Governor candidates debate taxes

CINCINNATI – Republican Ken Blackwell and Democrat Ted Strickland wrangled yesterday night over whether deep tax cuts would boost the state’s economy or help the wealthy during the third debate in Ohio’s closely watched governor’s race.

Blackwell said Strickland’s programs are marked by a vagueness that reminds him of former Democratic Gov. John Gilligan, a Cinicinnatian who served from 1971-75 and helped establish the state’s first income tax.

“No more the Bob Taft half measures or the Ted Strickland therapeutic tinkering. These are bold, innovative changes,” Blackwell said of his own plan in remarks at the University of Cincinnati. “The last time a governor asked us for a blank check, we got Gilligan’s Island.”

Strickland said he was running out of paper to itemize all the names he was being called by Blackwell about halfway through the meeting.

“He can engage in characterizing and name calling if he wants to, but I’ll try to talk to you, the people of Ohio, about the problems of this state,” Strickland said.

The race is drawing national attention because the winner’s party will carry an edge into the 2006 presidential election. A narrow win in Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed for re-election in 2004.

The winner will inherit a state that ranks second from the bottom nationally in its ability to attract and hold well-educated young people between 19 and 24, and 47th in overall job creation.

Blackwell, down by double digits in polls released late last month, was the more aggressive candidate, but neither lost his cool or raised his voice.

Blackwell accused his opponent of vague goals and empty promises. He said Strickland’s proposals would take a generation to take hold, while his would make immediate improvements.

Strickland responded by linking Blackwell to the Republican administration of Gov. Bob Taft, saying he is running because Ohio needs a change.

“Ohio’s economy has been neglected for years under the current regime and Mr. Blackwell has been a part of that,” Strickland said. “That’s why Ohioans want a change.”

Blackwell said he is the candidate of better ideas.

Strickland defended his Turnaround Ohio plan as capable of bringing Ohio out of 16 years of Republican rule.

“I do have a plan,” Strickland said. “Mr. Blackwell may want to ridicule it, but it’s very specific and it can be accomplish without raising taxes.”

The two sparred over which was more, or less, like a pair of American heroes – cowboy star Roy Rogers and President Ronald Reagan.

Blackwell, in a play on the creek that ran by Strickland’s boyhood home, said he knew Rogers, who grew up near Strickland’s home. Blackwell – borrowing from Lloyd Bentsen’s famous retort to Dan Quayle about John F. Kennedy in 1988 – said he had known Rogers and that Strickland was no Roy Rogers.

“He didn’t duck and run from tough questions,” Blackwell said.

Strickland said he knew Rogers and Reagan and that Blackwell was no Reagan.

The debate was possibly the last between the two before the Nov. 7 election. They have agreed to a fourth debate but have been struggling to find a sponsor.