CINCINNATI (TDB) -- At a time when the United States has soldiers dying and risking their lives in Iraq in hope of bringing democracy to the Middle East, when Benazir Bhutto sacrificed all so the people of Pakistan could select a leader at the polls, when Putin and the junta in Myanmar clamp down on political competition, and Kenyans protest what seems to be a rigged election, Ohio sees this:
"In an unprecedented last minute deal, the Republican and Democratic parties have decided not to compete against each other for the two Hamilton County commission seats up for election this year. . . Leaders of both parties said they think that the arrangement -- unprecedented at the level of county commissioner, the top of the food chain in county politics -- will benefit both parties."
Reporters Howard Wilkinson and Sherry Coolidge wrote that for today's Cincinnati Enquirer; it ran on Page 1-A of the print edition this morning and reads like an obituary for the democratic ideals of America's two-party system. (No web is available at the moment). Or, it can be viewed as a paean to a manipulative ruling class of lawyers and CEOs who have the most to gain, the story of a snobbish elite. One Dem who read the story remarked that George Vincent, the GOP chair, and Tim Burke, the Dem chair, should erect a huge statue of themselves in downtown Cincinnati on Fountain Square. It could be like the oversized monuments to strongmen who disdain democracy -- Saddam's effigies and the Stalinist-inspired tributes to Kim Jong-il came to mind.
Right now, the deal between the county party chiefs is being sold as bipartisanship. It is being argued that the times are financially troubled in Hamilton County -- the budget was $30 million short of balance. Apparently, a competitive election would just get in the way of keeping things orderly and cleaning up the mess. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, a beneficiary of the deal, praised the arrangement when he spoke to the Enquirer:
"What you have is both parties agreeing -- in what is a unique circumstance -- to place an emphasis on working together to solve these problems and not to lose a year where the primary focus of attention is on a hotly contested, partisan race."
But transfer those words to Vice President Dick Cheney's mouth. Imagine Cheney on the White House lawn announcing that the two parties would not contest the 2008 president election. Cheney -- "What you have is both parties agreeing -- in what is a unique circumstance -- to place an emphasis on working together to solve these problems and not to lose a year where the primary focus of attention is on a hotly contested, partisan race."
What seems lost in Hamilton County at the moment is an ideal: Contested elections are about letting people decide their future. Skeptics see that the two political parties advanced their own interests ahead of the public interest in open and competitive elections. They see that the parties consider balloting as nothing more than a monkey-wrench thrown into the machinery. Perhaps this means the era of the Bosses are back; the whole event reeks of Boss Tweed. He used to say, "As long as I count the votes what are you going to do about it? Say."
[UPDATE: 1:51 PM -- The Green Party's Justin Jeffre has a piece about the deal that is now posted Cincinnati Beacon blog. Jeffre says the era of transparent government promised by Cincinnati Democrats in county government was a sham. ". . . it looks as if the new Democratic majority is still too comfortable with inefficient government, back room deals, stifling debate and big money politics as usual. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there isn't a damn bit of difference between the corporate Democrats and the corporate Republicans. We get bipartisan wars, jails and other corporate profit making schemes."]
[UPDATE 2: 2:06 pm -- Jeff Coryell at Ohio Daily Blog is based in Cleveland, but he wonderes if democracy is evaporating in Hamilton County. " . . . frankly it strikes me as a dangerous abuse of power. The point of democratic government is for voters to have the opportunity to decide who represents them, and such incursions into that right should ring alarm bells. It's true that individuals can step outside the party system and run as independents, but as a practical matter political parties have a lot of clout -- in many cases they can effectively stifle electoral challenges." Coryell is a Democrat.]
[UPDATE 3: 2:30 PM -- Taxmanblog writes from the conservative side and warns the Republicans may gain in the short term only. "So for the Hamilton County GOP it's more about power than principle. As our last congressional election proved, when you don't run on principle, the public will take your power. Hamilton County is getting bluer and thanks to the Hamilton County GOP, the surrounding counties will be redder and larger. You guys can keep your ghost town of bums, pimps, drug dealers and welfare moms. I live in Warren County now why should I care?"]
[UPDATE 4: 3:10 pm -- The Whistleblower, which is published by Jim Schifrin and is considered odious itself by more than a few, will be out tomorrow with a cartoon of a skunk and a headline: Something Really Stinks in Hamilton County. Schifrin writes: "But it only confirms what The Blower has been saying for years about politics hereabouts, but unfortunately, the corruption and stupidity is even worse than we could've ever imagined. No self-respecting elected official would've ever agreed to take part is such a travesty. And just like we said, no self-respecting elected official did".]
[UPDATE 5: 3:34 pm -- The Cincinnati Enquirer publishes an editorial that denounces the agreement between the political parties. The newspaper calls it a bad deal for the voting public and adds: "At this point we aren't discussing the merits of the candidates involved, but Portune and Hartman should both be embarrassed to look their constituents in the face. With uncontested races there will no debate and no motivation for coming up with new ideas. Without opposition, these elections will be nothing but appointments."]
[UPDATE 6: 3:49 pm -- The headline on Kevin Osborne's story on the alt/weekly CityBeat's blog says a lot: And they call it democracy.]
[UPDATE 7: 1/6/06; 12:04 pm -- Bizzblog's Tom Blumer is now calling it the "Politicians' Republic of Hamilton County, Ohio." It's a play on the politburo-dominated politics that were conducted in the Soviet Union and the "People's Republics" that were on the map during the Cold War. China, of course, is still a People's Republic, a dictatorship where pressing for democracy can land one in prison or a readjustment camp. Blumer is disgusted by the no-compete deal between Republicans and Democrats in Hamilton County. "This should be cause for significant national embarrassment, if for no other reason than to deter all-too-comfy politicians in other cities from doing the same thing. It's also the best reason I've seen yet for having a 'None of the Above' choice on the ballot. Of course, that would be a choice that 'wouldn't benefit both parties,' so don't expect the Politicians' Republic of Hamilton County to adopt it any time soon."]
(Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia)