Long a darling of Democrats in Greater Cincinnati, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune often talks the talk of standing up for progressive values, but he certainly didn't walk the walk last week -- instead choosing to strike a deal that is contrary to democracy and reeks of all that is wrong with politics today.
As Portune was denying to CityBeat in a Dec. 31 interview that he struck any sort of deal with Republicans last fall to run unopposed for re-election this year in exchange for his support of a proposed sales tax increase, he was busy working behind-the-scenes to cobble together a pact to do just that.
Just last month Democratic Party leaders had recruited Northside resident Greg Harris to run for the spot on the county commission now held by Republicans. A thoughtful moderate, Harris twice challenged Steve Chabot for his congressional seat in recent years when no one else would accept that assignment and also ran for Cincinnati City Council in November.
For his own benefit, though, Portune already was negotiating with certain GOP members to pressure Harris into dropping out of the race.
Once County Commissioner Pat DeWine -- an incumbent Republican disliked by GOP leaders and Sheriff Simon Leis for opposing the sales tax hike last fall -- decided to run for a judgeship, Republican Greg Hartmann decided to seek his seat. Portune and Hartmann almost immediately began hatching a deal so neither would face competition in the fall. If Portune got Harris to drop out, Hartmann would get the GOP to cancel a campaign by Green Township Trustee Tracy Winkler, who would have opposed Portune.
(See John Fox's related editorial, "Who the Hell Is Greg Hartmann," here.) That's where the heavy-duty pressure began. Although Harris declined to comment, other Democratic Party sources say calls were made to the CEO of the company where Harris works, asking his boss to discourage Harris from running. Meanwhile, attorney Stan Chesley took it on himself to act as mediator between the Democratic and Republican parties, trying to get leaders on both sides to sign off on the deal.
Chesley, of course, is the millionaire litigator who paints himself as a Democrat but gives generously to numerous Republican campaigns, such as former County Commissioner Phil Heimlich. Chesley's law firm hired another Republican, former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro after -- coincidentally, I'm sure -- Petro earlier had appointed Chesley's law firm to represent the state in a potentially lucrative lawsuit.
Yes, it appears there is no cliche about lawyers that Chesley doesn't work hard to fulfill.
Let's face it: Whether Portune faced competition or not, he probably would've been re-elected, based on his poll numbers. Although DeWine's seat would be a toss-up, the Democrats would have at least had a shot with a candidate. The bottom line seems to be that Portune simply didn't want to have to campaign hard to keep his seat -- and voters be damned.
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