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Dann stays against the odds

May 11, 2008

Against the odds and all reason, Attorney General Marc Dann remains in office.The entire Capitol Square political establishment has demanded his resignation, and Democrats are threatening to impeach him. Still, Dann stays.He has no hope of re-election in 2010. His political career is finished, and it's doubtful he can accomplish much by remaining in office, because he has lost the respect of the legal and political communities and of his own staff.At first, it was believed that Dann would quit as soon as he landed a new job. Like many of us, he lives paycheck to paycheck, and with two kids at home he needs employment with health insurance.But late last week, Dann defiantly appeared poised to deploy a strategy rooted in the political culture of Youngstown: When attacked, attack back. Dann used his campaign funds to hire Texas-based political consultant Jason Stanford, who specializes in digging up dirt on opponents.If Dann is motivated by retribution, there is fertile ground for Stanford to plow. One of the reasons many are downplaying Dann's affair with an employee as grounds for impeachment is because sex is as much a part of the Statehouse as limestone walls."If infidelity and lying about it were grounds for impeachment, we could be here for the rest of the year impeaching people," said one lawmaker who asked not to be named.When Gov. Ted Strickland and the rest of the Democratic leadership on Capitol Square quickly told Dann to resign or they would impeach him, it looked like a masterful political move. The Democrats, after all, had made sweeping political gains in 2006 by capitalizing on Republican scandals. They had to show they would not tolerate their own."I think it's important for Democrats to send a very clear message that we will clean our own house," Strickland told reporters.But, as last week wore on, it became obvious that the Democrats had not fully considered the implications of a procedure that had not been used against a statewide executive official in Ohio's 205-year history."We found out about this on a Friday, and some people called for his impeachment immediately," said House Speaker Jon A. Husted, a Kettering Republican. "That's like the police charging someone with a crime and the judge saying : ‘You're guilty. Now go find the evidence.' "Husted and other Republicans are happy to leave to Democrats the task of digging up evidence that Dann committed an impeachable offense. The longer this sordid scandal festers, the more the GOP benefits politically.The state constitution is vague enough to give the Democrats wide berth when compiling evidence for impeachment. And Dann could have done himself in by admitting that his own consensual affair with an employee may have contributed to the sleazy culture of sexual harassment in his office. That admission alone could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal damages.Still, Dann insists he did nothing to legally warrant impeachment, and he appears to be calling the Democrats' bluff. Baffled by how to proceed in such matters, Husted assigned the General Assembly's best legal mind, Rep. William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, to research impeachment.That left the question of who would do the investigation. Husted said that the House lacks the staff and resources for it, so on Friday, he and Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, announced legislation that would give Inspector General Thomas P. Charles one-time authority to investigate Dann.If impeachment goes forward, it is important to get it right, Husted said."We've never impeached and convicted and removed a statewide official, and so this will set the precedent for doing so. That precedent will define how the impeachment process is done going forward, and we must make sure it is done responsibly."We could all be spared the time and effort going into this if Marc Dann would just do the right thing and resign."Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Columbus Dispatch. E-mail him at jhallett@dispatch.com.