A hyperbolic haze already is engulfing Ohio’s political landscape, a murky mix of truth, half-truths and lies polluting the perceptions of voters heading into next year’s statewide election.
Every week brings greater comfort to political fact-checkers and ad-watchers that they will be fully employed for the next 17 months, sifting for the truth amid the claims and counterclaims of candidates and their surrogates.
The abusers come in every political stripe. For instance, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald was only partly right on April 24 when he announced his Democratic candidacy for governor and made this statement: “And just about everyone, everywhere is spending more hours on the job, while spending less time with their families, bringing home smaller and smaller paychecks to pay out more and more at the gas pump and grocery store.”
On average, Ohioans’ paychecks have not gotten smaller, although the median income has increased only 2 percent over the past five years. FitzGerald is correct, however, that Ohioans are paying more at the gas pump and grocery store; the costs for basic needs — food, housing, child care, transportation and health care — has soared 23 percent during that same period.
Democrats also take liberties when they tie Gov. John Kasich to efforts by GOP legislators to make Ohio a right-to-work state, which would make it illegal to require union membership as a condition of employment. Kasich repeatedly has said he sees no need for right-to-work legislation, and it is not part of his agenda.
Kasich himself offered grist for fact-checking last week when he posted this statement on his Facebook page: “Too many aren’t realizing the Ohio dream. And while we’ve cut Ohio income taxes by hundreds of millions and eliminated the estate tax, we can do more.”
Truth is, Kasich has eliminated the estate tax, but he has not cut Ohio income taxes. In the budget he submitted to lawmakers this year, he proposed a 20 percent reduction in the state income tax, but it was removed. And until the legislature grants the governor’s wish, he can’t rightfully claim the cut.
In 2005, Republican Gov. Bob Taft and a GOP-controlled legislature enacted sweeping tax reforms that included a 21 percent income-tax cut phased in over five years. In 2009, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland delayed the final 4.2 percent portion of the cut to help fill an $850 million shortfall. But the final phase ultimately went into effect in January 2011, just days before Strickland ceded the governor’s office to Kasich.
Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman, said the governor meant that the state cut income taxes, not him, in the Facebook posting, noting that Kasich has been careful to say that he “preserved or retained” the tax cuts already in place.
Nichols is right about that; Kasich typically does talk about his tax record in the proper context. But when he boasts in the same sentence that we’ve cut income taxes and eliminated the estate tax, it’s logical to interpret him meaning I or my administration took those actions. That’s how Kasich’s Facebook “friend” who contacted me read it. Here is the truth: Kasich wants to cut the state income tax, but he hasn’t yet.
More hyperbole washed ashore from Washington last week during hearings in the House about the IRS overzealously targeting tea party groups. Members were told that We the People Convention Inc., an Ohio-based taxable nonprofit, was targeted only because its name sounds political. In fact, its leaders said, the organization is educational, not political.
But anyone who believes the organization is not political has never been to either of its two Columbus conventions — both veritable showcases for conservative politics and candidates. Last year, the convention gave a boost to GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel’s candidacy for U.S. Senate, including one session dedicated to a “unified grassroots effort supporting the Josh Mandel campaign.”
Truth is a frequent victim of politics, especially during campaigns. The Nov. 4, 2014, election already is clouded by the hyperbolic haze.
Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch. Reach him at jhallettdispatch.com