A year ago, Ohio Governor Bob Taft seemed comfortably insulated from the fundraising irregularities that were beginning to plague his state's Republican Party. Now, with the the former state Treasurer and House Speaker already tainted by scandal, ongoing disclosures are making the governor himself vulnerable. Some in the state GOP are starting to wonder whether pinning the blame on Taft might be the only way to preserve the party's long dominance of state politics.
Tom Noe, a big Republican donor from Toledo, is accused of bilking the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation of about $12 million. He was in charge of a $50 million investment fund and, since he happens to be a coin dealer, decided to invest the money in rare coins--some of which apparently went missing. "Now I know what a rare coin is," jibes one critic. "It's something you can't find."
Taft, along with more than a dozen other Ohio Republicans and President Bush, returned $100,000 worth of donations they'd received from Noe. But the governor doesn't seem to be able to extricate himself. In addition to the coin fiasco, the workers' comp bureau was relieved of $215 million through improper investments in hedge funds, a problem that an aide neglected to let Taft know about. Meanwhile, Taft is being asked about golf outings, paid for by others, that he didn't include on his ethics disclosure forms. He said it was an oversight, but in recent years, he's shown four top state officials the door for making a similar mistake.
Democrats are having a field day with all this. But they'll be better off if Taft doesn't take the fall alone for his party's misdoings. The governor will be term-limited out of office after next year, and the more the scandals attach to him personally, the better chance a new set of Republicans will have of overcoming them at the polls in 2006. Democrats, who haven't won the governorship since the 1980s or controlled either legislative chamber in a decade, will be stronger if they can focus public attention on the state Republican Party in general.
They may not have much difficulty doing that. Indictments and trials seem certain to keep the ethics issues fresh in voters' minds over the coming months. Five of the seven state Supreme Court justices had to recuse themselves from the coin investigation because they had taken contributions from Noe. By November of next year, those sorts of relationships may seem to many voters an effective argument for ending one-party control.