CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Newly minted Democrat Steve Black is sponsoring a reception in Indian Hill -- the toney Cincinnati suburb that could be Ohio's priciest Zip Code -- for Vernal G. (Skip) Riffe III, political heir of the late legislative baron who has a 32-floor, $153 million state office tower graced with his name in Columbus. The August 15 event unites Ohio 2nd District Congressional candidate Black with Scioto County Commissioner Riffe, who is a Democratic power broker on the rural eastern edge of OH-02 in Appalachia.
In that part of the district, the Riffe name is still tall cotton. There used to be signs on the state highways proclaiming the area "Vern Riffe Country," and his legacy includes Ohio Route 32, Shawnee State University, and a chair in the Ohio State University political science department -- plus far more impossible to list. Let's just say he was the Kingfish in southern Ohio.
Skip Riffe has been travelling across the state recently hawking his father's autobiography, Whatever's Fair. Vern Riffe, who died in 1997, was speaker of the Ohio House for 20 years and pretty much called the shots over state government during his unprecedented reign. Nobody has ever held that position for so long. The Ohio Historical Society has compiled an encylopedia about Ohio's movers and shakers and describes Vern Riffe as "a dominant force in state politics for his 36 years in the Ohio House." That's an understatement.
Black is a Cincinnati lawyer who switched from the GOP to run in OH-02 against Victoria Wulsin, the Democratic nominee in 2006 who is running again. Black appears to have scored a coup by signing up to sponsor the reception.
For those who don't know about Riffe there's a good bit of information in this Portsmouth Times story about his birthday last June. They still celebrate it in the hill country even though the man everyone still calls Mr. Speaker has been gone for a decade.
The Ohio Historical Society's take on Vern Riffe is here. He was a Democrat all his life. And if Black is making inroads with Vern Riffe's clan -- with a possible endorsement nearly in hand -- it could be another sign that Wulsin has a huge task ahead if she hopes to reclaim the nomination.