Ohio GOP asks police PACs: Why don’t you call me anymore?

By Ken Hanson

October 26, 2006 was the deadline to file the pre-General Election campaign finance reports in Ohio. A review of these initial reports reveals a few substantial surprises if you are a GOP office holder. Adding to what certainly will be a tumultuous shakeup of the Ohio GOP party leadership after this election is the fact that the police PACs have decided to throw their money strongly to Ohio Democrats.

For a decade or more the GOP Senate leadership and Governor have doted on law enforcement. If it can be said that Senate GOP leadership and the GOP Governor have had a cozy, accommodating relationship with law enforcement, then the disclosure of these campaign donations is the equivalent of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) leaving a voicemail breaking off the affair, and they want their class ring and letter jacket back.

You’re the only one for me, baby.
Readers of this website are no stranger to the fact that the GOP Senate and Gubernatorial leadership in Ohio has for years, nay, at least a decade, handed the police lobby a de facto veto of legislation. Most familiar to our donors, Senate GOP leadership and the Governor have repeatedly stated that no firearm reform laws will pass without the support of law enforcement. This is what resulted in Ohio having the worst “shall issue” law in the nation.

Of course, since Sheriffs are elected in Ohio, and Highway Patrol and Police leadership are not, this has routinely meant that the Sheriffs have supported reform while the unaccountable bureaucrats at the FOP and OSHP have opposed sensible gun-rights laws in Ohio. Their opposition, of course, is only possible with the complicity of Ohio’s GOP leadership and GOP Governor. Look back at the cast of GOP co-dependents: Voinovich, Davidson, Taft – each a GOP leader who has granted law enforcement the final word – first among equals.

They said they would respect us in the morning.
Readers of this website are also aware that this year the Ohio House passed perfectly sensible firearm reform with H.B. 347 – all sides sat at the table, aired concerns, addressed concerns and passed a bill with overwhelming bi-partisan support. Unfortunately, the ink wasn’t dry on the vote before the GOP Senate and Governor once again handed the FOP and OSHP a virtual veto by saying law enforcement’s blessing, which we thought we had in the House, was needed for any bill to pass. The FOP and OSHP immediately used this big stick by setting out to wreck a good bill.

Hearing the code words “we will vote on the bill after the election,” which the Ohio gun owner knows means “we have killed your bill by agreeing to bad amendments from law enforcement and don’t want you to know that for a fact prior to you casting a ballot,” the Ohio gun owner has largely stayed home this election cycle. In fact, as we pointed out here earlier this year, the FOP and OSHP had better be ready to knock on a lot of doors and put in some serious time phone-banking, because the Ohio gun owner is not going to help out candidates who were complicit in the FOP’s and OSHP’s groundless obstructionism.

Who’s that person I saw you having dinner with?
Far from helping out, or even staying loyal to, the GOP leadership that has empowered them with a de facto veto for a decade, the OSHP and FOP PACs have gone solidly Democrat with their checkbooks.

That’s right – the FOP and OSHP didn’t just bite the hand that fed them, they cut off the arm. It is especially poignant that Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican, was busy supporting the FOP and OSHP by sending out emails to constituents saying he won’t bring H.B. 347 up for a vote over law enforcement objections on the very same day that that these same law enforcement PACs disclosed that they have conspired to donate substantial sums to the Democrats over the Republicans.

We love you, but we’re not in love with you.
According to reports filed with the Secretary of State, Senate President Bill Harris did a terrific job raising funds in the last few months, over $600,000. Most of this was given to the GOP caucus, which in turn supports the good of the party in general - the very picture of a dutiful, loyal team player. While President Harris was out working hard to make it rain for the party, the same law enforcement groups who he handed a veto to were raising money for the leadership of the other party. (Since we know you are wondering, no, these same law enforcement groups were not the source of the funds Harris raised. In fact, Harris was practically stiffed by the law enforcement groups, with the exception of the police and fire retirees.)

Most PACs, this one included, do not choose between friends. If two candidates are good on your issue, you stay out of the fight, or participate equally. Witness Buckeye Firearms Association's donations in the past year to Ken Blackwell AND Jim Petro AND Ted Strickland, all equal. Most people would look at Blackwell and Strickland and be hard-pressed to label one or the other as the “law and order candidate.”

Can’t we just be friends?
Apparently the FOP has some magic measure, because they sized it up as $10,000 for Strickland, ZERO for Blackwell. At least the FOP tried to balance this out by supporting a handful of GOP candidates for other offices, including a county commissioner race run by former National FOP chair Dewey Stokes, donating enough for most of them to buy one radio ad each.

I’ve been seeing someone else.
The OSHP, the biggest wielder of the power the GOP leadership abdicated, had no such concern for feining balance. In fact, it is difficult to fathom how the OSHP has found the time to obstruct good legislation, given the amount of blue paint they need to wash from their hands.

The same OSHP that is using the GOP leadership as a proxy to bully gun owners is almost 100% Democrat in their donations. They donated $10,000 to Strickland, ZERO to Blackwell, and then threw the rest to other Democrats, with the exception of $250 to a Republican candidate who they could not even get the right first name for on their report. For those keeping score, that is $16,450 for Democrats and $250 to a Republican “what’s his name.”

If we were Senate President Bill Harris, we’d be asking for our big stick back.

I told you to stop calling me.
It is not coincidental that the two law enforcement PACs who have stomped out of the room on the GOP leadership are also the PACs populated by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. Readers of this website already know that the leadership of the State Patrol is entirely beyond citizen control – they answer only to the Governor. We can’t vote them out, we can’t get them fired, we can’t control what they do through direct methods. Don’t like the OSHP’s policy positions? Please direct your comments to the brick wall over there.

Is it any surprise that their donations are 100% opportunistic, throwing money at the Democrats now that it appears all but certain their Republican sugar daddies are no longer going to control the best-dressed law enforcement in the land? How is that for a loyal thank-you? Well, I supposed you better keep the boss happy, even if your last boss has been very generous with you.

Similarly, extraordinarily few police chiefs are subject to any sort of direct accountability. Like the OSHP, the FOP draws its membership from unelected bureaucrats. Consequently, the police departments are subject to very little direct accountability to the citizens. Ever tried to fire a police chief? Compare that to firing a bad Sheriff. In the case of the Sheriff, you need one election, in the case of the cop, you need a platoon of human resources lawyers to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in slaying the inept. Does anyone really know just how long Chief Jackson and the city of Columbus have been involved in lawsuits? (Does anyone recall he shot someone coming through the back window of his house, just in case the guy was armed? Think Chief Jackson would be in favor of 'castle doctrine'?)

Can I crash on your sofa?
Not coincidentally, the Sheriff’s PAC, comprised of ELECTED OFFICIALS, shows expenditures that reflect some independence and loyalty where loyalty has been earned. Over the past 4 years, the Sheriffs have been a partner with the Ohio gun owner, working shoulder to shoulder with the legislators and the gun owners to address all concerns reasonably through dialogue. The Sheriffs know that they are always one election away from writing speeding tickets again, and this results in a certain stability and moderation. The Sheriff’s PAC wrote checks in the spring to both Blackwell and Strickland, and then one check each to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. All balanced, all equal. No additional expenditures were reported this fall.

How could the Sheriffs, the FOP and the OSHP all be looking at the same picture and draw such different conclusions? One group has to answer the voters every 4 years.

A long-lost friend of mine called today and asked if we could grab a drink.
The Ohio gun owner is probably going to be hearing from some old friends in the next few months. It is no secret that the Ohio GOP is in for a shakeup after the extent of the election shellacking is finally known. Ohio is critical to the National GOP’s hopes and dreams in 2008, and those national level folks are not going to sit idle and watch Ohio swerve across the median into the Democrat’s lane. Ohio, quite literally, elects the President. While fiercely independent and issue oriented, it is also true that the typical gun voter has been pulling the lever for the GOP. How this vote, previously taken for granted by Republicans, shapes up in the era of pro-gun Democrats like Strickland, Chris Redfern and Marc Dann remains to be seen.

Will a pro-gun, state level Democrat political machine be enough in 2008 to balance out the anti-gun credentials of a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama as they seek to crack the code that is Ohio politics? Kerry came to Ohio to goose hunt. Think it might be a good idea for the GOP to pass some good gun rights legislation next session to try and earn back this voting bloc, just in case?

Part of the triage that people like Karl Rove will be performing on Ohio is determining which party members can “heal the base” in Ohio. You can be assured that many elected officials in Ohio will be going out of their way to demonstrate they can be part of the solution, rather than part of yesterday’s problem. Taft who? Politicians are savvy, and certainly have good preservation instincts. These folks know that their ability to advance, or just survive the coming purge, is going to be largely related to their ability to demonstrate they can correct, or at least not repeat, the errors of their predecessors.

While it is the height of arrogant folly to suggest that gun owners have caused the catastrophic implosion of the Ohio GOP, they certainly have been part of the demolition crew. Similarly, the gun owner will not be the panacea that the Ohio GOP will be looking for, but they are certainly an important part of the rebuilding crew.

One thing is beyond question: The very thing that has earned the gun owner’s ire, handing Carte Blanche to the FOP and OSHP on the issues of self-defense and firearms, has done zero good for the GOP in Ohio. The extraordinary political capital the GOP gave the FOP and OSHP over the past decade was repaid with a jilting rather than even a pretense of loyalty. GOP office holders need to be asking themselves, “What has the FOP or OSHP done for me lately?”

Ken Hanson is Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair and author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws.

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