January 17, 2006


Ronald Reagan’s Unlikely Heir: Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial front-runner Ken Blackwell is “Jesse Jackson’s worst nightmare.” (Steven Malanga, Winter 2006, City Journal)

Ken Blackwell has so many people worried because he represents a new political calculus with the power to shake up American politics. For Blackwell is a fiscal and cultural conservative, a true heir of the Reagan revolution, who happens to be black, with the proven power to attract votes from across a startlingly wide spectrum of the electorate. Born in the projects of Cincinnati to a meat-packer who preached the work ethic and a nurse who read to him from the Bible every evening, Blackwell has rejected the victimology of many black activists and opted for a different path, championing school choice, opposing abortion, and staunchly advocating low taxes as a road to prosperity. The 57-year-old is equally comfortable preaching that platform to the black urban voters of Cincinnati as to the white German Americans in Ohio’s rural counties or to the state’s business community.

The former Xavier University football star is one of a handful of black conservatives making a stir in national politics. The group includes Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele, vying for an open U.S. Senate seat in his heavily Democratic state; Keith Butler, a minister and former member of the Detroit City Council who is the current front-runner for the GOP nomination for next year’s Michigan Senate race; former Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann, running for the 2006 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nomination; and Randy Daniels, New York’s former secretary of state, now seeking the state’s GOP gubernatorial nomination. Of this group, only Steele has the unqualified backing of both his own state GOP and the national party. Ironically, Blackwell and Co. are proving too conservative for the Republicans.

Blackwell stands apart from the group, thanks to his deep electoral experience and his very good chance of getting elected. He has already run more political races—from school-board seat to city councilman to secretary of state—than all the rest of them combined. He’s served in Washington as a HUD undersecretary and traveled the world as a U.S. ambassador. He’s chaired a major presidential campaign, been mayor of one of Ohio’s largest cities, and plotted supply-side fiscal policy with Jack Kemp. If he wins in Ohio, a state where Republicans are on the defensive after scandals that rocked the administration of Governor Bob Taft, Blackwell would not only become the nation’s first elected black Republican governor but would immediately figure as a compelling 2008 vice-presidential candidate.

“Ken Blackwell represents the only chance the Republicans have in Ohio,” says Paul Weyrich, who headed the Heritage Foundation, where Blackwell was an analyst in 1990. Weyrich, who calls Blackwell one of the few extraordinary individuals he has met in 50 years of public service, says that, without him on the ticket, Ohio Republicans “are going down the tubes big-time for what they’ve done there.”

What they’ve done since capturing the statehouse more than a decade ago is to engage in a flurry of taxing and spending that has left the state’s budget swollen and its economy deflated. Under GOP rule, state and local government spending from 1995 through 2004 rose nearly 20 percent faster than the personal income of Ohio’s residents—almost three times the national growth rate. To pay for such splurges, current governor Bob Taft, in conjunction with the Republican-dominated state legislature, heaped on some $350 million in tax increases in 2001, then followed with a host of new levies the following year, prompting the Cato Institute’s annual survey of governors to deplore his “disastrous fiscal record” and award Taft a failing grade. “About the only good news to report is that Bob Taft is term limited and cannot run for office again,” the Cato report declared.

Not surprisingly, Ohio’s economy has been one of the nation’s feeblest. In the last decade, the state’s private sector has added only about 147,000 jobs, a mere 3.4 percent growth rate, compared with a robust 12 percent nationwide. Ohio also lays claim to one of the slowest population growth rates of any state, and one of the highest rates of migration of its citizens elsewhere in the country. “We have become one of the leading repopulators of other states,” Blackwell says.

Though Ohio’s decline has been steepest in the last ten years, the state has been on a downward arc for more than three decades, transformed by both Democratic and Republican administrations from one of the country’s lowest-taxed states to its current high-tax, slow-growth model. [...]

As Blackwell rose in the national Republican Party, he won greater attention from the Ohio GOP, though the state party quickly discovered how much Blackwell’s Reagan Republicanism diverged from its unreformed country-club Republicanism. In 1993, Governor George Voinovich appointed Blackwell to fill Ohio’s vacant treasurer’s post, and the next year voters elected Blackwell to that position, making him the first black to win statewide office in Ohio. Four years later, he was elected secretary of state—after forgoing a run for governor at the request of Ohio’s Republican Party chairman, who wished to spare Taft a primary battle.

In the midst of his rise, Blackwell has struggled to push the Ohio GOP rightward, becoming one of its sternest critics. He bitterly opposed Governor Voinovich’s attempts to raise the state sales tax, then successfully campaigned against a ballot initiative designed to increase the sales tax after Voinovich’s effort failed in the legislature. Though many state GOP leaders supported the tax-hike initiative, 80 percent of Ohio voters rejected it. (Voinovich, now one of the U.S. Senate’s so-called Republicans In Name Only, is today’s leading national embodiment of Ohio-style Republicanism.) Blackwell’s successful opposition to his own party sparked an all-out war on him, with Republican House Speaker Larry Householder’s staff even circulating a 109-page plan for destroying Blackwell politically. The hyperbolic language of the report labeled Blackwell “the Enron of Ohio politics, propped up and overvalued, a fraud,” prompting Blackwell to respond that the report displayed so much hate on the part of its authors that “I pray for them and for us.”

In a state where he’s often at war with his own party as well as the Democrats, Blackwell has developed a combative political style, sharpened by his quick wit. Drawing a clear distinction between his platform and that of one of his GOP opponents in the Ohio gubernatorial sweepstakes, Attorney General Jim Petro, Blackwell says, “Jim is the Al Gore of Ohio. He wants to reinvent government. I want to shrink it.”

Responding to GOP criticism that he’s too conservative to win in a “50-50 state,” Blackwell argues that “voters don’t want 50-50 leadership.”

In the face of opposition from within both of Ohio’s major parties, Blackwell, a National Taxpayers Union board member, is running a singular effort to energize Ohio’s taxpayers for the 2006 elections by stoking their anger over the state’s tax-and-spend ways.

If cutting taxes is issue number one in OH, how does he lose?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2006 4:41 PM

Is Butler really the front-runner in Michigan? I thought I had heard otherwise.

Blackwell certainly appears unstoppable, as the Republican outsider in a Republican state suffering from a bloated & corrupt Republican party, with the added bonuses of being elected to a statewide office and being the target of the Left's new BDS (Blackwell Derangement Syndrome) thanks to the '04 results. You've got to figure that the Ohio GOP is keeping their distance on purpose, so as not to screw things up by tainting him.

Posted by: Timothy at January 17, 2006 4:59 PM


If only one could believe in a state GOP organization that un-stupid.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 17, 2006 5:46 PM

The Ohio Republicans could kill it by trying to pull a Bret Schundler on Blackwell, the way the New Jersey GOP did when Schundler had the temerity not to wait in line for the candidate picked by the party's leaders and won the state Republican primary in 2001. However, Blackwell already has more out-of-state name recognition, so any action like that against one of the party's apparent rising stars would probably draw more of a reaction from the national GOP.

Posted by: John at January 17, 2006 6:51 PM

As Secretary of State, he runs a nice, efficient, customer-friendly office when it comes to business filings (incorporations and such).

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 17, 2006 6:54 PM

Have Schumer's associates gotten their hands on his credit report yet?

Posted by: obc at January 17, 2006 7:39 PM

As my many emails to you have documented, J. Kenneth is the Republican party's greatest asset, if only he can escape the inept/incompetent OH version thereof.
By any criteria, J. Kenneth Blackwell should be the first Black President of the USA, with Black being the least qualifying adjective.

Posted by: Mike Daley at January 17, 2006 11:12 PM

Butler may well be the front runner in the 3 way race for the GOP senate nomination here in Michigan, though I haven't seen any recent polling data. I do know that recent polls consistantly show him and the others far behind Carl's shadow Debbie. "If the election were held today" she would win %75 - %25.

Posted by: Dave W at January 17, 2006 11:29 PM

Blackwell will win the nomination. Polls show him comfortably ahead in a 3 way race. One of his opponents just lost his running mate. The other is pro-abortion and will soon return to her auditor re-election. Then, he will crush Petro.

Can he win the general? Probably but it looks like the Dems will actually have a decent opponent.

Posted by: Bob at January 18, 2006 9:53 AM


I'm assuming the Dem's will put up Sherrod Brown?
If they fall for the moonbat position and nominate Hackett even Petro can win.

Posted by: Jeff at January 18, 2006 10:43 AM

Jeff: Wrong race. Brown and Hackett are running for US Senate.

The leading Dem candidate for governor is Comgressman Ted Strickland from SE Ohio. Pro-gun but otherwise pretty liberal. Normally he would lose the general but the GOP in Ohio has had problems lately. Since Blackwell is an outsider the Taft stink may not rub off on him as much.

Posted by: Bob at January 18, 2006 11:08 AM

From the local alternative rag:

"One GOP legislator said a significant number of General Assembly Republicans have been discussing "how far we have to go to oppose him"not just in the primary but next November against a Democrat.

The lawmaker said if the Democrats nominate state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, he would probably earn public endorsements from a number of his Republican colleagues at the Statehouse.

If, as expected, Strickland wins the nomination, Republicans aren't likely to publicly oppose Blackwell"other than not voting for him."

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 18, 2006 10:03 PM

The good news is that the black mayor of Columbus, who is an empty suit, has dropped out of the race for the Democrat nomination. Blackwell's opponent will be white.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 18, 2006 10:10 PM

Fingerhut will throw his hat in according to this am's Dispatch. Fingerhut vs Strickland should be interesting. Fingerhut is from cleveland area and Strickland is an Ohio river dweller. Strickland is an NRA member and Fingerhut promises to make that an issue. I think Strickland is probably the tougher candidate for Blackwell.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 19, 2006 12:50 PM