Democrat Governor Debate Wrap

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Congressman Ted Strickland and Former Ohio Legislator Brian Flannery squared off in rough-and-tumble fashion at the City Club Debate. Each agreed Ohio is in need of transformational change, but they differed on how to make it come about.

Strickland stressed Ohio needs mature, serious leadership to turn the state around. And he said Ohio should strengthen its educational system for adults all the way down pre-school children. Once governor he said he would start by adding $150 million to fund early childhood education.

Ted Strickland: We will make sure that Ohio has the best educated work force possible, because there is an breakable link between a highly educated population and economic growth and development, job creation.

But Flannery likened that proposal to "turning in circles," which he said would get Ohio nowhere.

Brian Flannery: Every idea he just mentioned is ideas that have already been tried and not worked. Bob Taft talked doing things for early childhood intervention, about job training, about broad band initiatives. And where are we today? We rank nearly last in every category - every category you don't want to rank last in.

Flannery says he's the man with new ideas and his chief one is to radically alter the way Ohio funds its school system by cutting property taxes.

Brian Flannery: How do we get out of this mess with a Flannery/Stams administration, is we will lower will property taxes by at least a billion dollars. We will address the unconstitutional educational system. And once and for all define what we mean by a high quality education and paying for it.

Strickland charged that's irresponsible.

Ted Strickland: When you say you want to cut property taxes by $1 billion don't say how you'd replace resources to our schools you are failing to speak openly and honestly to the people of this state.

Once the floor was opened to the audience for questions, a local school board president pressed Flannery to end the platitudes and explain exactly how he would fund Ohio's schools if property tax support is scaled back. Flannery contended there's plenty of money in the Ohio budget if you know where to look.

Brian Flannery: $13 billion of loopholes have been created over the years. Tax abatements should be closed... the other area's in the state Medicaid budget. Two independent reports showed savings of abuse and fraud in the system that could save the state of $2 billion. And when you talk about Ohio having a plan, I'm the only candidate who has a plan!

Strickland and Flannery did find some common ground through. Both said the State of Ohio shouldn't discriminate when it comes to dolling out construction contracts, and that more can be done to end youth crime in the state's urban centers. They also agreed amending the state's constitution to restrict government spending would be bad public policy.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is pushing the so-called TEL amendment and he's running for the Republican nomination for Governor. Flannery says it demonstrates Blackwell is unfit.

Brian Flannery: I call that the Truly Escaping Leadership amendment.

Flannery says he's the man with fresh ideas, but Strickland says he's got ideas and the resume to win. The hunger of Ohio Democrats to take back the state after a decade and a half of Republican rule can be seen in Strickland's hefty $3 million war chest, along with a long list of endorsements. Flannery has yet to break $100,000 and has no major endorsements. Political analyst Jim Tankersley's been following the race closely for the Toledo Blade. He suggests the apparent safe bet for democrats might not be so rosy come November.

Jim Tankersley: And that's exactly what happened with John Kerry. Democrats were in love with Howard Dean early because they liked his ideas, but late they rallied around Kerry cause they thought he could win.

Tankersley says recent polls showing Strickland leading Flannery by 40% or more should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the large number of voters yet to make up their minds. But if Strickland wins be a landslide, Tankersley says Flannery's campaign may have served the democrats well.

Jim Tankersley: He's kept Strickland in the spotlight, when the Republicans could have taken the entire spotlight, and he's also he's forcing him to debate, he's forcing him to get more concrete on issues. These are things the Republican Party would be doing to him after the primary. And Flannery's forcing him to do it now.

Next week, the City Club welcomes the Republicans for their gubernatorial primary debate. Unfortunately for voters, it'll be a bit one-sided. Ken Blackwell, so far, has declined to face off against his fellow candidate, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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