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Lee Fisher's Snub Irks Some Local Democrats

By Kevin Osborne · January 13th, 2010 · Porkopolis


Some local Democrats are upset with Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher over his demands for attending an upcoming political event in Oakley and believe he’s disrespected Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Fisher and Brunner are squaring off in the May 4 Democratic primary to get the party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate this fall. Each wants a shot at replacing Republican George Voinovich, who’s retiring.

The Hamilton County Democratic Women’s Caucus invited both candidates to participate in a debate Jan. 20 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley Square. Brunner accepted almost immediately, caucus members say, but their experience with Fisher was far different.

It took weeks for Fisher’s campaign to reply, they say, and when it did, campaign staffers insisted the event not be a debate. Instead, staffers wanted an “informational forum” so the candidates wouldn’t necessarily answer the same questions or be able to reply to each other’s statements.

Later still, Fisher’s campaign contacted the caucus to say the lieutenant governor refused to share the stage with Brunner. The event must be restructured so she and Fisher never appear side-by-side before the audience.

Officially, the caucus accepted the terms and remains committed to holding the event. Several members, however, were irritated by the demands and some are speaking out publicly.

“We felt it was just a slap in the face to Ms. Brunner and very disrespectful to her as a candidate,” says Terry Kane, a Clifton resident who noted she’s speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the caucus. “We had to change the entire event to accommodate him. He’s just a diva. Lee’s behavior toward Jennifer has hurt him among women voters.”

Fisher is considered the frontrunner in the race by state party bigwigs, who have tried to convince Brunner to drop out.

While it’s true that Fisher so far has been able to raise more money than Brunner, there are valid reasons to question if he can beat a Republican challenger in November’s general election. Chief among them: His mixed record at the polls. Fisher lost his reelection bid as Ohio attorney general in 1994, as well as the 1998 gubernatorial race against Cincinnati native Bob Taft.

Also, Brunner is the favored candidate among progressives and her contributors include Caroline Kennedy and Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner.

In a Quinnpiac poll from November, Brunner began closing the gap with Fisher, drawing mostly from undecided Democratic voters.

Fisher got 24 percent to Brunner’s 22 percent, with 51 percent still undecided. That leaves plenty of wiggle room to win in the next four months.

Alas, neither Brunner nor Fisher beat the likely Republican nominee, former Congressman Rob Portman from Terrace Park, in the poll.

CityBeat asked Fisher or a representative to comment on the demands, but the campaign declined. A spokeswoman instead issued a written statement.

“The organizers worked with everyone to ensure this would be a successful event,” wrote Julie Van Eman. “We are pleased to participate in the Hamilton County Democratic forum and look forward to a great discussion about how to create jobs and economic growth in Ohio.”

That’s what is commonly referred to in the journalism biz as a “non-denial denial”: an evasive statement that doesn’t directly answer the question posed and really doesn’t say much at all. We hope Fisher is more forthcoming and transparent if he becomes a senator.

Brunner’s campaign is taking it in stride. “Jennifer was ready to debate,” says campaign manager David Dettman. “I will let you draw your own conclusions about it.”

Regardless, Fisher’s bland statement doesn’t cut it with caucus members like Kane.

“I think what it really says about Fisher is he’s scared,” Kane says. “He’s out-raising her in money but her grassroots support is better. I think he’s afraid he’s losing.”

* * * * *

Many Democrats have been circling the wagons lately around President Obama’s flawed batch of proposed health care reforms, and I’ve taken some heat for columns criticizing the Senate bill — along with the whole process used by Congress — as sadly lacking. Apparently I’m not alone.

A CBS survey released Jan. 11 indicates most Americans think the bill passed by the U.S. Senate is too timid in its scope.

The results show that 43 percent of respondents said the bill doesn’t go far enough in regulating health insurance companies. Also, 39 percent said it doesn’t contain strong enough cost controls.

That compares to 18 percent who think the bill is “about right” and 27 percent who responded that it goes too far. Additionally, only 21 percent like the level of cost controls, while 24 percent said it’s too much regulation.

In other words, Americans want bolder changes and are clamoring for true change in the health care system, and it’s Obama and elected politicians that are putting on the brakes.

To drive the point home, the poll results found that 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care reform, 57 percent disapprove of Congressional Democrats and a whopping 61 percent disapprove of Congressional Republicans. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, John Boehner.

The reason for the politicians’ hesitancy is obvious: They’re beholden to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that provide them with copious amounts of campaign cash.

Obama received more than $20 million from the health care industry during the 2008 presidential campaign, according to an analysis created for Raw Story, a progressive Web site, by the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s nearly three times as much as given to GOP candidate John McCain, who got $7.7 million.

The lesson for voters: It was too audacious to hope for meaningful reform in our fundamentally broken political system.

* * * * *

The New York Times reported this week that Sarah Palin has been hired by Fox News to be a regular contributor to the cable news channel.

Uh, didn’t she work there already? This is like reporting “Dog bites man.”

Maybe she didn’t get paid for it previously, but Palin has certainly filled that role ever since she stepped into the national spotlight as McCain’s running mate in summer 2008.

As we’ve already made ourselves feel dirty by mentioning the fact-challenged former Alaska governor, McCain Campaign Manager Steve Schmidt also told 60 Minutes on CBS that Palin felt her vice presidential candidacy was “God’s plan.” Given the election’s outcome, we assume the deity’s plan was to teach Palin some humility.


Julie Brook, secretary for the Hamilton County Democratic Women's Caucus, called to dispute the account presented in this column. Brook, a first-time political event organizer, said the Jan. 20 event was never supposed to be a debate.

"From day one this was never to be a debate, never - it was always to be a candidates forum," Brook said. "The event was never changed to accommodate anyone, it was set from day one and (the caucus) tweaked it based upon suggestions (the caucus) felt were reasonable."

Brook added, "The (caucus) has worked very hard to make this a dignified and neutral event."

CityBeat checked with Terry Kane and other sources (not listed in the article), and they stand behind their version of events.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or pork@citybeat.com



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