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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cincy Enquirer Gives Ken Blackwell's Railroad Rant A Ride

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Republican Ken Blackwell, now a fellow at a conservative think tank in Ohio, received a big chunk of space in today's Cincinnati Enquirer for a column that sounded like he was blowing the whistle on a scam to suck jobs out of Ohio. But the attack on a huge federal loan for a small South Dakota railroad was really about tooting his own horn. The headline over the Blackwell piece: "Midwest doesn't need to be railroaded."

But there was no fresh news about the project. It was killed earlier this week by the Federal Railroad Administration, an action that neither Blackwell nor the newspaper seemed care about during years of wrangling in Washington that led up to the decision. If any stories were published, they don't stand out. Meanwhile, Blackwell is fresh off a losing campaign for governor of Ohio and the railroad loan he is now so steamed about as wasting tax money and threatening Ohio jobs did not emerge as a significant issue in that race. In today's Enquirer column, Blackwell wrote, "Continued government funding of this small railroad company would have embodied one of the most disturbing examples of government waste in recent memory."

Who knew?

The Enquirer ALLOWED Blackwell and his co-author, Capitol University Law Professor Brad Smith, to rail that the project was a serious threat to Ohio and would throw Ohioans out of work. "To those in Ohio and other parts of the economically struggling and coal producing Midwest, it would have represented something equally upsetting: government interference with free market forces in order to fund the competition. Ohio is coal rich and is developing new methods to burn the resource cleanly and efficiently. Giving the DM&E tax dollars to flood the Midwest with subsidized Wyoming and Montana coal would have set back Ohio's clean-burning coal initiatives. By underwriting the transportation costs of those competing with Ohio coal producers, the loan would have cost the Midwest jobs."

Again, who knew?

If this major threat was lurking on the horizon, why are Blackwell and the newspaper joining forces to inform people today? And why is the messenger Ken Blackwell?

The Enquirer endorsed former Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell last year when he ran against Democrat Ted Strickland, a former U.S. House member whose congressional district covered most of the state's coalfield counties. The newspaper's decision to hand over column space to Blackwell could be viewed as an effort to promote his political comeback and take a jab at Strickland for not protecting the coal country. Blackwell was allowed to portray himself as a watchdog of the public coffers:

"Unless wasteful requests are continuously flagged by taxpayer advocates and soundly rebuked, deals where only one party benefits will sneak by, while the nation's taxpayers and the economies of Ohio and Midwest will foot the bill."

Again, if the deal was really that awful, why no significant news coverage in the Cincinnati Enquirer? Were the editors asleep as this major job-busting threat to the state's economy was rolling down the tracks?

If the Op Ed today is true, it is a sad commentary about journalism as practiced in Cincinnati, where SW Ohio woke up to learn about "deals where only one party benefits" from a politician's newspaper column after the deal was killed.

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