Congress.

He can’t reconcile the two sets of views, because they can’t be reconciled, because almost nobody really cares about process — notwithstanding partisan complaints about the other side’s processes. It’s really all about outcomes, policy, ideology.

When historians look back at the nature of the House in our times, they’re less likely to see a Pelosi era followed by a Boehner era than a Pelosi-Boehner era.


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Martin Gottlieb: Boehner dream of new kind of House languishes

The Boehner Watch, part umpteen:

The fact that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 2012 budget blueprint that reinvents Medicare has won plenty of attention. However, for those interested in how local boy John Boehner is faring — and how he’s performing — as speaker, also worth noting is just how the House did that.

The budget was the work of Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee. As recently as late last year, Boehner was lukewarm toward the Ryan plan. He said it was worthy of attention, but he was careful not to buy into its most controversial aspects. He clearly worried that they might hurt the party.

At the time, the national political media were treating his coolness as part of a general tension between Boehner and some of the younger, hotter conservatives in the party. Meanwhile, on another front, Boehner was saying that if he were speaker, he would make the House a more democratic, open place.

He hated — his sincerity was clear — the practice under his Democratic predecessor of having all the major decisions made by a handful of people.

He said far too few members of the House were actual legislators. That is, they weren’t crafting bills, mastering the details, amending bills, building support, searching for coalitions.

He wanted openness, inclusion and respect across party lines. He said that just shoving a partisan agenda through backfires in the long run.

Since then, many have noticed the absence of his promised reforms on specific occasions. That started with the House’s quick adoption on a party-line vote of a call for the repeal of the Obama health care initiative.

Boehner’s response to that criticism was that he never promised that his new thrust would be evident on every piece of legislation.

Now comes the Ryan budget. It was officially unveiled in early April, showed up at the Budget Committee on April 6 and was passed by the full House on April 15.

That process is incomparably faster than what happens on a normal or minor piece of legislation, much less a sweeping new approach to the entire federal budget and the elimination of the government as the insurer in Medicare.

Despite complaints from Boehner and other Republicans about the failure of the Democrats to let the public examine their legislation in 2009 and 2010, there can be no pretense that the Ryan budget vote was timed to let the public weigh in. The whole idea was to get it done fast.

(According to a Washington Post poll after the vote, people oppose the Ryan Medicare plan by about 2-1.)

The House vote came a day after Congress and the White House had belatedly agreed to a 2011 budget, a fight that had consumed Congress. It came on a straight party-line vote, except that four Republicans bolted.

Some might look at these facts and conclude that Boehner was never sincere about his desire not to let his House be a Republican version of Nancy Pelosi’s.

In truth, however, he was naive rather than dishonest. He described and wanted something that just isn’t possible in these polarized times.

The political atmosphere is actually more partisan on his watch than it was on Pelosi’s, not because he’s more polarizing, but because the Republicans who were elected last year are on a tear which simply has no common ground with Democrats.

Keep in mind that just over a fifth of the House’s members are freshmen, overwhelmingly on the Republican side.

You’ve heard, perhaps, about the leader of old who said, “There go my people. I must follow them. I’m their leader.” Boehner isn’t the first leader to be forced to follow.

Truth be told, he basically shares the views of the freshmen on policy issues. He’s the first to say that. He just has different views about Congress.

He can’t reconcile the two sets of views, because they can’t be reconciled, because almost nobody really cares about process — notwithstanding partisan complaints about the other side’s processes. It’s really all about outcomes, policy, ideology.

When historians look back at the nature of the House in our times, they’re less likely to see a Pelosi era followed by a Boehner era than a Pelosi-Boehner era.


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Martin Gottlieb: Nothing is enacted these days until it isn’t repealed

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, says that if he were elected, he’d move to repeal the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, about gays in the military.

His position captures the spirit of the age, if not on gay rights, then on repeals. It’s The Age of Repeal. Never has so much been up for undoing.

The Republicans want to repeal the Obama health care initiative. In Ohio, the Democrats want to repeal SB5, Ohio’s new collective bargaining law. Ohio Democrats are also trying to discreate JobsOhio — Gov. John Kasich’s new economic development tool — via the courts.

Across the country, newly elected Republican governors and legislatures are on a tear. Multiple efforts to repeal legalized abortion — or, at a minimum, curtail it — are just a small part of the scene. Old collective bargaining laws are under siege. So is a pro-gay marriage ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Some people are trying to repeal election outcomes with recalls of legislators — in Wisconsin — and calls for new recall laws in Ohio.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was among the newly elected legislators going to Washington with the goal of repealing what was left of the Obama stimulus. Meanwhile, efforts are under way in Washington to repeal the law passed last year to more tightly regulate financial institutions.

And Democrats want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1990s law that says states don’t have to recognize gay marriages from other states.

To be sure, new things are being enacted. The move in Ohio to require voters to have government-issued photo IDs is happening in many other states, too, being part of a national playbook designed to make sure the Republicans act fast to take advantage of their ascendancy.

But one has to wonder if such efforts are just fueling the do-undo cycle. Won’t Democrats — united in opposition — move to undo such laws as soon as their chance comes again, as it always does?

Politics was not always like this. Repeal efforts have been occasional, not automatic.

Sometimes these days the reversals of direction are instantaneous. In the last lame-duck session of Congress in December, Democrats and Republicans cooperated to pass tax cuts and spending increases (an extension of unemployment benefits). That effort might as well have been designed to increase the national debt and stimulate the short-term economy. A month later, a new Congress discovered the debt and started cutting spending, which might as well be designed to slow the economic recovery.

All this yin and yang suggests the country doesn’t know what it wants. Better, perhaps, to say that the body politic — comprised of the people who play the game — doesn’t know what it wants.

As individuals, the players know what they want, of course. Joyously polarized, they take every election victory as an indication that the country agrees with them — and every defeat as some sort of misunderstanding, to be undone soon. But as a collective, they are schizoid.

Part of the problem is the two-party system. It served the country well for a long time. But in those days, a rule of American politics held that the votes were at the center.

Now the parties are drawn to the notion that the key to victory is energizing your “base” — the passionate people who are anything but centrists — and getting more turnout than the other side. The parties have learned that focusing on the base doesn’t necessarily cost votes at the center.

In an important sense, the two polarized parties are in cahoots. The Wikipedia entry on the yin/yang concept says it entails the view that opposites only exist in relation to each other.

The constant refighting of fights works to the advantage of activists on both sides. It cuts their work out for them. They develop mailing lists and keep soaking the same people.

As for the voters who don’t identify with the views of either party, they don’t get together to form a moderate antidote. They just flop back and forth. So power flops back and forth.

One problem the moderates have in uniting is that they don’t agree on concrete policy positions, only on the moderation generalization. Maybe they could rally behind the policy of opposing all repeals.


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Editorial: Tony Hall’s humbling fast is just like him

When he was in Congress and went on a 22-day fast in 1993 to protest the killing of a legislative committee that focused on combating hunger, Tony Hall had an easy time getting attention.

It matters where you sit. Today the retired congressman from Dayton is executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, a modest nonprofit. Since he’s not walking on the House floor anymore, it’s not as easy to get to people who pull the political levers.

But thanks to social media and a broad network of faith-based organizations, his second effort at going hungry to help those without hasn’t gone unnoticed.

To protest proposed budget cuts that international and national aid groups said would decimate efforts to feed the hungry in this country and abroad, more than 36,000 people, including 28 members of Congress, are in some way joining Mr. Hall.

They’ve committed to giving up a meal each day or trying to buy food on just $2 a day, the amount 2.1 billion people live on.

A spokesman for the Alliance to End Hunger said he is aware of only one other person — Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a liberal faith-based group — joining Mr. Hall, 69, in an all-liquid diet that will end, after 27 days, on Easter.

This week Mr. Hall, a Democrat who served in George W. Bush’s administration, surpassed the 22-day mark that he met in 1993. That time, he only drank water, a move his doctor advised against repeating.

Mr. Hall’s Alliance to End Hunger has helped create a coalition of 40 or so groups, including internationally respected religious organizations like Mercy Corps and World Vision, to explain how many people are dependent on the U.S. government’s anti-hunger programs.

Mr. Hall says public education is important because surveys show that when Americans are asked how much the government spends on foreign assistance, the median estimate is 25 percent of the budget. In fact, foreign aid totals one-half of 1 percent.

In light of the $1.3 trillion federal deficit, Mr. Hall agrees that cuts have to be made. But he and his coalition argue that hunger programs can’t be slashed.

For example, the McGovern-Dole program effectively entices families in poor countries to send their children to school — where they’re taught to read and given a meal, leaving more food for the others at home. The administration wanted to spend $209 million on the initiative in 2011; Republicans proposed a $100 million cut. The compromise was $199.1 million.

The administration also proposed spending almost $3 billion on development assistance — which pays for efforts to provide clean water and micro-loans. Republicans countered with $1.7 billion. The settlement was $2.5 billion.

On the domestic side, there were battles about spending on food programs for pregnant mothers and spending on preschool and school-lunch programs.

The agreement that averted a government shutdown runs until Oct. 1. A new budget year starts then, but debate about it has already begun.

In 1993, then-Congressman Hall didn’t get his committee back, but the Congressional Hunger Center was started, and it has trained at least 60 professional hunger workers each year for the last 17 years.

The World Bank also held a conference in the aftermath and agreed to put up more than $100 million in micro-credit loans, which help women to buy sewing machines and men to buy garden tools. In developing countries, piece work done at home and vegetable plots are businesses that put food on the table.

Who’s to say what will come from his effort this time? But no one who knows Mr. Hall believes his fast is anything but sincere — or that it will come to nothing.

His passion about combating hunger at home and abroad — and in Dayton — has been unceasing. With the country facing unquestionably difficult financial choices, it’s no surprise that he would be out front among those insisting that hungry people can’t be forgotten.


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Editorial: Anti-smoking efforts poor targets for cuts

Turns out Gov. John Kasich and his predecessor Ted Strickland do have one view in common, after all: Both are hostile to state efforts to curb smoking.

At least that’s a judgment suggested by budgetary decisions.

Gov. Strickland raided anti-tobacco money regularly, notwithstanding that it came from a court settlement with tobacco companies, or that the original lawsuits were about getting the tobacco companies to pay for problems caused by cigarettes.

Now the Kasich administration has proposed to eliminate all money for enforcement of the state ban on public smoking indoors. Thing is, though, the public supported that ban by a 58.5 percent majority when the issue was on the 2006 ballot.

Counties could still enforce the ban on their own, but they are being more and more burdened.

A lot of facts are undisputed. Smoking kills. And efforts to help people quit pay off.

In the Kasich budget, state money to enforce the ban on indoor smoking would be reduced in 2012 and eliminated in 2013. So would money for a telephone “quit line,” where people can get help to quit. Ohio would become the only state without such a line.

As things stand, the state’s anti-tobacco spending is $5.3 million a year. Compare that to the $1.2 billion the state won in the tobacco settlement.

In defending the budget, Kasich administration spokesman Rob Nichols did not argue that the state has no legitimate role in the fight against smoking.

He said the funding cut “is not necessarily reflective of the merits of the program. But it is an unfortunate reality of being handed an $8 billion budget hole.”

Well, one reasonable approach to the budget hole would be to raise taxes on tobacco products. The American Cancer Society says $50 million could be raised just by taxing non-cigarette tobacco products, not to mention how much could be raised by increasing the cigarette tax. (Ohio’s cigarette taxes are about average as states go.)

Even with no increase, tobacco taxes bring in about $922 million yearly. Surely, some could go to anti-smoking projects.

In the absence of tax increases, this cut doesn’t help much with the budget problem. It’s a small fraction of one percent ($80 million) of the $8 billion.

The governor has said, rightly, that interest groups need to be willing to take their licks. But, in truth, cutting funds for anti-smoking efforts is easy precisely because there’s no organized interest group scaring the politicians with threats of financial and political reprisal. (The American Cancer Society?)

When a state runs campaigns designed to convince people not to smoke, one might question how many lives are affected. But the Ohio quit line comes with actual numbers: In the last four years, more than 73,000 calls came in from people wanting to quit. The state claims a 32-percent quit rate for those who enter the related program.

As for the smoking ban, when the people enacted it, they implicitly voted to fund reasonable enforcement. To believe otherwise is make to a mockery of the election process.

The ban is being challenged before the Ohio Supreme Court. Until it is overturned, the state has to embrace it.

Perhaps the Kasich proposal should be seen as just a bargaining position, an invitation to critics to submit their own alternative cuts. If so, the invitation should be embraced.


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Editorial: Low-wage jobs too big a part of recovery

From the beginning of the current recovery from The Great Recession, the main problem has been jobs. Corporate profits have been excellent. Overall growth of the economy — the worth of it — has been good. Government revenues have started to pick up.

But for a long time, few new jobs were being added. Even now, the unemployment rate, while down substantially from its high point, is in a territory that historically would have been considered bad: 8.8 percent nationally and 8.9 percent in Ohio.

At some stages, some analysts have found it tempting to play with the notion that a lot of people have become semi-satisfied with being unemployed. The unemployment rate is actually a measure of the number of people who say they are seeking jobs. At times, it has moved slightly downward even when the total numbers of jobs hasn’t grown.

That’s an indication that people are either giving up or possibly deciding that they don’t want a bad job if, say, theirs is the second income in a family.

In some fields, employers have actually said that they can’t find qualified workers.

New figures, however, suggest that people are hardly being picky about the jobs they’ll take. Dayton Daily News Staff Writer Randy Tucker reported Friday, April 15, on the basis of government statistics, that the number of Ohioans earning $7.25 an hour (the federal minimum wage) or less has more than doubled since the beginning of the recession. From 77,000, it is most recently reported at 172,000.

News like that puts a damper on the news that Ohio has actually been adding more jobs recently than other states.

The gap between the federal and state unemployment rates was much bigger at the depths of the recession. The U.S. rate hit about 10.1 percent, the Ohio rate about 10.6 percent. The narrowing suggests an Ohio bounceback. It is certainly good news.

However, in 2010 almost half the new jobs in Ohio were in retail or food service or were temporary, areas with a reputation for low pay.

Perhaps there’s some good news in the very latest unemployment numbers, for March. While they don’t show any great jump in numbers of jobs generally (2,200 statewide), they show manufacturing jobs up by 7,100.

Truth is, though, other months during the recovery have also shown manufacturing looking relatively good.

At any rate, the numbers about jobs that pay the minimum wage or less confirm a trend that has become all too obvious, not just since the recession began, but over the longer term. For a wide swath of people in the middle class and lower, purchasing power is diminishing. And fewer people are landing stable jobs with good benefits.

Now inflation threatens to return. Overall, it’s still pretty tame. But then there are gasoline prices.

As the recovery proceeds, it’s important for government leaders to keep an eye on how it is playing out. People who lost jobs during the recession that were appropriate for their education levels are, after being unemployed for a long time, taking lesser jobs. This happens even as Ohio as a state is struggling to ensure that more people get college educations.

That is an appropriate thrust, of course, because, among other reasons, the educated are often the ones who produce jobs.

Meanwhile, though, a lot of people are going backward in life. That’s a central problem not only of the recovery period, but of our time.


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Ellen Belcher: Merit, politics didn’t matter in shuttle bid

If communities had therapists, we’d be on the couch.

You couldn’t go anywhere this week without hearing people fuming about NASA’s decision not to give Dayton a shuttle. And if they weren’t angry, they were in a serious funk.

The rejection felt so personal — not unlike when NCR said it was picking up and moving to Georgia.

NCR was born here. Its headquarters was here, and we thought its soul, too.

The Wright brothers made this their home and did some of their most important work here. The Air Force is here. Its research lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has been certifiably crucial to the space program, and so have the service’s test pilots. The Air Force museum is here.

Just as when NCR tried to explain its decision, NASA gave a rationale that didn’t honestly, truthfully, logically hold up.

Dayton came in fifth in the hunt for one of the three shuttles and the test orbiter because, Congressman Steve Austria was told, it wasn’t as easily accessible to international visitors as New York and LA.

Since when did NASA’s mission become educating and entertaining out-of-country visitors? When did that consideration become part of the deal?

We were being fed a bunch of baloney, and it was insulting. Losing and being insulted at the same time are a lot to swallow.

It also didn’t help that the Midwest was totally shut out. Dayton isn’t alone in believing that there’s a bias against Middle America, a bias that no amount of merit or hard work or passion can overcome.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles put its name in for a shuttle, but it didn’t expect to win. It didn’t raise any money. It just was — and it won.

Sen. Sherrod Brown believed merit would only carry Dayton so far. Everyone involved in the effort to land a shuttle here agrees he was relentless about lobbying the White House.

If politics was going to come into play, he was not going to let the president forget about Ohio.

As a Democrat, as a senator from a state the president has to win, Brown had access that Republican Reps. Mike Turner and Austria didn’t.

On Thursday, two days after the announcement, he was still stinging. He said he just couldn’t get the administration to get involved, that top officials said they were going to stay out of the fight.

Brown said he was hopeful that Dayton’s chances were good until about five days before the announcement. It was at that point that he started hearing rumblings that Dayton was not on the short list.

After the announcement, he asked the Government Accountability Office to review NASA’s selection process, a request the GAO has to honor, though Brown said he’s not sure where the review will fall in the agency’s stack of things to do. Knowing after the fact whether the process was flawed will, of course, change nothing.

While it’s human nature to get our feelings hurt, prolonged whining is not Dayton’s reflex.

On the morning after the NASA press conference, a lot of people who were invested in the shuttle effort were talking about what they could do for the Air Force museum to make it better, to fill the hole that the loss was going to create. Even if the rich coasts were going to get richer without even trying, Dayton wasn’t going to abandon the assets that it has or stop trying to leverage them.

That was the missed opportunity that NASA didn’t get — and it was an insight that Turner used pointedly after the announcement to criticize the Obama administration.

Giving Dayton a shuttle would have been an economic development opportunity, a way to help draw visitors to a place that doesn’t have the natural, ready-made appeal of a big city. It would have bolstered a place that has so much merit that is undiscovered.

In an important way, putting a shuttle here would have given it a second act, a chance to do something significant even after it stopped flying.

In retrospect, it was probably folly to ever expect that NASA would take this kind of thinking into consideration. But it’s a pretty good tie-breaker — certainly as good as how many people from out of the country are going to catch a glimpse of the first reusable space craft.


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Editorial: Is regionalism still possible after Beavercreek?

The Beavercreek bus controversy could have ended even worse. It could have been followed by angry calls in Dayton or Montgomery County for reprisal, for boycotts of the Mall at Fairfield Commons or other measures designed to get Beavercreek to reconsider its relations with neighbors.

After all, Beavercreek City Council turned down a constructive bid at regionalism by the Greater Dayton RTA and told residents of Montgomery County that Beavercreek simply does not want their business if they’re not driving, as many don’t.

The fact that the fight didn’t escalate is to the credit of the broader community.

Now, however, Beavercreek, Dayton and other communities need to confront the damage that has been done. The controversy dealt a blow to the cause of a united region, to the notion that the people of the Dayton area need to see themselves as in the same boat, need to identify with one another, need to focus on what unites them rather than wallow in division, fear and competitiveness.

For many years, the City of Dayton has had an annual walk over the Third Street bridge as a symbol of unity between the races. A walk across the bridge that links Wright State University with the Fairfield mall area is a little hard to picture.

But the need is similar. How about some joint project between the cities of Dayton and Beavercreek, or some regional project they might lead?

When companies that might employ Beavercreek residents consider locating in the Dayton area, they won’t focus on whether a mall has bus stops. And they won’t focus on quality of life in one suburb. They’ll be thinking about the metropolitan area.

More perhaps than most places, a relatively affluent suburb like Beavercreek needs an attractive metropolitan area surrounding it, the kind of place that people with choices want to live in. That requires a central city that’s attractive, safe, financially stable and not just hanging by a thread.

In the new U.S. Census, Beavercreek passed Huber Heights to become the second-biggest suburb of Dayton, after Kettering. That fact offers Beavercreek something of a leadership role.

The failure last week of the Dayton area to win one of the space shuttles drives home an important point: No silver bullet is likely to revive the region. It’s going to be a long, hard pull, requiring cooperation from those with the most to protect and nourish.

Nearly everybody in public office gives lip service to the idea of regionalism. The notion that cooperation among various jurisdictions can benefit everybody has a lot of surface appeal. It promises to save money, foster economic development, and maintain the idea of community, even as the core city — so crucial to the region’s reputation — diminishes.

But sometimes you have to wonder if all the talk of regionalism is just a joke. Is the idea of trying to accommodate each other going to give way anytime anybody sees a downside?

We live in a time when political warriors bombard their followers with verbiage about political opponents that couldn’t be much hotter if it were about foreign enemies. The difference between the two parties is so intense that, if liberals and conservatives were cleanly divided geographically, there’d be serious calls for secession on both sides of the line.

(Some people have even said that the reason Beavercreek didn’t want to let the RTA in is that it’s a Republican community that has a conservative understanding of what government should do. But we’re talking about a city that lists a golf course under its municipal services.)

The Dayton area has plenty of people on both sides of the political divide, not to mention groups of different racial, economic and religious characteristics. There’s plenty of potential for division. Sustaining any degree of unity has always required effort and will continue to do so.

Ideally, the bus spat should re-energize the regionalism effort. It highlights the fraught nature of relations between the city and suburbs. But both need each other.


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Editorial: West Dayton doesn’t deserve threats

If there weren’t 300 jobs at Dayton’s prison and pre-release center — half of them held by people who live in the city — it would be easy to tell the state to take a hike.

Dayton’s city commission could easily vote to prevent the state from moving in more women inmates in place of the men it wants to move out.

Currently, there are 800 men at the two prisons. The new plan is for 960 women to be housed in just one prison. Initially, corrections officials were planning for 1,600 women.

A top state prison official recently came to town to hear what residents thought of the trade, so to speak. Many are not happy. It’s not that they object to women more than men; it’s that the state’s requests — its demands, really — keep changing.

What if, down the road, the new, higher number of 960 inmates isn’t good enough?

The corrections department has a lease with Dayton that sets a limit on how many offenders can be housed on the grounds. That restriction creates an occasion where residents actually can have a say about what will happen in their neighborhood.

They can’t affect the Stony Hollow landfill that also is nearby, and many believe they’re failing horribly in their attempts to get a homeless shelter for 240 or so men to insist its clients be good neighbors.

The original idea of having 1,600 women at the prisons was dropped not out of concerns of neighbors here, but because Cleveland objected to a women’s prison in that community being closed. The loss of jobs there was a concern. But people also complained that moving Cleveland-area inmates so far from their families would set back efforts to help the women.

Some small addition of women won’t be any greater security risk than the 800 men who are at the prisons now. (The corrections department says it has not had any violent incidents involving four or more people at its women’s facilities in “recent memory.” Incidents involving men, however, are happening on an average of every seven days — a statistic many attribute to overcrowding.)

The prison is already here. Dayton does unquestionably benefit from the prison jobs (which the state is saying will decline through attrition).


The corrections department also wants to move parole officers to the prison, to save on the cost of office space. That presumably would mean parolees frequenting the neighborhood.

What’s the security plan? What reassurance is the corrections department going to give to the community that those individuals will be kept in check?

Dayton has already accommodated the department once by increasing the maximum number of inmates from 500 to 800, hardly an insignificant change from the original plan when state Rep. C.J. McLin promised neighbors that the prison would not be allowed to become a big warehouse or a powder keg.

A line has to be drawn somewhere, or that state’s promise means nothing at all.

The corrections department is in a tough spot. But it has way more options than the residents of West Dayton, who have had many things imposed on them that no one wants in their back yard.

The people of West Dayton are entitled to their demands, too.


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Guest column: Ohio must reinstate ban on deadly exotic animals

This commentary was written by Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States.

Do your neighbors have a tiger in their basement? Or perhaps a bear in the garage or a Burmese python in the den?

You might think it would be impossible for your neighbor to turn a private home into a mini-menagerie, but a short-lived state ban on acquiring dangerous, exotic wild animals has been allowed to expire and, once again, it’s something of a free-for-all in Ohio in terms of keeping predators, primates and even giant constricting and venomous snakes in your home as pets.

Mind you, state rules require no license to acquire an animal that can bring down a buffalo or win a fight with an alligator. Nor do you need to demonstrate any special experience or expertise or guarantee that the animal will be in a sound enclosure.

All you need is a bit of a death wish and few hundred bucks to buy one of these animals from an exotic animal auction in Holmes County or from one of the exotic animal sellers on the Internet.

Ohio is one of the hubs of the exotic-pet trade, and the urgency and scope of the problem is illustrated by a report recently released by The Humane Society of the United States called “Ohio’s Fatal Attractions.”

The report provides information on the disturbing track records of 14 exotic-animal owners — many of whom seem to have made Ohio their home because regulations have been so weak or non-existent.

The reports cite the concerns of neighbors when a couple moved to Ashland with five adult tigers that were initially housed in cramped cages in the basement of the family’s home.

A facility in Berlin Center was cited in January by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failure to provide adequate enclosures to prevent escapes by at least 29 of its 73 big cats.

Another facility in Perrysburg was cited by the agriculture department for repeated failure to provide enclosures that could safely contain lions and wolves that, according to the inspector, “could easily jump out.”

In five agriculture department inspections that produced 23 pages of serious violations, a facility in Wapakoneta was cited for, among other things, failure to provide animals with veterinary care and with adequate shelter during below-freezing temperatures.

A facility in Lancaster was cited for failure to separate three incompatible tigers, resulting in a violent fight that lasted for 30 minutes.

And an exhibitor based in Sandusky was cited for mishandling a 3½-week-old tiger cub used for three days of photo sessions with the public and keeping the cub on a 110-degree cement slab with only a plastic dog kennel as shelter from the sun.

That same person was keeping bear cubs in transport crates inside a cluttered garage.

Dozens of people have been injured or killed by exotic animals in Ohio in the past two decades. And many of the animals acquired by these people have died prematurely, or been relinquished to a sanctuary or rescue organization, which is then forced to pick up the tab for someone else’s reckless and irresponsible decision.

Privately owned exotic animals are, of course, much more apt to be involved in incidents resulting in injury and death than domesticated species and pets. For Deirdre Herbert, whose son Brent was mauled to death by a captive bear in August 2010 in Lorain County, one incident is one too many.

“Keeping dangerous animals as pets or in displays is a prescription for more tragedies like the one I and my family have experienced … one that will live with us forever,” she wrote to the governor.

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently allowed an emergency order, which was imposed at the beginning of the year, to expire. We hope that the new administration does not lag in getting a new and equally strong rule into place to restrict the sale and possession of big cats, bears, wolves, non-human primates, crocodilians and large constricting and venomous snakes.

There’s no good or safe reason for individuals and unqualified facilities to keep dangerous wild animals. The outcome is inevitably bad, and possibly fatal — for both people and the animals.


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Editorial: Ohio needs whistle-blowers on public’s side

When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had a press conference recently to promote legislation to reward and protect whistle-blowers, he recounted a piece of Civil War history.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the federal “false claims” act in response to the fact that vendors were selling the government bullets padded with sawdust. It’s an outrage that still resonates 150 years later.

Mr. DeWine, a Republican, says Ohio needs to follow 27 other states and adopt its own whistle-blower statute. That idea, which has gone nowhere in previous legislatures, is being resurrected, in part because of the attention Dayton-based CareSource received after it agreed to pay $26 million for Medicaid fraud.

The nonprofit denies that it did anything wrong and insists misunderstandings and paperwork snafus are what got it in trouble. But clearly the attorney general did not agree with that explanation, and he said so again at his April 7 press conference.

Mr. DeWine admitted that money is part of the driving force behind his efforts. Federal law says that states that have their own whistle-blower statute will share equally in any proceeds from an offender who cheats the federal and state governments. If the affected state doesn’t have a whistle-blower law, then the feds take more — 60 percent.

(Often the most significant graft involves programs that include state and federal dollars. Medicaid fraud is one example, but whistle-blower cases involving federal and state transportation money are common also.)

The legislation, which is sponsored in the Ohio House by Ross W. McGregor, a Springfield Republican, mirrors the federal law. It would protect whistle-blowers from retaliation for turning in an employer; it would allow for treble damages; it would apply to all contractors doing business with the state; and it would allow whistle-blowers to receive up to 18 percent of the damages recovered.

Bridge and road contractors and hospitals have opposed this sort of legislation in the past. They fear frivolous lawsuits, and some object to the provision of treble damages. They think that’s too punitive.

Another complaint is that both the feds and the state are using whistle-blower statutes as a way to raise money. The long arm of the law, critics says, is a powerful weapon and can force expensive settlements resulting just from threats to take a company to trial.

The best rebuttal to that is that the Department of Justice only intervenes in 25 percent of the whistle-blower lawsuits that are filed. (Private individuals can bring them on their own, without the support of the government.) That statistic suggests that there is a limit to the government’s resources, and that prosecutors are not just taking the word of every embittered employee.

By not having a whistle-blower statute, Ohio is only disadvantaging itself. The government can’t be everywhere, checking up on the people it’s paying to do a job. And if it finds problems through an audit or an inspection or because a bridge collapses, that’s too late; it’s after the fact.

If, on the other hand, unscrupulous companies know they’re being watched by people on the inside, maybe they’ll reconsider the risks of taking shortcuts or just plain cheating.


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Martin Gottlieb: NASA’s interests trumped Obama’s and any city’s

Worth pondering: The shuttle fight was won not by the communities that made the biggest commitments to the fight or by those where the president needs votes or by his hometown or by those with the deepest ties to the space program or by those expected to win.

The Los Angeles Times reported this after that city won a shuttle:

“Los Angeles was widely considered an underdog…. Robert Yowell, a former NASA flight controller who monitored online guessers of NASA’s picks, said, ‘Not one thought L.A. was going to get one.’

“Other museums had high-profile efforts led by astronauts. Politicians joined in with heavy arm twisting.

“In contrast, the California Science Center, a free museum run by the state and a nonprofit group, mounted a low-key campaign.”

When The New York Times reported on the outcome, it proceeded as if the shuttle wasn’t even a local matter. Its story began with the fact that Florida, California and the Washington, D.C. area had won the shuttles that flew in space. Only in the seventh paragraph did the paper note that New York won the biggest consolation prize, a shuttle that had flown, but not in space.

Such coverage would have been unthinkable in the likes of Dayton, Houston and Seattle, where community leaders had identified the shuttles as crucial to the city and had thrown everything they had into the fight.

Seattle was building a building to show how serious it was. But Los Angeles hadn’t so much as raised a dime for the effort.

These facts may offer no useful lessons for communities that are wondering how to pursue their interests with the federal government. Who would tell them to just relax, to let nature take its course and hope for the best? Who would tell them that everything is predetermined by geography or something?

After all, if a community is lazy about fighting for itself and loses a project, some people will hold that against the local powers that be. They’ll charge that the fight could have been won if only it had been fought. And nobody will be able to rebut them convincingly. That sort of criticism is heard all the time.

Nevertheless, there is one lesson here, if not for community leaders, at least for people on the outside watching, people who want to understand how the American system works.

In Houston, community leaders, journalists and droves of citizens have jumped to the conclusion that President Barack Obama personally decided he doesn’t like Texas because it’s Republican. And yet, if the shuttle was a political asset to him, he wasted it. He doesn’t need any votes in New York or California, both solidly Democratic. He does in Ohio.

Many in Houston are seeing what they call “Chicago politics” at work. And yet Chicago itself was among the losers.

In truth, NASA seems to have functioned in a vacuum into which entered neither political calculations nor questions about the level of interest in various communities.

Some questions about NASA’s rationale are still not answered. But the agency seems to have considered location on a coast and population size to be crucial. It talks about foreign travelers having access to the shuttles. Why that should be an important consideration is not clear.

One might think that, especially these days, economic development would be a major consideration. If it were, Dayton would have been an excellent choice. The shuttle would have been a big change for this struggling community, rather than a nearly invisible one, as for the winners.

Whether the NASA decision makes sense or not, it is a demonstration of the pains that have been taken — for better and worse — to remove politics from this kind of decision, to leave bureaucracies free to make decisions on their merits, as the agency sees them.

Apparently NASA just likes the idea of being in the biggest cities on the coasts, and that’s that. If New York and Los Angeles hadn’t applied at all, maybe NASA would’ve sought them out.

The question that leaves is, should it be NASA’s interests that prevail?


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Editorial: NASA changed signals on Ohio, Midwest

Ohio and Texas politicians have found something to agree about: NASA should be investigated for its process for awarding the soon-to-be-retired space shuttles.

Hours after the decision was announced that the Air Force museum in Dayton and the Johnson Space Center in Houston were among the unhappy losers, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, Steve Austria, Marcy Kaptur and Steven LaTourette asked for the GAO to investigate the selection process. The GAO is Congress’ independent watchdog.

Meanwhile, Houston officials are saying they, too, want an investigation. That city has suspected for some time that it was going to be shut out, and it has been publicly nipping at NASA.

Shuttle backers there, for instance, held a press conference where widows of Columbia astronauts spoke of the need to honor those who gave their lives for the program. The appeal almost seemed exploitative.

The GAO is known for doing exhaustive work, and maybe the agency would find that the selection process was horribly flawed. But the decisions to send a shuttle to Los Angeles and a test shuttle to New York are not likely to be overturned.

The best that could come out of an investigation — which NASA has said it welcomes — is that the space agency would be metaphorically indicted for sloppiness or goofy criteria.

Shouldn’t NASA have to account for itself? Shouldn’t its process be scrutinized? Yes, but it was Congress that made the rule to leave the ultimate decision to the NASA administrator. Congress didn’t mandate a public, competitive process with clearly spelled-out criteria. It allowed subjectivity to be built into the decision-making.

Sen. Brown aggressively tried to persuade the White House and NASA that the Air Force and Dayton deserved a shuttle, and he and Reps. Turner and Austria also lobbied NASA hard. You do have to wonder, though, whether the results would have been any different if Sen. Brown had been persuasive that there was political advantage for the president to send a shuttle to Ohio, or if House Speaker John Boehner, of West Chester, had been more than an obligatory advocate.

That would have been an ugly way to win, but, in a process involving more good choices than shuttles, the case for the Air Force and Dayton stacked up impressively. The politicians couldn’t have been legitimately accused of just playing politics.

One thing that’s galling people in Ohio and Dayton is the suggestion that the coasts were favored because Dayton lacked easy exposure to international visitors. That criterion was new to people here, and it is inconsistent with other messages from NASA.

Applicants did understand they needed to be within easy reach of the public, but the public was seen as taxpayers, not international visitors. NASA also said it wanted to know how the museums would promote science education, but that consideration was about educating this country’s young people.

The international focus came out of nowhere and feels like a barrier thrown up at the last minute to justify putting all the shuttles on the coasts.

The space agency used its latitude in a way that has invited bitter criticism that is not motivated just by disappointment. Considering the prizes were so valuable and so sought-after, you’d think that NASA would have had answers for places that fell short. It doesn’t have good ones.


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Martin Gottlieb: Miami grad leads his party, but offers little for others

Miami University grad Paul Ryan has grabbed the attention of the political world with a blueprint for future federal spending and taxing. At the very least, he has backed President Barack Obama into a corner.

Obama’s lack of a credible plan to assault the federal debt — and rising health care costs, the heart of the matter — was becoming more and more glaring, even before Ryan acted. Now the situation is worse, with the Republicans having a plan — on top of the pre-existing non-partisan plan.

The latter, of course, is one put forth by the president’s own bipartisan debt commission, becoming known as Bowles-Simpson, after its co-chairs.

Only the Democrats are without a plan; looks bad when the Democrats have the presidency.

Obama will address that problem in a speech today. Some people are saying Ryan is the one who will end up looking backed into a corner, his proposals being more unpopular than anything Obama has. Just forcing Obama’s hand is good work.

Ryan deserves credit for emerging as his party’s voice on big-picture budget issues and for pushing the party toward specificity and beyond nibbling around the edges.

By virtually acknowledging Ryan as their spokesman, Republicans are now associated with his concrete ideas.

Unfortunately, however, Ryan has settled for putting forth a Republican plan rather than something that can be adopted. He could have done better work by getting a Democratic name after his and a hyphen: the Ryan-Somebody plan.

Ryan was on the Bowles-Simpson commission. He voted no on the plan its majority adopted, a combination of tax increases and cuts in projected spending to be achieved by such devices as gradually raising the age for full Social Security benefits.

Now Ryan has come up with a plan that no bipartisan commission would adopt.

Another problem: It leaves the budget unbalanced until the 2030s, which is to say, indefinitely.

He is more focused on tax levels than debt levels. He sells his plan as a reduction in the percentage of the national economy taken up by the federal budget.

Achieving that would be quite a trick when people are living longer and technological advances are making health care more and more expensive.

Where would the cuts come?

Bill Galston, a deficit hawk at the moderate-to-liberal Brookings Institution, cites the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office: “CBO estimates that under Ryan’s proposal, the portion of the federal budget not devoted to mandatory health programs, Social Security, or interest on the debt would decline from 12 percent in 2010 to 6 percent in 2022 to 3.5 percent by 2050. Does anyone think this is serious? Does anyone think this will happen. How many people — really, deep down — think it should?”

In answering the question, keep in mind that we’re talking about a portion of the federal budget that includes defense spending.

Ryan does not suggest cuts in Social Security. That’s an intriguing fact, given how often you’ve heard people insisting there’s a crisis in Social Security. In truth, there is not, though there is a long-term problem to be confronted. He’s justified in focusing on health care.

He proposes to limit the growth of Medicare and Medicaid by simply capping how much the federal government will spend.

On Medicare, instead of having the government cover whatever medical care is deemed needed for an individual, he would give the individual a certain amount of money to spend on insurance.

On Medicaid — the federal/state program that insures the poor and those with disabilities — he’d have the feds simply give a flat amount of money to the states, and let the states take it from there.

He and others say these reforms would encourage savings within the systems. But it’s just a theory. People are entitled to suspect that the only reason money would be saved is that coverage would be diminished.

Ryan’s plan would have been more important if he had put it forth before Bowles-Simpson. Then he could have take credit for spurring a debate that led to Bowles-Simpson.

But now he’s in the awkward position of offering a partisan alternative to a bipartisan plan. Things are going backward. The compromise emerged first.

Ryan’s willingness to settle for being a party leader gives Obama the opportunity — despite himself — to stake uncontested claim to the role of national leader on this issue. Now the question is, will he?


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Editorial: AF’s assets still undeniable

No question — Dayton is hugely disappointed that it isn’t getting one of three soon-to-be-retired space shuttles.

Hope was high and a sleek orbiter would have been a spectacular new draw for the immensely respected, even revered, Air Force museum.

But as disappointed as Dayton is, it’s the Air Force that was kicked in the teeth. It pushed hard for a shuttle in Dayton, as an acknowledgement of the research and development work it’s done for the space program; on account of the money it’s invested in furthering space exploration; and in recognition of the innumerable pilots it has supplied to the astronaut corps.

That the president’s budget had $14 million set aside to help bring a shuttle to Dayton was a statement — at least to the Air Force and Daytonians and Ohioans — that people in high places thought the museum was deserving on the merits. In the national press and among aviation and space junkies, the Air Force museum was always mentioned as a top contender.

NASA apparently didn’t do anything to tamp down the Air Force’s expectations. The museum expected 1,500 people to watch NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s announcement of the winners (a crowd, incidentally, that never materialized).

It’s hard to believe Air Force officials would have put out that appeal if they didn’t have good vibes. What else is there to say except that the service had bad intel?

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who lobbied the Obama administration fiercely, and U.S. Reps. Mike Turner and Steve Austria are steaming. Rep. Turner complained that NASA favored places that are already destinations, noting that no one is going to go to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or New York City just to see a shuttle.

A lot of cities around the country are disappointed and are prone to seeing politics at work. A science blogger at the Houston Chronicle is convinced that Texas lost because it’s Republican. So are scores of his readers. Just look at who won, they say: California and New York.

But if the administration had been thinking politically, it would have gone with Ohio, the swing state. Democrats don’t need any more votes in California or New York, and they won’t get any with this decision, anyway. Neither Los Angeles nor New York City has been nearly as focused on this issue as Dayton, Seattle or Houston.

It was always understood that the Smithsonian and almost certainlythe Kennedy Space Center would each get one of the spacecraft. The competition really was for the third — and the consolation prize, the test shuttle Enterprise.

The fact that New York got the Enterprise makes no sense. New York’s population notwithstanding, the Intrepid museum isn’t nearly as accessible to such a large swath of people — and in an affordable venue — as the Air Force museum.

As for the California Science Center, which will get the Endeavour, it has an elementary STEM school, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, as part of its complex. NASA always has insisted that the winners would have to have a strong education component and be reaching out to the next generation of young scientists.

Walk in to the Air Force museum, look around — and be honest — and you’ll see that it’s not a young person’s museum. It’s long on static displays and explanations that are hard homework. It doesn’t have the feel of new museums that are interactive and expert at making education fun.

If the California Science Center — which bills itself as the “West Coast’s largest hands-on science center” — is Columbus’ COSI or Indianapolis’ children’s museum on steroids (the impression you get from afar), that explains a lot.

The Air Force will get over the snub, as will the Dayton region. The community will keep telling the story of aviation, which began here with the Wright brothers (who are honored here with an underappreciated and undermarketed national park).

And the Air Force will continue to take good care of its stunning array of aviation and space artifacts for the million-plus visitors who come here every year.

There was one good thing that has come out of the loss: A cast of people who believed the Air Force and Dayton deserved a shuttle have shown they can come together to leverage the region’s aviation history and assets. Eventually that will pay off.

But they have to keep at this work. The larger mission has not been aborted.


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Editorial: Boehner did well for the Republicans

Speaker John Boehner turned out to be a good choice to lead his party through the government shutown/budget battle.

He’s a Tea Party guy at heart — if he were just coming on the scene, that’s how he would align — but he’s been in Washington 20 years.

He knows how to negotiate, how to keep his eye on the big picture, when to ignore passing flaps.

He got through a period of intense media scrutiny and intense pressure without embarrassing himself or his party.

Whatever you think of his views on the budget, you have to grant that he handled the task at hand with professionalism.

He managed to get more cuts for the Republicans than their numbers — controlling only the House — might suggest they could get. And he did that without a government shutdown, which could have undone any political benefit he and his party might get.

Republicans and the Tea Party are right on the edge of appearing extreme to the American people, at a time when President Barack Obama is moving toward the center. A shutdown would have been a problem for them.

But with a deal having emerged that gets mixed reviews from the president, they may look to many independents like responsible players.

Speaker Boehner also did his party a favor by not allowing a shutdown over conservative goals like banning funding for the president’s health care overhaul, hard new restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency, and zeroing out of federal spending on Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio.

During the 2010 campaign, he insisted that the Tea Party movement was about spending, not about social issues like abortion and public radio. After the election, that turned out not to be entirely true.

Speaker Boehner raised the broader conservative agenda in negotiations, but he continued to insist publicly that it wasn’t the heart of the matter, and he has now let it go for a while.

As this is written, his success can’t be fully measured, because no one knows how many Republicans will go along with the compromise on the final vote. His goal was to get enough Republicans to show his party could govern the House without Democratic help.

Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Urbana and Steve Chabot of the Cincinnati area have rejected the deal, along with some other conservative Republicans. Rep. Jordan’s decision has some special visibility, because he’s the chair of a large group called the Republican Study Group.

Those who vote against the compromise are voting for shutdown, the only real alternative at the moment.

To say that Speaker Boehner got through this crisis OK is not to suggest that he has found a pattern for future fights.

As many have said, the real fights come now. The $38 billion that the compromise cuts from last year’s budget amounts to about one percent of the budget. Now come battles about the 2012 budget and about increasing the legal limit on federal debt.

The brinksmanship that was at work this time — the game of chicken that resulted in negotiations going until the last hour — reflects badly on the country’s political health. People watching from the outside — not to mention from the inside — have to be wondering if America’s internal divisions have become so intense as to make the country dysfunctional. It’s close.


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Editorial: Prison alternatives can be better bet

The Greater Old North Dayton Business Association isn’t the only group that worries about the state preventing and discouraging judges from locking up low-level lawbreakers.

The business group keeps a list on its website of people living in the neighborhood who habitually have run-ins with the law, many of whom aren’t being locked up for long periods. The list, dubbed the “Unlucky 13,” publicizes the names and photos of people who do drugs, steal and get in fights.

The neighborhood’s frustration is that these chronic offenders have trouble written all over them. People don’t feel safe around them, and residents are at a loss about how to keep the offenders from dragging down their neighborhood. Some of the offenders do end up in jail or prison, but, in most cases, their crimes are not so serious that they can be locked up for long.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association also has problems with Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz’s legislation, also known as Senate Bill 10. The association especially opposes a provision that would allow inmates to earn “good time” credit and get out of prison early if they behave well and participate in education and drug treatment programs.

(Many prison guards support that incentive, arguing that they’re safer if inmates have a reason to behave.)

If Gov. John Kasich gets his way (which has been the pattern since he took office three months ago), Ohio’s sentencing laws will change. The governor rightly believes that Ohio can’t just keep building prisons — an unaffordable course, what with Ohio already spending $1.99 billion to incarcerate more than 51,000 people and children in 31 adult prisons and five youth facilities.

The goal of Sen. Seitz’s proposed sentencing changes is not to let people out of prison early. Rather, it’s to be more deliberate about who goes to prison and who goes for the longest time. The legislation also is designed to promote more supervision of offenders in the community.

Right now, almost half of prisoners serve less than a year, and many come out having had no drug treatment, no counseling, no nothing. What they do get in that short period is an education in how to be a better criminal. Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of people in prison for involvement with drugs or for committing property crimes are let out with no post-prison supervision.

Under Senate Bill 10, there would be an emphasis on probation — and the supervision that entails. That could be a step up if there’s money to supervise people for longer periods.

Technically now, probation can continue for as long as five years for low-level felonies, while the prison terms for less serious crimes top out at a year and a half.

Drug, mental health and alcohol treatment also can be a condition for getting and keeping probation. Some research shows that when offenders complete treatment programs while they’re in the community, it’s twice as effective as programs completed while in prison.

There are not good answers about what to do with good-for-nothings who just don’t care if they’re sent to prison, who keep committing crimes because it’s easier than the alternative of getting a job or getting clean or holding their tempers.

But there are some people who are going to prison — and, in the process, costing society a lot of money — who could be helped elsewhere if they’re given the right sort of attention, discipline and help.

If some people actually are turned into law-abiding people — through treatment or stays in halfway houses or intense probation — then there would be more room for those who are never going to get in line.


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Editorial: Kasich’s booze-for-jobs plan is risky, but bold

Gov. John Kasich’s plan to use liquor profits to finance economic development is a bold embrace of big government.

While conservative, anti-big government forces warn that government is not capable of picking winners in the business marketplace, the governor is developing an operation to do precisely that — with money that is now being used on other public purposes.

He wants the state in the venture capital business. He has brought in a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley to run the operation he had the legislature create, known as JobsOhio.

Now arises the question of how to come up with the capital.

The state has a monopoly on the wholesale distribution of liquor. The governor wants to lease that enterprise to Jobs-Ohio. Liquor profits would become venture capital.

The governor has been criticized for excessive privatization: privatizing the liquor franchise to privatize economic development.

But this is faux privatization. The word “privatization” is typically used when tasks are taken over by private industry — and the profits go to private industry.

JobsOhio is a nonprofit. It’s called “private,” but the chairman is the governor. All the members of the board are appointed by the governor. So is the top executive.

So, with the liquor distribution business continuing to be a government monopoly, this is big government all the way.

JobsOhio would finance its purchase of the liquor operation by floating bonds against future liquor profits. (Profits came to $228.8 in fiscal 2010 and are growing.)

The plan is to have firms compete for JobsOhio money. In return for its capital, JobsOhio could own part of the firms or the buildings in which firms are housed. It could make or lose money on its investments.

The money consumers spend on liquor could — instead of going into the state’s accounts, as some of it does now, thereby eliminating the need to raise a like amount in taxes — either bring in jobs and new tax dollars or just go down the drain.

Is it a good idea?

Despite his rhetoric about the importance of low taxes and low regulation in making the economy grow, Gov. Kasich is not assuming those things will be enough. In looking for something else, he’s right not to close his mind to the potential of government activism.

His plan has the advantage of not complicating his task of balancing the budget in the short run. He likely would get more money from JobsOhio upfront — the purchase price of the lease — than the liquor operation produces in a year.

Meanwhile, JobsOhio would be expected to get $100 million a year to deploy.

Bloomberg news was unable to find any other state putting up money like that. Its headline: “Kasich’s $100 million for Ohio Jobs May Start Employment Race.”

Mark Kvamme, the venture capitalist whom the governor chose to be director of job creation, says the key is having a steady stream of money.

He said that typically, “When the economy is going down, you have less money to invest in job creation. That’s the time you need it most.”

How crucial that $100 million a year might be to the state’s future might be doubted. Mr. Kvamme himself has noted that more than $300 million is put up “in Silicon Valley in two weeks.”

Moreover, the governor wants entirely too much secrecy in the operation of JobsOhio. This is unmistakably public business being conducted with public money. Let the sunshine in.

Meanwhile, there remain important unanswered questions, including what the investment strategy will be, what will happen to existing state programs for luring businesses, and what will happen to the projects now funded by liquor, including alcohol and drug abuse efforts and economic development projects.

That said, some clever thinking is at work here, some ground breaking, some energy. In the name of experimentation, of letting a new governor take his best shot on a top state priority, it’s worth a try.


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Editorial: City smart to reach out to immigrants

“The futures of most metropolitan areas in the country are contingent on how attractive they are to Hispanic and Asian populations.” That’s the view of John Logan, a sociologist at Brown University who studies census figures.

Look at the 2010 Census numbers, and you see why he says that.

Nationally, whites who aren’t Hispanic grew in population by just 1 percent in the previous decade. Blacks likewise were basically stable in numbers.

Hispanics alone accounted for half the population increase in the decade, becoming a sixth of the population. Asians also saw a double-digit increase.

Meanwhile, Mr. Logan noted to the Washington Post, the groups that are relatively flat in population are also older. In recent years, this nation has grown used to seeing immigration as a problem.

Headlines tell of fights between the politicians about how to limit illegal immigration. And the word “illegal” sometimes gets left out of discussions.

People see their communities changing. You can even see it in Dayton.

But Dayton sounded an atypical note the other day. City leaders held a round-table discussion focused on making the city more friendly to immigrants, with the hope of attracting more.

That makes perfect sense when you see the population trends (with the city dropping dramatically in total numbers) and when you see how well various foreign-born residents are doing.

It makes all the more sense when you take Mr. Logan’s national perspective into account. You realize Dayton isn’t alone. It isn’t in some peculiarly desperate situation, but is — as it is so often — representative of what’s going on in the country.

The nations of origin of some of the newcomers are different here from some places. Hispanics do figure prominently, as they do more and more across the Midwest, having doubled their numbers in many states in the decade.

But then there are Meskhetian Turks, having arrived here after a circuitous and painful saga of decades duration. There also are — less concentrated in Dayton, but spread out in Montgomery County — Africans from Rwanda and Sudan.

Neighborhood and city leaders are enthusiastic about what’s been happening. Said City Manager Tim Riordan last summer about the Turkish community in Old North Dayton, “They’re buying houses. They’re fixing up their houses, and they want to be an integral part of our community. They started as a small community, and it’s growing because they’ve liked what they’ve found in Dayton, Ohio.”

The president of the Greater Old North Dayton Business Association was similarly positive, saying “It’s that many fewer vacant houses, or rundown houses. It’s making the area look nicer. And we can all use that.”

If this country ever stops being an attraction to oppressed and poverty-stricken people determined to build a new life, it will lose a part of its identity. Those who are arriving now and scratching out a new life are the grandparents of people who will be in the mainstream and the elite.

There can be too much of a good thing, of course. Any society has to control immigration, which is a natural instinct anyway. But Americans cannot allow their frustrations about illegal immigration to blind them to what legal immigrants have to offer. Immigrants cannot be seen as people who take jobs from “Americans.” Economics is more complicated than that. Productive people create jobs.

Dayton particularly needs to be alert to the potential for new communities and new varieties of individuals as natural allies.

After all, Dayton, too, is fighting for a new lease on life. It has plenty room for new people, and it certainly has affordable housing. If it can be more aggressive than the suburbs or other cities in helping people make the transition to American life, it can find a niche that can serve its own interests well.


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Guest column: Time is right for Ohio to create solid teacher evaluation system

This commentary was written by Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio Programs and Policy at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Effective teachers are the single most valuable education asset that Ohio (or any state) has. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to their impact on children’s learning.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who recently testified before a joint hearing of the Ohio House and Senate education committees, reports that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.”

Similarly, a weak teacher can blight a child’s prospects.

Given how powerfully teachers can alter students’ life trajectories, it is not only prudent, but morally imperative, to push policy reforms that enable state and local education leaders to distinguish effective teachers from ineffective ones.

With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness — not just binary ratings such as “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” — school systems can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support to teachers who need it, and, ultimately, weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession.

For Ohio, where low-income and minority children reach proficiency at far lower rates than their wealthier peers, the stakes are enormous.

But the evaluation system isn’t working nearly as well as it needs to. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has noted, “Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation is broken. Ninety-nine percent of teachers are rated satisfactory, and most evaluations ignore the most important measure of a teacher’s success — which is how much their students have learned.”

In Ohio today, districts pay long-serving, but mediocre, teachers more than they pay less senior high-flyers.

They reward teachers for credentials and advanced degrees, as well as years on the job, yet they offer the same pay for teachers whether their pupils thrive or languish. Teacher layoffs are based solely on seniority.

This may once have been acceptable, if only because there were few valid alternatives. But many states and districts have begun to craft new evaluation systems that move the profession forward. It’s Ohio’s turn to do the same.

Gov. John Kasich’s budget and the recently enacted Senate Bill 5 seek to move the state toward teacher evaluations that identify the impact of individual instructors on student learning, in order to inform decisions around retention, pay, hiring and dismissal.

This is potentially a huge opportunity to raise the needle on student achievement. But Ohio has to get the details right. Evaluation systems that measure and reward performance are still at the pilot stage and no jurisdiction has yet developed a perfect system.

The good news is that Ohio is better positioned than most places to build a modern and fair system for gauging teacher effectiveness because it has a relatively sophisticated system of value-added analysis of student achievement in reading and math in grades four through eight, and has accumulated this data since 2007.

Value-added data—how much a child learns during a given school year—should be an important component for measuring teacher effectiveness in those grades and subjects.

Second, some Ohio districts, with the cooperation of their teacher unions, have been working to create better approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of classroom instructors.

One of the best is Cincinnati’s Teacher Evaluation System (TES). It helps identify which teachers are more and less effective — and a recent study found that it has contributed to teachers significantly improving their instruction.

In other words, it doesn’t just judge teachers; it makes them better at their craft. Cincinnati’s efforts and others like it need to inform where Ohio goes with it teacher evaluation efforts.

Third, Ohio’s successful “Race to the Top” proposal committed the state and participating school districts to creating quality teacher evaluation systems that incorporate student performance. The Ohio Department of Education has money, expertise and a mandate to work to develop such systems.

Creating radically better teacher evaluation systems in the Buckeye State is not as daunting as some would have us think. The key to getting it right will be to encourage district and teacher participation in the effort.

Don’t wait for the state to do it — and don’t expect to create a one-size-fits-all evaluation system to cover every local circumstance.

Instead, press districts to come up with systems that incorporate common data elements from the state while also incorporating measures such as expert and peer evaluations, building and district-level performance metrics, and even student evaluations.

Ohio is well positioned to lead the nation in the development of high-quality teacher evaluation systems. It has many of the necessary pieces already in place, and it has the political momentum to get this done.

Now is the time to do it.


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Martin Gottlieb: Does Ohio need Wisconsin-like recall elections?

Wisconsin and Ohio have almost become Wisconsinandohio. Such are the similarities in their political situations.

Both states have become centers of national attention for enacting new laws that cut back on union rights and worker benefits. Both have seen lots of demonstrations against their direction, as well as polls showing apparent buyer’s remorse about new governors.

But there’s a big difference: Wisconsin has recall.

Newly energized activists there are moving to get legislators removed from office in the middle of their terms. Ohio has no such mechanism for occupants of state office — including the legislature — only local office. Democratic state Reps. Mike Foley and Bob Hagan, of Cleveland and Youngstown, respectively, are proposing to change that.

The way recall works typically, somebody has to get a certain number of petitions signed to call a special election in which voters can say yes or no to bouncing an incumbent prematurely. If yes, voters elect a successor from a list on the ballot.

Foley, a graduate of Chaminade Julienne High School and the University of Dayton, is the brother of Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley and son of former Common Pleas Judge Patrick Foley.

He says his constituents have brought the recall issue to him. He says they’re frustrated, wanting to know why Ohioans can’t do what Wisconsin is doing.

One might question how serious Foley and Hagan are about their proposal. They know it won’t get anyplace in the Republican legislature. And they’re not planning an end run. If they were to get many thousands of signatures (spread out evenly over the state), they could get the measure on the November ballot.

But it would just create the recall mechanism, not actually recall Gov. John Kasich, the Foley-Hagan target. And getting it on the ballot would take a lot of money and energy. Right now the Democrats are focused on getting the repeal of the collective bargaining measure on the ballot.

Foley says he put forth the idea basically because, when people say the right to recall ought to be there, he has to agree.

Beyond that, the Democrats are using intense anger at Kasich in some circles as an organizing tool, an opportunity to get people engaged.

Still the question does arise: What if Ohio did have recall? How would the state’s politics be different now?

The returns aren’t in from Wisconsin. At last report, 16 legislators were targeted for recall. Half are Democrats. (Remember the people who fled the state rather than provide a quorum allowing the legislature to do business? Some of them are targets.)

But getting a recall on a ballot there requires signatures from 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election. Not easy to get.

Only one of the 16 efforts has submitted its signatures. So there are a lot of stages to go through.

Clearly, though, the state’s politics are caught up in recall; 2011 might as well be an election year.

Foley said in a telephone interview Thursday that his people find it frustrating that a governor can go off on a course they’re convinced is so unpopular so quickly after an election; that he can turn out to be somebody the people (allegedly) don’t want — and yet still be completely untouchable for four more years.

In truth, though, if Kasich is really all that unpopular, the Democrats can go after him next year. The entire state House of Representatives is up for election then, and half the Senate. Republican dominance of the legislature has been central to Kasich’s successes so far.

Kasich has to start thinking about next year pretty soon.

Having to think about recall wouldn’t change things much. After all, almost no governor is ever recalled. And the Foley-Hagan measure requires a recall effort to gather signatures from the equivalent of 15 percent of the turnout in the last race for governor. That’s a reasonable, fairly normal standard.

Setting it much lower would risk generating more elections than almost anybody (including Foley) wants.

The need for any more elections is dubious. If a governor can get a program through a legislature, then (A) he probably isn’t too far from public opinion — polls or no polls — and (B) anything he does can be undone by processes that already exist.

The best case for recall arises in cases of ethical misbehavior. But once recall is on the ballot, nobody can tell voters what considerations to limit themselves to. So a recall becomes just another campaign. Does anybody really want more campaigns?


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Editorial: Kasich wants to fix what’s not broken

Gov. John Kaisch has some contradictions to work out.

He’s making noises about allowing public colleges to become “charter universities.” But he also wants to require professors to teach an extra class every other year, and he wants to mandate that universities create programs allowing students to graduate in three, rather than four, years.

The trade-off for allowing state schools to become “charter universities” — a designation that would exempt them from some state laws — is that they’d get less state money.

Ohio State University particularly wants more autonomy (but not too much less money).

Here’s the inconsistency, though: If the plan is to decentralize and to loosen government’s reins, how does the governor square that with specifying teaching loads and insisting that he and the legislature should effectively decide the requirements to get an undergraduate degree?

Sounds pretty top down.

The Kasich direction is a 180-turn from where things were heading under former Gov. Ted. Strickland. He and former Chancellor Eric Fingerhut spent four years trying to get the state’s universities to see themselves as part of a wider system, one that rewarded collaboration and discouraged duplication.

The thinking was that, in a world of diminished resources, colleges should be known for being strong in particular realms — and prevented from trying to be all things to all students.

The pay-off of this approach, besides efficiency, is supposed to be jobs and better schools. The hope is that “centers of excellence” — programs that distinguish each university — will be a magnet for businesses that are increasingly making relationships with colleges and researchers central to their business plans.

Giving universities “charter” status — to buy them off because the state is over a financial barrel and wants to cut its support — is throwing in the towel on the notion that the sum of Ohio’s colleges can be bigger than the individual parts. If the schools get too much license, that could minimize them as economic development tools.

The move makes no sense coming at the very time that the Kasich administration is all over the state’s myriad local governments for behaving as fiefdoms and running redundant operations.

The fact that colleges are objecting to the governor’s proposed 3.5 percent tuition caps tells you where they’d head if they were left on their own. Holding Ohio’s tuition rates in check is an imperative if the state wants to get more people going to college.

Yes, university administrators are sensitive to making sure that needy students get financial aid, but they are less sensitive to the worries of middle-class families and students about crushing college debt.

Invariably when tuition increases, colleges promise to give more money to those who can’t afford college. But cost shifting to those who can pay — many of whom are still struggling to do so — can’t be the perpetual business plan.

The state laws that universities most want out from under relate to how construction contracts have to be structured and the prevailing wage law. Specifically, they complain that a law that requires “multiple prime contractors” runs up costs and results in contractors tripping over each other. They also say that paying “prevailing wage” inflates their construction bills.

If these laws are onerous, then change them. But they’re not an excuse to go back in time, to undo all the progress that’s been made to ensure Ohio’s colleges are becoming more affordable and being leveraged to support a knowledge-driven economy.

There’s much to fix in Ohio. But where movement has been in the right direction, the governor shouldn’t obsess about putting his own stamp on things.


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Editorial: Loss of kids shows where the state must focus

When the news came that Ohio is losing two congressional seats because of population changes, some people might have tried to find comfort in the fact that Ohio’s population is not really shrinking, but stable. The loss of congressional seats is happening because the country is growing, and the size of Congress is fixed by the Constitution.

Turns out, though, that the state’s population stability is only a surface thing.

When the news came that Ohio is losing two congressional seats because of population changes, some people might have tried to find comfort in the fact that Ohio’s population is not really shrinking, but stable. The loss of congressional seats is happening because the country is growing, and the size of Congress is fixed by the Constitution.

Turns out, though, that the state’s population stability is only a surface thing. Look deeper and you find that Ohio’s population is shrinking in a crucial realm: number of children and teens.

As Dayton Daily News staff writers Ken McCall and Lawrence Budd reported Monday, April 4, the state’s under-18 population shrank by 5.5 percent in the last decade, or by 157,588. Only Michigan and New York did worse in raw numbers. (Several did worse in percentages.)

Bigger losses — in the low double-digit percentages — hit the urban counties, including Montgomery, Clark and Hamilton (which “led” in the region with a 13.1 percent drop). But even Miami, Darke, Preble and (marginally) Greene saw losses.

Warren County bucked the trend hugely with a 33-percent gain. But the only other Dayton-area county with a gain was Butler, in single digits. Southwest Ohio lost 4.19 percent.

What the numbers mean, of course, is that the people who are leaving are young families. And the people who are staying are disproportionately older and retired. The retirees don’t have to leave to find work and apparently aren’t leaving for Florida in quite the numbers some might assume.

Jobs are what it’s all about. Climate has certainly driven some people south and west, but when you see who’s leaving in the biggest numbers, you’re confronted with the importance of jobs.

Whereas the country had bad years at the end of the decade, Ohio had a bad decade, losing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Ohioans who worry about the state’s future have known for years that there’s a young-people problem. But the problem has frequently been defined as being with new college grads and other young people looking for a fun and engaging lifestyle.

As a result, Dayton has people working to make this area attractive to young people, culturally and otherwise. They’re doing good work, and it does relate to jobs: the more attractive a place is to the young “creative class,” the more employers will set up.

But when you focus specifically on the loss of children, you think in other terms. You think about jobs first, knowing the top concern of parents is providing for children.

So what about jobs and Ohio? The last year or so has shown the state doing better than average in some economic categories, specifically job growth. If it continues, that trend is what will change the population statistics.

To keep things moving the right way in the long term, Ohio must avoid becoming as dependent on one part of the economy as it once was, when its jobs were known primarily as blue-collar, manufacturing, and car-related jobs.

Ohio also needs to recognize its weaknesses relative to other states — climate — and play to its strengths, including a central location, its low cost of living, and an opportunity to start shaping a new economy from something a little closer to “scratch” than other states.

Ironically, while Ohio is seeking competitive advantages over other states, it needs, above all else, for the nation as a whole to thrive, to buy its products and services and to make investments.

Fundamentally, the state needs to understand that being down must be used as an advantage, an opportunity to reshape things, a tool for getting people focused. Understanding the Census statistics can only help.


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Guest column: Only DDN detects racism in objection to bus stops

This commentary was written by Beavercreek resident Flo Thompson.

Once again, Editorial Page Editor Ellen Belcher and the Dayton Daily News have attacked Beavercreek (“Beavercreek may face RTA riders in court,” April 3).

How can Belcher claim she doesn’t mean to pick on Beavercreek and then proceed to state: “I do mean to criticize Beavercreek City Council.”

Members of city council are the people of Beavercreek. They are citizens elected to be the voice of all citizens. That’s exactly what they did when they voted to reject RTA’s application to allow three bus shelters near the Mall at Fairfield Commons.

Only the DDN has charged that Beavercreek is racist. I know the citizens of my city are not racists.

Why would Belcher fail to notice or report that our vice mayor is black — unless she wanted to slant the issue to appear racial? Our vice mayor was appointed to fill a vacancy by the very council members she is attacking. He was then elected by our citizens, gathering the second-largest number of votes. Who is playing the race card?

Council meetings are for “our” citizens, but no one has ever been kept out or not been allowed to speak.

Race was not the “undercurrent” in this debate, and having the DDN decide it was does not make it so.

“Home rule” is exactly what Mayor Scott Hadley said it is. The policy gives control to citizens to determine the type of city they want to live in.

According to Belcher, city council was “making up a lot of things.” They were not making up the fact that citizens do not want buses creating pollution, crime and congestion. There is well documented history of what happens to an area when bus stops are added. Why would the city want more problems than it already has?

All Beavercreek Council did was represent its citizens. That’s what council members were elected to do.

Things weren’t always that way in this fair city. Many times petitions were circulated when previous councils refused to hear and do what their citizens wanted. There were many heated discussions and actions over many things concerning how our city was developed.

As one of those citizens who chaired committees to put issues on the ballot, I’m going to stand up for a council that finally represents its citizens.

The DDN needs to look to improving Dayton before it presumes to know what’s best for other communities.

Finally, the council does not need to reconsider its decision just because the DDN doesn’t like it.


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Editorial: Kasich right about Teach for America

It’s a shame that Ohio’s move to allow Teach for America into the state is happening when Ohio teachers already feel under political and economic siege. Truth is, though, even before John Kasich was governor, and even before the big budget cuts this year, Teach for America couldn’t get in.

In the last legislature, the Senate moved to open the way, but the House didn’t. Now, however, both houses have passed legislation that allows Teach for America members to teach without getting the usual certification.

TFA is a 21-year-old, nonprofit operation that enlists mainly new college graduates without education degrees to teach for a couple of years in public schools in poor areas. The group rejects nine out of 10 applicants. It’s the largest employer of seniors from such fine Ohio colleges as Denison, Kenyon and Oberlin, and is known for attracting big contingents from Ivy League schools.

School districts pay the TFA salaries at their regular rate. The organization, which offers five weeks of training, supports the teachers in other ways.

The idea is embraced by all manner of foundations, individual donors and governments. President Barack Obama is a big backer; presidential support goes back to George H.W. Bush. First Lady Barbara Bush was particularly active.

But Teach for America is not in Ohio — because of the certification issue. Gov. Kasich wants to bring it in.

The down side of opening up the state is hard to see. Local districts would decide if they want to hire Teach for America applicants.

The coming school year is out of the question. Teach for America would first want to raise money and would need time to develop relationships with school districts.

How many Teach for America people would end up in Ohio? Perhaps not many at a time when school budgets are so tight. But with retirements and natural turnover, openings will occur.

The Teach for America people would, of course, be in competition with newly graduated teachers who have certification.

But the main concern for decision makers has to be the students.

Studies have been done over the years about the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers. They stack up pretty well against certified teachers. The organization says 94 percent of principals say the group’s teachers have a positive impact.

The organization is pointing these days to a study in which the state of Tennessee recently compared “42 different teacher preparation programs (and) found that Teach For America corps members outperformed the average new teacher across all subject areas and grade levels. Teach For America was the top new teacher preparation program in the state.”

Critics cite other studies and worry about whether Teach for America members have the right training and motivation.

What’s clear is that the program keeps growing. Local districts can examine the record for themselves.

After all these years, former Teach for America members have become a substantial bloc of influential people who understand the problems of troubled public schools, their teachers and their parents.

These veterans are an asset to the cause of excellence in education.

To their teaching stints they bring enthusiasm, intelligence and demonstrated commitment to the education process. For Ohio simply to turn them away flat makes no sense.


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Martin Gottlieb: Mandel wasn’t ready last time

The Ohio Republican Party has decided: Josh Mandel will be its candidate against Sen. Sherrod Brown next year.

The term “Ohio Republican Party” as used here means the actual organization, the hierarchy, the politicians, the would-be bosses, not the rank-and-file voters, of course.

The voters may get a chance to overrule the hierarchy in a primary. But not if the hierarchy has its way. Potential “challengers” will be encouraged to find some other way to serve their nation and party.

The emergence of Mandel as the establishment candidate has been strange to watch. He hasn’t been out there campaigning. That would be a bit awkward, given that he just became state treasurer about an hour and a half ago.

The party leaders simply started saying at a certain stage — first off the record, then publicly — that he was the guy. Call it a draft, if you will. It’s been based partly on the fear that there’s nobody else, partly on the belief that he has special political assets, and partly on the fact that he has nothing to lose.

For a party that feels itself on the upswing — or did until some very recent polls — the dearth of candidates has been striking. Typically, it’s parties that just lost a lot of races that have difficulty finding strong candidates.

But look at the prominent Republicans. Attorney General Mike DeWine has said he doesn’t want to run, and the party seems willing to take no for an answer.

Several members of Congress have toyed with the idea of running, but they now find themselves in the majority party in the House. And they see Brown as stronger in 2012 than he would have been in 2010. Secretary of State Jon Husted is better known around the state than Mandel, but he’s never been focused on Washington, and he has reasons for wanting to settle down for awhile in Columbus.

Auditor David Yost hasn’t been seen as a major comer.

Mandel might seem to belong in line behind new Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, since she was also auditor, having won in 2006, when all the other Republicans were losing statewide.

But she’s not a former Marine reservist who served two tours in Iraq. And she does not have a record as a proven fundraiser. He does.

Some say Mandel’s Jewishness is another political asset, raising the prospect of him slicing off some votes that might otherwise go to Brown.

Mandel’s promoters are saying his youth — he’s 33 — would present a nice contrast with Brown’s adult lifetime in public office. You know: Brown’s generation has gotten us in this mess, and….

It’s the sort of the thing that might have worked in 2010, when Republicans were winning just about anyplace they didn’t put up a joke, which Mandel isn’t. They’re hoping lightning can strike in 2012, too.

But if it doesn’t, nobody’s lost a job, and maybe the kid has a leg up for the next time.

Sometimes, though, the Mandel promoters seem to be rationalizing. After all, they don’t even know if Mandel is ready.

He certainly wasn’t during last year’s race for state treasurer. He ran perhaps the ugliest ads of the year. He was slapped down by the bipartisan Ohio Ethics Commission for suggesting his opponent was a Muslim who “admitted” he announced a certain job opening only at a mosque.

Said Joe Hallett in the Columbus Dispatch, “Mandel apparently wants (state Treasurer Kevin) Boyce’s job so badly that he is willing to resort to bigotry to get it…. The real message of Mandel’s ad is: ‘Hey, voter, the state treasurer is a black man. And he’s a Muslim. See, here’s his mosque.’”

When asked about his ad in a 2010 meeting with this newspaper’s editorial board, Mandel feigned cluelessness. Either that, or he really was clueless.

He said he didn’t see anything wrong with the ad, because he didn’t see anything wrong with being a Muslim. Asked specifically if he thought being a Muslim would be a handicap in a statewide election in 2010, he said no. Nice world he’s living in.

One might think that for Mandel — himself a member of a religious minority that has experienced its share of bigotry — religion would be the last card he’d play.


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Editorial: Boehner, Dems must wrap up budget at halfway mark

“You know, that is kind of classic Washington right there, right? ‘We want 60.’ ‘We want zero.’ ‘So let’s land at 30 and everybody’s happy.’”

That’s how Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga, of Michigan, summarized last week’s developments in the federal budget battle.

He was referring to this:

The House of Representatives had proposed cutting $60 billion from last year’s budget, concentrated in an area frequently referred to as “domestic discretionary” spending that makes up about 15 percent of the federal budget.

Before Rep. Huizenga spoke, Vice President Joe Biden had said the House, Senate and White House were close to compromising on about $33 billion in cuts, after having failed to get agreement for weeks and having resorted to stopgap measures to keep the government operating.

What’s remarkable about Rep. Huizenga’s point is that he was presenting the kind of compromise he was talking about as a bad thing.

In truth, though, you don’t have to be from Washington to see a certain logic in compromising halfway between the desires of two sides. Seems like common sense. Indeed, the House conservatives seem to be getting a victory, given that the House is only one of three players, and that the other two, the president and the Senate, don’t share its view.

When the House passed its bill, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, who voted for it and for one calling for even bigger cuts, characterized it as a “bargaining position.”

He was clearly on to something. If the House had called for $20 billion more in cuts, the emerging deal might have $10 billion more in cuts than it has.

House Speaker John Boehner has emerged as the central player on the Republican side. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been largely invisible, not having a Republican Senate.

Speaker Boehner needs to take this deal. Republicans to his right will complain publicly, will call for a longer fight, will want harder budget attacks on specific targets, like Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency. But whatever they say, they know the reality: the pending deal gives them as much as they could reasonably hope for.

Congress needs to move on to other fights. The people who present themselves as budget-cutters need to move on to tougher issues. They’ve been targeting mainly things that conservative Republicans never liked, anyway, and that are relatively easy targets. But that’s not where the real money is. The discussion has to turn to entitlements, defense spending and taxes.

The cuts in this compromise are historic by some standards — being called the biggest ever achieved in such a short time, for example. But, after all, federal spending really had increased a lot in the previous two years. And $33 billion is less than 1 percent of the budget.

If the deal fails, and a partial shutdown of the federal government ensues, and the failure can be traced to one side, that side will be seen as the one that refused to take half a loaf when the other side was willing to. That image isn’t going to help either side beyond its base.

Nobody needs to take a poll to know that the broad American middle wants this resolved, wants the government to keep operating, wants the two parties to compromise where possible. A budget bill is relatively easy to compromise on, because a halfway point is easy to find. Enough posturing. Time to move on.


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Editorial: Case for gutting consumers’ counsel awfully weak

One might think that Gov. John Kasich would like the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

After all, one of his favorite points in his gubernatorial run was this: If you are in business and not doing well, you don’t raise your prices. Similarly, Ohio must not raise its taxes.

Well, the consumers’ counsel’s job is to keep utility costs down for Ohio residents. Why should that be considered any different from trying to keep taxes down?

Moreover, the counsel works without adding to the state’s budget woes. Its operation is funded by the state’s utilities and costs the equivalent of about $1 a month on utility bills.

The governor wants to cut the consumers’ counsel budget in half — from $8.5 million to $4.1 million. It was created in the 1970s to represent consumers before the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO), which sets energy rates and generally regulates utilities.

The premise then — hard to argue with — was that the issues PUCO confronts are technically complicated, and that big businesses can hire expensive lawyers and lobbyists to fight for them at PUCO, which has its own staff of experts. But consumers can be left out in the cold, so to speak.

In making the case for his cut, Gov. Kasich doesn’t try to argue that the consumers’ counsel has failed to do the job for consumers. His spokesmen have talked mainly about duplication of efforts with PUCO.

Both operations have call centers and put out certain materials designed to help consumers. But those are small parts of the consumers’ counsel budget.

Given the weakness of the Kasich case, the suspicion is hard to avoid that the most conservative governor since the counsel was created simply doesn’t like the office.

His agenda is to be business-friendly. His new PUCO chief has already announced the reversal of a plan PUCO adopted last year on regulation of operators of vehicles above a certain size. (PUCO has responsibility for commercial motor carriers.)

Keeping the expenses of Ohio companies down is certainly a legitimate concern, one that PUCO is charged with keeping in mind. But, after all, Ohio does not have to compete for the presence of utility companies.

The current consumers’ counsel, first appointed by Gov. Bob Taft, Janine L. Midgen-Ostrander, says her office saved consumers $54.5 million just in the last biennium, and helped with another $1.9 million, along with “partner organizations.” She says that savings to consumers over the history of the office amount to more than $10 billion.

If someone wants to quarrel with the figures, fine. That could be the beginning of discussion about how to fund the office. If, instead, the administration leads with vague generalities about duplication, one has to suspect it’s because the administration doesn’t like its chances for winning a debate about the office’s effectiveness.

Energy is a commodity that consumers are obliged to buy. When the counsel office was created, people had no choices about whom to buy from. That was a big part of the rationale for creating the office.

To this day, no real competition exists for DP&L in the realm of electricity, and Vectren is the sole deliverer of natural gas locally, though consumers can purchase the gas from other companies.

So original rationale for the consumers’ counsel stands. The governor’s office has put forth no rationale against it — and no respectable rationale for cutting the budget in half.


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Ellen Belcher: B-creek may face RTA riders in court

I don’t mean to pick on Beavercreek. I do mean to criticize Beavercreek City Council.

Its meeting last week — when it voted 6-0 not to allow Greater Dayton RTA to put three bus stops on Pentagon Boulevard near the Mall at Fairfield Commons — was not a proud moment.

An editorial here March 30 (“Beavercreek vote against RTA embarrassing”) explained why the council’s objections are bogus. I won’t repeat them all here, but if you missed the coverage, among the council’s demands was that the shelters be heated and air-conditioned.

The council members know that’s ridiculous and cost-prohibitive.

Mark Donaghy, RTA’s executive director, deadpanned after the meeting that the only place he knows of in the world that has a climate-controlled bus shelter is Dubai.

After the vote, Ronnie Moreland, co-president of Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton, which has advocated for the stops, was asked by the man sitting next to him whether he lived in Beavercreek.

When Moreland, who is black, responded he did not, the man, who is white, said something like, This meeting is for people who live in Beavercreek.

Moreland politely replied, “Now, that’s not nice.”

It was an amazing conversation to overhear in public in 2011.

Of course, that man does not represent all of Beavercreek. But let’s not kid ourselves. Race was an undercurrent in this debate, and the people who don’t want blacks and people who can’t afford cars coming to the mall won.

Of course, low-income people who work at the mall, and jobless people who might want jobs at nearby businesses, also lost.

The presumption was that bus riders are trouble-makers and that they can be prevented from shopping at the mall or taking jobs in Beavercreek.

If the stops were allowed, would there be kids, or even adults, who would act up at the mall or the bus stops from time to time? Undoubtedly.

Are there some people who don’t ride the bus — who maybe even live in Beavercreek — who have been caught shoplifting or misbehaving in the parking lots and elsewhere? Probably so.

When did some people’s prejudices about bus riders get to be a rationale to deny all bus riders access to a shopping center?

Beavercreek Mayor Scott Hadley, in explaining his vote to deny RTA’s application for the shelters, talked about the wisdom of Ohio’s “home rule” power, which allows cities to decide so many matters for themselves. He said that “the people (of Beavercreek) have spoken very loudly” and that they don’t want the stops.

One of the arguments for giving cities home rule authority is that locally elected officials are close to residents and presumably in touch with their communities.

But city council members were making a lot of things up.

Some pointed to Greene County’s small transit operation — Greene Coordinated Agency Transportation System or Greene CATS — as an alternative to RTA.

But Dayton Daily News Staff Writer Mark Gokavi interviewed its executive director, who said the operation turns away 400 people a month because it doesn’t have the money or buses to meet the demand for transportation.

One council member suggested that RTA riders could ride the Route 1 bus to Wright State and then take a Greene CATS bus to the mall.

That’s a smarter, safer, cheaper alternative to having the Route 1 buses extend their sweep to Pentagon Boulevard? Would Beavercreek put up an air-conditioned and heated shelter for those people to wait for the Greene CATS bus?

Meanwhile, in Columbus, state Rep. Jarrod Martin, R-Beavercreek, and state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, are advocating for legislation that would require local jurisdictions to give their approval before a transit company could come into their communities if the area was outside of the transit company’s “territorial boundaries.”

RTA’s Donaghy said he doesn’t object to notifying jurisdictions about plans to extend service, but he and other transit companies in Ohio will object to having to get a jurisdiction’s approval to operate in a community — beyond meeting zoning and safety standards.

Before lawyers are called in, which very well may happen, the city council really needs to reconsider its decision. It would have a tough time answering questions from people who asked hard, pointed questions about exactly what was on its mind, what it’s really trying to do.


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Editorial: Getting a shuttle good for AF, Dayton

In a little over a week — April 12 to be specific — NASA is expected to announce which of 21 museums in the country will get one of the three soon-to-be-retired space shuttles.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is very much in the running. So Dayton very much has a dog in the hunt.

Having a shuttle would be a spectacular new tourist draw for the free site. And it would further cement the museum’s reputation as a world-class institution for showcasing the Air Force, flight and, increasingly, space history.

What could be more fitting: The Air Force — which has provided so much brainpower to NASA — and Dayton — where the inventors of powered flight did their most important thinking — being chosen to help keep alive the history of the world’s first reusable spacecraft.

NASA’s selection process has been buttoned-down. The local politicians have been doing their thing, writing letters, passing resolutions supporting a shuttle for Ohio, lobbying the president.

Meanwhile, the competing communities have had to promise to put up money to house the spacecraft appropriately (the Air Force museum is building a new space wing) and to explain how they’d use it for educational purposes, while ensuring that the public has easy access.

About the latter, the Air Force museum is the only facility among the front-runners that is free and the only one that is centrally located in the country.

As for educational opportunities: Dayton has a STEM school (that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math) that would love to emphasize the shuttle as a teaching tool.

The community has a budding residential Air Camp program for middle-school students that partners with the Air Force museum.

And the region has an ongoing program to train science and math teachers using the museum and the Air Force Research Laboratory as resources. (AFRL has, over decades, conceived and developed innovations that have been critical to the space program.)

Put another way, Dayton gets that the hard sciences are the future of the country’s economic competitiveness (and its military preparedness).

It’s premature to assume Dayton will be a winner, but the community does need to be ready to take a bow and to celebrate if things work out the way they should. The three winners will be the subject of attention that can’t be bought.

Being in that spotlight would be an opportunity to tell Dayton’s story: how the region’s aviation history and the Air Force’s presence today are propelling Dayton as an aerospace center.

If Dayton gets a shuttle, that also will be an important impetus to do more to connect visitors to the Air Force museum with other aviation assets — the National Park sites in West Dayton, the Wright brothers’ home at Hawthorn Hill, Carillon Park (where the first practical airplane is on display) and Huffman Prairie Flying Field.

More than a million people come to the museum every year, but few make it to the scatter-site national park. There’s just no high-profile, aggressive effort being made to encourage visitors to see all that’s here, to connect impressive, educational and fun dots.

The lost opportunity for the community is that people come to the museum and call it a day. They don’t rent hotel rooms, they don’t eat in local restaurants. They see a stellar museum and some freeways and runways. They leave never having experienced Dayton.

Out-of-towners should know and see how flight began here because two bachelors were fascinated by birds and bicycles — and how their imaginations paved the way for the very creation of the Air Force with its bombers and jets and, ultimately, the sleek machine that left Earth as a rocket and returned like a plane.

The Air Force is more than due a shuttle. If it prevails, Dayton needs to be ready to show its stuff.


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Editorial: Opening Day evokes a story of survival

Baseball, huh?

Once upon a time, Major League Baseball didn’t begin its season until April 10 or so. It was too early, of course, given that the teams were all in the northeastern quadrant of the country, and none of them had domes over their stadiums. There was always the risk of snow on Opening Day.

Cincinnati had a monopoly on Opening Day. The odds for snow were lower there than in, say, Cleveland or Chicago. But those other cities would follow very quickly thereafter.

When baseball added teams that are not in the northeastern quadrant, it also added games to the regular season and added series to the post-season. Now baseball is not so much a game of summer as just a game.

So there we were this week. Wednesday saw snow and sleet. Thursday saw baseball. It was so cold that you had to wonder if some players would take pitches rather than experience that awful feeling in the hands when you connect badly in cold weather.

But the first two batters at Great American Ballpark hit home runs; competitive urges triumphed.

Cold weather didn’t sully Opening Day enthusiasm noticeably. Neither did Barry Bonds, the subject of a simultaneous ugly trial about alleged perjury in connection with his use of steroids.

By now, in fact, what the Bonds story is about is the resilience of baseball.

The baseball world has concluded that he cheated in breaking the game’s most revered home-run records, that a couple of other players cheated in breaking the single-season record before him — in what had been a magical season when we were all innocent — and that many others cheated without breaking any records.

But the game survives, stronger than ever, apparently. Not long ago, people were worried about the financial well-being of the game, given the huge debts teams were incurring to pay players monstrous, multi-season salaries. But attendance is up, money is flowing to owners, and the commissioner is happy.

People writing editorials about baseball used to worry that scandals, strikes by millionaires, high ticket prices and other assorted embarrassments would hurt the game.

And some people worried about baseball losing appeal to faster, more action-filled games. Those games certainly have grown in importance and popularity.

But apparently nothing can hurt baseball. Nothing short of winter extending through May, maybe.

The teams have new parks that attract people and add to the fun. And there’s just something about being there, and something about listening to a game while gardening or vegetating, about hearing those familiar voices tell us more than we can possibly take in about the intricacies of the game, something about 162 fresh starts a year, about connecting with a game with so much history.

Dayton finds itself with a Major League team down the road that won its division last year and a minor league team whose presence — with convenience, affordability and entertainment value besides the game — adds to the quality of life here. The Dayton Dragons are on path toward a record for consecutive sellouts.

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati they’re talking about make Opening Day an official holiday. Sounds like a good way for the city to formalize its standing in baseball.

The day wouldn’t be about celebrating players as superheroes, but about an American tradition, about a rite of spring — an opening in more ways than one — about survival of winter and about survival for the national pastime.


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Martin Gottlieb: Non-drivers’ losses in B’Creek, 3C show a pattern

Look closely enough and you might see a similarity between Beavercreek’s buses-to-the-mall issue and the fight over 3C, the aborted plan for passenger trains in Ohio.

During the 3C fight, one heard again and again that trains — especially slow trains — were not going to be able to woo Ohioans out of their cars. That argument came from leaders of the opposition.

Well, it is certainly true that some train advocates would like to woo people out of cars, for reasons of environmentalism and energy conservation.

But a lot of people don’t have to be wooed out of cars. They’re already not in them.

Sometimes, when you’re out on the road, it certainly seems like everybody drives. And if you hang out exclusively in affluent surroundings, you might get an impression like that.

But well over a million Ohioans of driving age don’t even have a driver’s license. In the city of Dayton, 20 percent of households don’t have a car. Statewide, the figure for households is about 8.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the 1.2 million households with only one car have 3 million people of driving age, says the trains-promoting All Aboard Ohio, citing Census figures.

Even in the category of people who have licenses and cars, some are getting to the age where they shouldn’t be driving — or at least driving long distances. Some have a fear of driving on interstates. Some don’t have a reliable enough car to risk a long drive. Some don’t want to drive in certain kinds of weather.

For 3C (Cincinnati to Cleveland, via Dayton and Columbus) to work financially (keeping the state subsidy down to what the feds estimated), it needed to attract a half-million riders a year. That sounds like a lot. But it’s about 1,400 people per day, in a state of 11 million people.

You wouldn’t have to extract many people from cars to reach that number.

In Beavercreek, of course, the issue wasn’t whether enough people could be attracted to the buses. It was about who those people might be. Specifically, might they be people who would somehow make Fairfield Commons a less attractive place?

The city council decided not to allow buses coming from Montgomery County.

Both situations reflect a disconnect between the car-driving majority and those who have to find other modes of transportation.

The 3C opponents couldn’t believe there can be many non-drivers.

The bus-to-the-mall opponents can’t believe there are many who are law-abiding, non-troublesome and affluent enough to shop at Fairfield Commons.

Search around the Internet a little and you’ll find words for people who are afraid of driving in a car (amazophobia), afraid of automobiles (motorphobia) and, for that matter, afraid of trains (siderodromophobia).

What’s needed is a word for fear of people who don’t drive.

The non-drivers are out there. They’re regular people, or there wouldn’t be so many of them. They’re keeping alive modes of transportation the rest of us only turn to in emergencies. They’re more numerous in bad economic times, it stands to reason. And they apparently need a public relations rep.


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Editorial: Ballot box showdown not the way to govern

There is no question that Republicans and Gov. John Kasich can get their way.

Passage this week of the fiercely debated legislation that seriously limits the collective bargaining rights of public employees and makes it harder for their unions to raise money is not just a response to the state’s and local governments’ money problems.

It is a statement that there’s a new regime in charge, and it’s not afraid of making waves.

The times do require boldness and new ways of doing business. It’s indisputable that Ohio’s collective bargaining law has provisions that put management — stewards of taxpayer money — at a profound disadvantage in negotiations and in running their offices. Many contracts that have been negotiated are financially unsustainable.

Dialing back employees’ expectations was invariably going to have to happen in law because, left to their own devices, local governments and school boards, have been too timid and reluctant to support the hard-nosed negotiations it takes to undo decades of tradition — rewarding people, for instance, for time on the job as opposed to their performance.

In retrospect, open-minded public employees — and there are many — are probably wishing that their unions had been more progressive and had gotten ahead of practices that the employees know in their heart of hearts are anachronistic and that allow mediocre people to coast.

At any rate, the governor and the Republicans have gone for broke. They’ve been on notice that Democrats and public and private unions would go to the ballot to try to repeal Senate Bill 5 if it passed. Advocates for the bill plowed ahead, confident in the belief that they’ll have voters on their side.

(The polls thus far don’t suggest that, but it’s a long time until November. Get ready for fierce and vicious advertising, perhaps at unprecedented levels.)

Neither side has ever been interested in meeting the other half-way. Democrats didn’t want to open even a crack in the collective bargaining door, didn’t want to participate in the shaping of the law, lest they offend organized labor. The Republicans in charge today were not going to be satisfied unless the door was blown off.

The result is that Democrats, once they start picking at the new law (and the governor’s budget, which contains still more limits), will be able to find problems that reasonable voters will think put public employees in untenable spots. But Republicans will have myriad examples of how the current law invites and allows absurdities.

When voters go to the polls, many will be conflicted, not sure whom to believe or whether they’re fixing something or creating new problems. They’ll be confronted with extreme anecdotes and sweeping generalizations from both sides.

The two sides in the fight are feeling good about themselves, and both think they’re well positioned with the public. But, in important ways, they have both failed.

The people are going to be put in the position of doing the politicians’ work because the politicians refused to negotiate in good faith with one another.

How ironic.


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