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Dems Cry Foul in Driehaus-Robison Race

By Kevin Osborne · September 8th, 2010 · Porkopolis
If you were to believe some West Side Republicans, State Rep. Denise Driehaus is caught in a predicament that would do Romeo and Juliet proud.

As anyone who read Shakespeare's famous play in high school can tell you, the Capulets and the Montagues were locked in a nasty feud, causing all sorts of grief for the young, star-crossed lovers.

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Juliet asks in the famous scene on a balcony. “Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet.”

The Price Hill version of this tale has Driehaus supposedly asking the Hamilton County Board of Elections if she can deny her father and change her last name on the Nov. 2 ballot, instead using the surname of her husband, Zeek Childers, the first time in her 25 years of marriage.

The reason, so the story goes, is to distance herself from her brother, Congressman Steve Driehaus, who is in the midst of a hard-fought campaign to retain his seat against his predecessor, Republican Steve Chabot. But because the female Driehaus already used her maiden name on the May primary ballot, the Board of Elections rejected her request and insisted she use the Driehaus moniker, the tale concludes.

As if.

Of course, the tale isn't true as anyone who actually engages their brain could surmise. Denise Driehaus is rightfully proud of her family name, which is well-known in Cincinnati's western neighborhoods, and dozens of campaign signs emblazoned with it already dot the yards of her supporters in the Ohio House 31st District.

No, the bizarre tale seems to be wishful thinking on the part of some GOP candidates who are boasting on the campaign trail — and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke to put a stop to it.

Burke, who also is a member of the county's Board of Elections, wrote a letter Sept. 7 to his fellow members, alleging Chabot and Mike Robison are responsible for the rumor. Burke wants the board to investigate what he says are false claims disseminated by the pair and compel their testimony through the use of subpoenas, if necessary.

A political newcomer, Robison is the Republican who works for the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and is running against Denise Driehaus for the 31st District seat.

“Chabot and Robison have repeatedly claimed that State Rep. Denise Driehaus (who Robison is attempting to unseat) contacted the Hamilton County Board of Elections in an effort to change her last name on the November ballot,” Burke wrote to the board. “They further claim the Board of Elections' staff refused Rep. Driehaus' request to do so because she ran in the primary using the last name of Driehaus.

Such claims are completely false and insulting.

“More than 25 years ago when Denise Driehaus married her husband, she made the decision to keep her maiden name of Driehaus. She has made no effort to change her name at any time since then, either for personal or political reasons,” Burke added. “The claim that she attempted to do so is a falsehood and a violation of Ohio elections laws.”

If Chabot or Robison made the statements, it could violate an elections provision that prohibits anyone from knowingly disseminating false information about a candidate or doing so with a reckless disregard of whether it's false.

How the case plays out will be interesting.

If the Board of Elections turns the matter over to the Ohio Elections Commission and it finds a violation has occurred, the commission could impose an administrative fine of up to $5,000. If it found a violation particularly severe, it could refer the matter to the county prosecutor and — if criminally convicted — a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail is possible.

The latter option, all sides concede, isn't likely.

It would take a majority of the four-member Board of Elections to issue subpoenas. With the board comprised of two Democrats (Burke and Caleb Faux) and two Republicans (Alex Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt), a tie seems probable.

In the case of a split vote, however, the Ohio Secretary of State (Democrat Jennifer Brunner) can decide. Regardless, Ohio law allows any single board member to file a complaint with the Elections Commission for review.

Chabot's campaign didn't respond to CityBeat's e-mail seeking comment.

But Robison did respond to The Enquirer (sort of) about the issue. “This could turn into a legal issue and I need to read the full press release before I say anything,” he told reporter Quan Truong.

Not exactly a denial, which one would expect if the allegations had no merit.

Some political observers suspect the back-handed tactic actually is meant as a way alienate Ms. Driehaus from some of the conservative Catholics in her district.

“If the intention of Mr. Chabot and Mr. Robison is to embarrass Ms. Driehaus for choosing to keep her maiden name when she got married, the effort by Mr. Chabot and Mr. Robison is sexist and just downright mean, in addition to being a falsehood,” Burke said.

Politics is tough enough, but spreading falsehoods about family and personal matters is out of bounds,” he added. “When, as in this case, false statements are made in doing so, such conduct is also a violation of Ohio Elections Law.”

Perhaps all the blustering from the GOP side is due to the latest polling in the Chabot-Driehaus race. Although trends in mid-term election cycles would suggest Driehaus is vulnerable, an Aug. 26 poll by a conservative group shows the race closer than many Chabot supporters might have suspected.

The American Action Forum poll had Chabot leading Driehaus by 47 percent to 45 percent — well within the poll's 4.9 percent margin of error.

The telephone poll — conducted over five days in August and surveying 400 likely voters — yielded other interesting findings about Ohio's 1st Congressional District.

Results indicated 44 percent support the Tea Party movement, while 48 percent are opposed; and 48 percent consider themselves to be either strongly or somewhat conservative, compared to 27 percent who consider themselves moderate, and 21 percent who consider themselves strongly or somewhat liberal.

Also, the poll found that 22 percent considered themselves to be evangelical Christians, with 67 percent as non-evangelical and 12 percent who didn't know or refused to answer.

Moreover, 51 percent of respondents considered themselves to be “pro-life,” while 40 percent were “pro-choice.”

The district, it seems, is not quite as hardcore right-wing as many Republicans would have us think, even when the questioning is done by a group sympathetic to their issues.

In 2008 Driehaus beat Chabot 52 percent to 48 percent, in a year with massive Democratic voter turnout due to the presidential election and the historic candidacy of Barack Obama.

Still, the 1st District includes much more than the German Catholic bastions in Cheviot, Westwood, Price Hill, Bridgetown and Dent. It also includes most of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and African-American voters comprise 29 percent of the electorate.

In reality, the Chabot-Driehaus race is anything but a done deal and will hinge on which side has the better “get out the vote” effort. No wonder some folks are getting desperate and resorting to dirty tricks.

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



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