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Friday, September 22, 2006

They're Off in Ohio!

- Learn and Earn, the group spearheading the slots initiative in Ohio, has gathered enough signatures to get their referendum on the ballot, and that's great news for bloggers everywhere. Given their tactics that helped earn them a spot on the ballot, as well as the usual ferocity of the anti-slots forces, we can expect a lot of luscious dirt to be flying back and forth as Election Day approaches.

So, it's a good time to briefly review the steps that Learn and Earn took to get into this position. The organization proposes to funnel 30% of slots proceeds at the state's seven tracks, as well as two standalone parlors in Cleveland, to college scholarships. A group in Cincinnati desired a casino there as well, but the city was unceremoniously dumped by Learn and Earn in order to get Penn National on board. That company operates a riverboat casino in nearby Indiana which could have been hurt by the competition.

When a group in Cincy announced plans to propose their own amendment, Learn and Earn strong-armed them out of the running by filing repeated objections to their petitions, and by hiring every available signature-gathering company in the state. They reportedly misled prospective signatories by not telling them that the education money behind their referendum proposal came from slot machines. Recently, they offered financial renumeration to Cincinatti in an effort to secure the city's support, an action that some charged was nothing more than a payoff. "If elected officials tried the very same tactics, it would be called bribery, and people would go to jail," said Daniel Zanotti, president of the conservative, anti-gambling Ohio Roundtable. [Columbus Dispatch] In fact, the offer of money has caused a Cincinatti councilwoman to drop her lawsuit regarding the misrepresentations by the signature-gatherers.

Oooo baby, this is going to be fun! It's Ohio, after all, where some still feel the Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election; and the state represented by Republican Senator Bob Ney, who, after months of denials, last week admitted that he had sold out his office to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's the home of Tom Noe, a key Bush fundraiser who pleaded guilty to money laundering and is under indictment in connection with the disappearance of millions in rare coins, all related the 2004 election. And, Ohio Governor Bob Taft (do I need to say he's a Republican?) was convicted in 2005 of accepting golf outings and gifts from lobbyists, causing his approval rating to plunge to 6.5%. In terms of popularity, Bush is like Barbaro compared to this guy.

So I imagine that Learn and Earn ain't too worried that Taft, who will be voted out of office in November, is, along with Republican Senator George Voinovich, leading opposition to their referendum. Learn and Earn's campaign is a slick machine, as evidenced by their website. A representative even came to this blog to respond to a post I wrote in June, though he didn't really address the main points I had made. I invite him to come back and do so now.