A group of Ohio House Democrats wants Congress to move quickly and grant statehood to Puerto Rico, which has been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. The Ohioans do not say where the star should go on a redesigned American flag, but they said statehood would “respect the rights of self-governance through consent of the governed of our fellow United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico.”
The chief sponsor of the resolution, H.C.R. 57, is State Rep. Dan Ramos of Lorain, a northern Ohio city where about 25 percent of the 64,000 residents are Hispanic. Lorain is considered the most Hispanic city in Ohio, and nearly 20 percent of its population claims Puerto Rican descent. The resolution urging statehood was introduced this week in the Ohio House where it likely faces an uncertain future. The current term of the legislature is scheduled to end in December, and it has no Republican co-sponsors. The GOP controls the House, which means that Democratic proposals often get bottled up or receive short shrift.
Earlier this month, a slight majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood for the Caribbean Island. It was the first time a statehood referendum has won there, and the non-binding vote was seen as signaling that many Puerto Ricans appear ready to end the island’s status as a U.S. commonwealth. The move by the Ohio House Democrats also appears aimed at cementing the party’s support among Hispanic voters. Some 70 percent of Hispanics backed the Democrats and President Obama on Election Day, and Hispanics are emerging as a key bloc with increasing power at the ballot box.
With the exception of State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat, all of the other House Democrats backing the statehood resolution are from Columbus or further north in Ohio. The resolution urges Congress to take swift action “towards admitting the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the Union as a State.” Statehood decisions are up to Congress. The Ohio resolution points out that Puerto Ricans are already U.S. citizens (although they cannot vote in presidential elections), and that many serve in the U.S. military. A 1917 law granted residents U.S. citizenship.
There is a historical footnote involving Cincinnati in Puerto Rico’s fate. Former
GOP President William Howard Taft, a Cincinnatian who went on to serve
as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the 1920s, delivered a major
legal decision in 1922 that helped keep Puerto Rico separate. Taft
said the congressional act that conferred citizenship on the islanders
did not contemplate that they would be incorporated into the Union. He ruled the U.S. possession had never been designated for statehood. Taft gave the island a unique status that has been described as a commonwealth, or as it is said in Spanish, “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.”
Actress and acclaimed rapper Natalie Portman played up her Cincinnati ties in a Wednesday appearance at the Obama campaign-sponsored Women’s Summit at Union Terminal.
The Academy Award-winner said her mother graduated from Walnut Hills High School and her grandfather — Art Stevens — grew Champion Windows in Cincinnati after starting as a door-to-door salesman.
“Because of that, I see President Obama’s support of small businesses as so crucial to our economy,” Portman said, adding that Obama has cut taxes for small businesses 82 times since taking office.
Portman said the Republican Party and their presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did not have the best interests of women at heart. She pointed to attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s mandates that insurers provide birth control to women and ensure preventative care such as mammogram screenings for breast cancer is covered, as well a bill sponsored by Ryan and embattled congressional candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) that would eliminate all abortion funding except for cases of “forcible rape.”
“We need to stand up for ourselves,” Portman told the packed auditorium that was crowded with an audience of mostly women. “Our mothers and our grandmothers made giant steps for us. We can’t go backwards. We need to go forwards.”
Portman was joined by Obama Campaign National Women’s Vote Director Kate Chapek, former Ohio first lady Frances Strickland, Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece and Obama campaign volunteer Mary Shelton.
An Ohio Romney rep said the campaign did not have a comment on the Women’s Summit, but is hosting a “Women for Mitt” call night featuring former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in Kenwood on Thursday.
“Ohio women believe in the Romney-Ryan path for America that will result in lower taxes, less spending, less government and more economic growth,” said a release from Romney’s campaign.
The Obama event on Wednesday catered to women, with Chapek telling the audience she knew how difficult it was for women to get there with jobs and the challenge of getting their kids to school. She framed women’s role in the election as a conversation.
“The conversation starts like this: women, turns out, we’re not a constituency,” Chapek said. “Who knew? Apparently Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, because they don’t realize that women are actually a majority in this country.”
She told the women gathered to have conversations with their neighbors and friends and encourage them to volunteer at phone banks or knocking on doors.
Strickland talked about the need to reconcile qualities traditionally seen as masculine — like power — with those seen as feminine — like love.
She also took the opportunity to riff on a statement made by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said political wives were heroes because while they’re husbands were on stage in the limelight, they were at home doing things like laundry.
“I even did the laundry last night so I could come here today,” Strickland said. “Even (former Gov.) Ted does the laundry.”
Summit attendee Ray Boston, a 67-year-old retired writer for AT&T, said Natalie Portman’s presence caught his eye.
“I’m a celebrity photo enthusiast,” he said. “Nothing’s official until I’ve taken a picture of it.”
Boston said he didn’t vote in 2008, but felt the upcoming November election was too important to sit out. He said he was leaning toward voting for Obama and liked his health care overhaul, but was opposed to the president’s views on gay marriage for religious reasons.
Gwen McFarlin, who works in health care administration, said she was there to support President Obama. She supports his health care overhaul, but thinks it’s a first step to further changes.
She said she was encouraged by the diversity of the women in attendance.
“For me, I’m sure the women who are here represent all the world, not one issue,” she said. “We’re here as a group of women working to empower all the U.S. and the world.”
**UPDATE AT BOTTOM**
It's 72 hours and counting.
That's how long it has been since CityBeate-mailed Mike Wilson, a Republican candidate and Cincinnati Tea Party leader, to learn why he skipped a planned appearance at a candidates' forum Wednesday night in Forest Park. So far, we've received no reply.
Following a long battle with cancer, former Cincinnati City Councilman and Vice Mayor David Crowley passed away early this morning.
Crowley, 73, had struggled with the illness since leaving City Council in 2009 due to term limits. After a grueling round of chemotherapy that took a toll on his body, Crowley appeared to have beaten the disease but it recently returned. He is survived by his wife, Sherri, four children and six grandchildren.
Even as the local Republican Party searches for a competent person willing to take on Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune in next year's election, the GOP chairman insists the party won't be cutting another deal to let Portune run unopposed.
With the Dec. 7 filing deadline now past, the Hamilton County Republican Party has listed one of its staffers, Finance Director Maggie Nafziger Wuellner, as a placeholder to reserve a spot on the ballot against Portune, a longtime Democratic incumbent.
It appears there will be 22 candidates on the ballot in November vying for the nine open seats on Cincinnati City Council.
As of today's 4 p.m. filing deadline at the Board of Elections, that's the number of people who had submitted petitions with enough voter signatures. At least five of those candidates, however, haven't yet had the signatures verified by Elections Board staffers because they only filed their final petitions today.
In the letter, the Democrats say they would find voter fraud to be a serious problem if it was happening, but they also note recent studies have found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation fraud. An Oct. 4 Government Accountability Office study could not document a single case of voter impersonation fraud. A similar study by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found a total of 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. That’s less than one case a year.
Tim Burke, chairman of both the Hamilton County Board of Elections and the Hamilton County Democratic Party, says the faulty voter registration forms, which groups like TTV typically cite as examples of in-person voter fraud, never amount to real voter fraud.
“Those nonexistent voters never show up to vote,” he says. “(The forms) were put together by people working on voter registration drives. Frankly, the intent wasn’t to defraud the board of elections; the intent was to defraud their employer into making them think they’re doing more work.”
In other words, people aren't submitting faulty voter registration forms to skew elections; registration drive employees are submitting the forms to try to keep their jobs.
To combat the seemingly nonexistent problem of voter impersonation fraud, TTV is planning on recruiting one million poll watchers — people that will stand by polling places to ensure the voting process is legitimate. The Democrats insist some of the tactics promoted by the group are illegal. The letter claims it’s illegal for anyone but election officials to inhibit the voting process in any way. Most notably, Ohio law prohibits “loiter[ing] in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election,” according to the letter.
Burke says state law allows both Democrats and Republicans
to hire observers at polling booths. However, the observers can only
watch, and they can’t challenge voters. Even if the appointed observers see suspicious
activity, they have to leave the voting area and report the activity
through other means.
The tactics adopted by TTV have an ugly history in the U.S. Utilizing poll watchers was one way Southern officials pushed away minority voters during the segregation era. By asking questions and being as obstructive as possible, the poll watchers of the segregation era intimidated black voters into not voting. In the post-segregation era, the tactics have continued targeting minority and low-income voters.
The Senate Democrats make note of the ugly history in their letter: “It has traditionally focused on the voter registration lists in minority and low-income precincts, utilizing ‘caging’ techniques to question registrations. It has included encouraging poll watchers to ‘raise a challenge’ when certain voters tried to vote by brandishing cameras at polling sites, asking humiliating questions of voters, and slowing down precinct lines with unnecessary challenges and intimidating tactics. These acts of intimidation undermine protection of the right to vote of all citizens.”
TTV has already faced some failures in Hamilton County. Earlier this year, the group teamed up with the Ohio Voter Integrity Project (VIP), another Tea Party group, to file 380 challenges to the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Of the 380 challenges, only 35 remain. The vast majority were thrown out.
“For the most part, they tried to get a bunch of UC students challenged because they didn’t have their dormitory rooms on their voter registration rolls,” Burke says. “All of those were rejected. We did nothing with those.”
But he said the group did bring up one legitimate
challenge. Some voters were still registered in a now-defunct trailer
park in Harrison, Ohio. Since the trailer park no longer exists,
Burke says no one should be voting from there. The board didn’t purge
those voters from the roll, but the board unanimously agreed to ensure those voters are challenged and sent to the correct polling place if they show up to vote.
Still, TTV insists on hunting down all the phantom impersonators and fraudulent voters. In partnership with VIP, TTV is continuing its mission to stop all the voter impersonation that isn't actually happening.
VIP is brandishing the effort with a program of its own. That organization is now hosting special training programs for poll workers. The organization insists its programs are nonpartisan, but Democrats aren’t buying it.
Burke says it’s normal for Democrats and Republicans to hire poll workers, but if the Voter Integrity Project program puts the organization’s anti-fraud politics into the training, it could go too far.
“The job of the poll worker is to assist voters in getting their ballots cast correctly,” Burke says. “It’s to be helpful. It’s not to be belligerent. It’s not to be making voters feel like they’re doing something evil.”
He added, “If poll workers are coming in and deciding that they’re going to be aggressive police officers making everybody feel like they’re engaged in voter fraud and therefore trying to intimidate voters, that’s absolutely wrong.”
As Bernadette Watson decides whether to run for Cincinnati City Council again in 2011, she's keeping busy by helping a former council member get elected to state office.
Watson has been named as campaign manager for Alicia Reece, a Democrat who is seeking to keep the Ohio House 33rd District seat. Reece, an ex-Cincinnati vice mayor, was appointed to the seat in March to replace Tyrone Yates. Yates, who was facing term limits, was appointed to a municipal judgeship.
In a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today asked the Board to extend in-person early voting hours in the county. Council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Cecil Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young also signed the letter. Council members Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, and Charlie Winburn, a Republican, were notified of the letter Thursday, but they did not agree to sign.
voting will begin on Oct. 2 and run until Nov. 2. If hours are not
extended, polls in Hamilton County will only be open on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If the Board agrees to Sittenfeld's recommendations,
early voting will be extended to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday
The letter brings home a political controversy that has recently gained national attention. In recent weeks, Democrats have accused state Republicans of extending in-person early voting in predominantly Republican counties and keeping shorter in-person early voting hours in predominantly Democratic counties.
Democrats typically point to Warren County and Butler County — two predominantly Republican counties with extended in-person early voting — and the recent actions of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. In the predominantly Democratic counties of Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit and Franklin, Husted had to break ties in Boards of Election on the issue of in-person early voting hours. In every case, Husted voted against extending in-person early voting hours.
Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for Ohio Democratic Party, says the move follows a clear Republican trend: "Every opportunity that presents itself, Republicans take away the right to vote."
Kurtz is referring to Republicans' initial push to end in-person early voting in Ohio. In 2011, Republicans passed two laws — H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 — that ended in-person early voting in the state. After Democrats managed to get enough petition signatures to put the early voting issue on the November ballot, Republicans repealed H.B. 194. However, by not repealing H.B. 224, Republicans have made it so all non-military voters are still disallowed to vote the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Democrats and President Barack Obama have filed a lawsuit to restore those early voting days for all voters, including military personnel and families.
Democrats like Kurtz argue that in-person early voting is necessary to maintain reliable, efficient elections. In 2004, Ohio did not have in-person early voting in place, and the state drew national attention when its long voting lines forced some people to wait as long as 10 hours to vote. After the debacle, a Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Bob Taft, also a Republican, passed laws allowing in-person early voting.
now Republicans seem skeptical of their own laws.
Republicans say the measures are meant to cut costs and stop voter
fraud, but Democrats say the measures are all about suppressing the vote. In
a moment of honesty, former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer told
MSNBC that the measures are about disenfranchising demographics that typically side with Democrats. Even Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has stepped in to criticize Republicans for what he sees as disenfranchisement.
Husted told reporters at Cleveland's The Plain Dealer that he is considering establishing uniform rules. With such rules, every county would have the same in-person early voting hours.But Kurtz says the talk about a uniform rule is "pure silliness." He says counties have differences, so they need different voting times. Instead of worrying about uniformity or what counties can afford, Kurtz says Husted should worry managing elections and "empowering people to vote."
The calls for extended early voting come a time when Hamilton County is facing budget issues. With a $20 million budget shortfall projected for next year, affording more early voting hours might be difficult. No official estimate has been released on how much the extended hours would cost.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. to discuss extending in-person early voting hours.