Just like 2013 was a big political year for Cincinnati, it’s increasingly looking like 2014 will decide where the rest of the state will go for at least four years. But the exact direction — whether it will be progressive or a continuation of the tea party agenda — remains unclear until Ohioans file their ballots next November.
For Ohio, the biggest story will likely come through the gubernatorial election. Right now, that’s looking like a face-off between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
Contrary to popular belief among pundits, the main indicators to watch for the gubernatorial election are not how pretty Kasich and FitzGerald look and sound; instead, it’s much more important to see whether Ohio’s weakening economy turns around. If the economy remains stagnant, Kasich is in a world of trouble. If it improves, FitzGerald might stand no chance against the incumbent governor.
It’s a fairly important decision for Ohioans: Will they keep the governor who cut taxes for the wealthy, approved new, aggressive restrictions on abortion, privatized the state’s development agency by handing it over to a board of executives with conflicts of interest and sold a state prison to a private company that has struggled to maintain basic safety and health standards? Or will they elect a new, relatively unknown leader who managed a struggling county government but could bring in more progressive policies?
But the governor’s race won’t be the only item on the ballot next year. It’s now looking increasingly likely that same-sex marriage will also come to a vote. That ballot initiative would come just 10 years after Ohioans approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. Much to conservatives’ chagrin, the legalization of gay marriage looks inevitable today, but the question remains whether public opinion has shifted enough to allow gay couples in the state to marry (“Consensus Building,” issue of Jan.
One interesting aspect of gay marriage rarely discussed: It could give Ohio’s ailing economy a decent boost. A study from Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics, LLC, found Ohio’s economic worth could increase by $100-$126 million within three years of same-sex marriage legalization. That’s about $8.2 million in growth for Hamilton County, according to the same study.
There will also be lesser-known races on the state ballot next year, including the races for Ohio’s secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general. These seemingly innocuous races might not hold much weight in the eyes of the typical Cincinnatian, but the positions are the executive offices that decide how Ohio’s elections are run, how the government is held accountable internally, how the state manages its money and what lawsuits the state takes up to protect Ohio’s interests.
For example, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is still pursuing a case upholding Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Can DeWine win re-election against former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper during the same year in which gay marriage might be legalized?
Then there’s Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who gained national recognition in 2012 after Democrats and national pundits accused him of suppressing Ohio voters. Husted did work to limit early voting, but he claims he did so to give all Ohio counties — some of which are more cash-strapped than others — an equal chance at running early voting booths. Democrats scoff at the claim, pointing to other Republican officials who have openly acknowledged that such measures are meant to avoid placating key Democratic constituents. Given that history and the popularity of expanded early voting rights, can Husted defeat the popular State Sen. Nina Turner?
One political body that likely won’t be too much of a focus in 2014: the General Assembly. Democrats would love to take over Ohio’s legislative chambers, but the chances of that happening are fairly slim. That’s because Republicans redrew legislative districts in a way that effectively blocks Democrats from tapping into the demographics necessary to take over the Ohio House or Senate.
So even if Democrats win the executive offices in a sweeping election, Republicans can expect to easily hold the legislature and block much in the way of progressive legislation.
On a local level, Cincinnatians won’t need to vote on the streetcar again, but they might have to decide whether all local children should be given subsidies for a quality preschool education. That issue will come through the Preschool Promise, which could raise local taxes — it’s still unclear which taxes the program would increase — to pay for preschool tuition credits. But the program, as CityBeat previously covered (“Future Investment,” issue of Dec. 18), would offer a big opportunity for low-income Cincinnatians who can’t access preschool today.
The good news for the Preschool Promise is most polled voters in Cincinnati — about 79 percent, according to a June poll from Public Opinion Strategies — said the city “should be involved in helping ensure all parents have access to a quality preschool program that they can afford.” Considering economic research widely shows preschool is among the best investments any level of government can make, the support from local voters makes sense.
Taken all together, 2014 could provide another change in direction for Cincinnati and Ohio just as the state shows some signs of falling back into bad economic conditions. Given the overall negative results of the past three years, progressives should hope that Ohioans choose to take the state in a different direction than they did in 2010.