One month after Arnold Schwarzenegger took California, it was another big night for Republicans across the nation, as voters elected GOP heavyweight Haley Barbour to the governorship in Mississippi, and as Ernie Fletcher became governor of Kentucky, putting a Republican in that office for the first time in 32 years.
The results will no doubt be read by politicos as a sign that the nation is in no mood for the antics the nine Democrat presidential hopefuls have been perpetrating in recent months.
But before the Republican National Committee gets too confident, it needs to look at Ohio, where a conservative voter base has just fired a shot across the bow of a Republican ship that holds super-majorities in both legislatures and every executive office in the state, including the Governor's office.
Just one year ago, Ohioans elected Bob Taft to a second term and increased the Republican majority in the General Assembly. In the midst of a state budget crisis, Taft and Republican legislators had campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes unless he brought the question to voters. Taft even ran campaign ads depicting his Democrat opponent as "Tax-Hike Hagan".
A few months later, Taft and the Republican legislature forced upon Ohioans the largest tax increase in state history, in a budget that increased spending 11%.
This week, frustrated Republican voters sent a message to the Ohio GOP, and it is a message that would do well to be heard across the nation: "We gave you this power, and we are watching. If you abuse it, we'll take it back"
The message was sent by way of defeating Ohio Issue 1, the final piece of Governor Taft's $1.6 billion, Third Frontier "economic stimulus" plan. Issue 1 asked voters to allow the state to borrow $500 million, and use it as seed money for university research projects and startup businesses.
Taft went on radio and television commercials promising new jobs, and no new taxes. But it is becoming apparent Ohio's conservative voter base has heard that line from Bob Taft one too many times.
Issue 1 was defeated not by Democrats, but by rural Ohio Republicans. In many Republican counties, the measure went down by better than a 2 to 1 margin.
Remarkably, this stinging defeat came without any formal opposition. No group raised money or ran commercials to counter Taft's $3 million juggernaut ad campaign. No group created an anti-Issue 1 website, or blasted emails across the state. Yet, Republican Bob Taft's proposal was given a vote of "no confidence" by the same people who gave him a second-term only one year ago.
A second wave in the assault on liberal Republicans may come if sales tax opponents succeed in getting Taft's 20% sales tax increase on the ballot in 2004. They must gather 97,000 signatures by late December.
Higher taxes and spending aren't the only things which have Ohio's Republicans upset with their party these days. Under threat of a Taft veto, Republicans in the Ohio Senate have delayed procedures which would allow a concealed carry reform bill, already passed by both branches of the legislature, to become law. Ohio is one of only 5 states which does not allow its citizens some legal means of bearing concealed firearms for self-defense.
As the state's increasing violent crime rates buck national trends, and as Michigan's crime rates have been reduced to less per capita than Ohio for the first time in 40 years (Michigan passed concealed carry in 2000), Ohioans have become increasingly frustrated that such a law has not been passed in Ohio, especially with Republicans leading every branch of government.
Just last week, a group of Republican protestors gathered in Columbus for a fundraising visit by President Bush. They carried signs reading "Tax-Hike Taft is a Liability for Bush" and "President Bush passed CCW in Texas, Why Won't You, Bob?"
In recent weeks, hundreds upon hundreds of Ohioans have staged 'Defense' Walks, in which they openly carry firearms to protest a Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court decision which ruled that a concealed-carry ban was constitutional because citizens can carry firearms openly.
This type of frustration in the Republican base should be kept squarely in view on the national stage. It is clear from recent election years that the Republicans' message rings true with voters.
But Ohioans have shown there is a greater expectation than to just say the right things before an election. They expect the Republicans they elect to do what they say they will. Bob Taft has not. Thus, his pet Third Frontier project has been slain, and grassroots conservatives are now holding his feet to the fire on his sales tax increase.
Can you hear us now, GOP?
Chad D. Baus is a member of the Fulton County, Ohio Republican Central Committee and an officer with Ohioans for Concealed Carry.
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