Todd Portune and Tim Burke will have at least the next two years to learn that karma, as the old saying goes, is a bitch.
With Republican Chris Monzel's decisive victory Tuesday night, the Hamilton County Commission will now return to GOP control after four years of having a Democratic majority.
Monzel received 56 percent of the votes cast, compared to Democrat Jim Tarbell's 44 percent. A difference of 35,066 votes separated the candidates, according to final, uncertified results at the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
During the last commission election in 2008, when two seats were open, Portune crafted a backroom deal with Republicans. Under the pact, Democrat Portune would run unopposed for reelection and his party wouldn't field a candidate against Republican Greg Hartmann for the other seat.
Although some rank-and-file Democrats balked at the deal, Democratic Party Chairman Burke supported it and convinced the party's Central Committee to uphold it by an almost 4-to-1 margin.
The historic election that year, with Barack Obama running for the presidency, had record Democratic turnout. That led critics to say Hartmann almost certainly would have been defeated. If true, that means Monzel's victory this year still would have left the commission under Democratic control.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Tuesday's results weren't too surprising to many political observers. Monzel had raised more than twice as much cash as Tarbell and had a more aggressive campaigning style, dubbing his opponent “Taxin' Tarbell” in TV commercials. By comparison, Tarbell aired a single, low-key TV ad that tried to appeal to crossover Republican and independent voters and depended mostly on billboards and word of mouth.
Monzel will replace Democrat David Pepper on the three-member commission.
Pepper opted instead to run for Ohio state auditor, a race he lost Tuesday.
“I think the citizens of this county sent a message,” Monzel told jubilant supporters late Tuesday night at a party at the Taft Center, overlooking Fountain Square. “We're going to keep spending in check, keep taxes low and are really going to grow this county in the future.”
Monzel, who will leave his seat on Cincinnati City Council for the commission, thanked several people he said were crucial to his victory, including his wife, his mother, Chief of Staff Brad Beckett and Tea Partiers.
Asked whether it was the particulars of the county race or the general nationwide swing toward Republicans that was responsible for his victory, Monzel replied, “I think it's both. The country just doesn't want big government and big spending right now.”
In reality, Pepper and Portune cut expenditures by 22 percent during the past four years, returning the county to 1998 spending levels. But with looming deficits in the stadium account, the pair had considered reducing a property tax rebate to help cover the shortfall, which Republicans portrayed as a broken promise to voters and a tax increase.
Now Monzel and the commission's other Republican, Hartmann, must devise a plan to cover the deficit.
Monzel was surprised by his margin of victory.
“I had no idea,” he said. “If it would've just been 1 percent, that's fine by me. A win is a win.”
Jim Tarbell (left) sings the blues at his Election Night party at Arnold's. (Photo by Sean Hughes)
Surrounded by his supporters at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown, Tarbell was reflective about the night's outcome.
“Hats off to Monzel,” Tarbell said. “We have a lot of work to do still. How can the county plan for the future and ask the townships to make some sacrifices if, first and foremost, you don't balance the budget? That problem is still there, it's not going away.”
The amount of cash pumped into Monzel's campaign also concerned Tarbell. Monzel raised nearly $194,000 compared to Tarbell's $87,000, with much of it coming from socially conservative groups like Right to Life.
“Abortion has nothing to do with our responsibilities as commissioners,” Tarbell said. “What influence will that have in setting our priorities in running the county? Is it going to be about social issues or about development and management issues?”
A former Cincinnati city councilman and vice mayor, Tarbell was non-committal about possibly seeking another elective office. “I haven't given it any thought,” he said.
Tarbell, who left City Council in 2007 due to term limits, is eligible to run again in the 2011 election, if he chooses.
Meanwhile, here is what CityBeat wrote in April 2008, after the Democratic Party's Central Committee affirmed the “no-compete” deal: “In making his case that the deal should be upheld, former Cincinnati City Councilman Dwight Tillery said Democrats owed County Commissioner Todd Portune their support for the deal after Portune placed a controversial sales tax proposal on the ballot last fall. ... 'The justice issue was very divisive,' Tillery said. 'I think we owe this to Todd.'"
We wonder what Tillery, Portune and Burke are thinking now.