Pubdate: Thu, 20 Dec 2001
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2001 The Cincinnati Post
Author: Randy Ludlow


COLUMBUS - His re-election campaign won't be Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's only 
political fight in 2002.

The Cincinnati Republican also may find himself battling ballot issues 
asking voters to mandate get-out-of-jail-free cards for drug offenders and 
to authorize video slot machines at horse racing tracks.

Add a showdown with lawmakers over a bill to allow most law-abiding adults 
to carry concealed handguns and Taft could confront a trifecta of measures 
- -- in addition to a Democrat -- he has sworn to defeat.

And that is before Taft moves to raise the first cent for what could be a 
costly solution to the long-lingering lawsuit challenging how Ohio funds 
its public K-12 classrooms.

While he ideally would prefer to duck the distractions of hard calls and 
focus on winning a second four-year term, Taft may be served a 
more-than-full plate of policy controversies next year.

With his third year on the job presenting tough economic and budget times, 
Taft addressed a wide range of issues in a year-end interview with The Post.

The governor is alarmed by a petition drive by the Campaign for New Drug 
Policies, which is targeting ballots in Ohio, Michigan and Florida ballots 
next fall, to constitutionally require treatment -- and ban prison -- for 
many non-violent drug users.

''It basically would be the de facto decriminalization of drugs, including 
cocaine, heroin, LSD and hard drugs like that. It's seductive and 
deceptive,'' Taft said of a well-funded ballot initiative now under way.

With first lady Hope Taft known for her battle against substance abuse, 
Taft fears that the ballot initiative would undermine the effectiveness of 
drug courts, which now number 45 after the first was founded in Hamilton 

''They're using tough love, a combination of carrot and stick, court 
supervision, to keep people in treatment and the threat of jail time as a 
motivator. It's very hard to get off addiction, and you have to have 
motivation. These would be weak sanctions,'' he said.

Supporters of the ballot language say the $3,500 annual cost of drug 
treatment is cheaper than the $22,000-a-year cost of incarceration. And, 
they point out, jail time still could be imposed on those who violate 12- 
to 18-month treatment programs. Otherwise, the treatment route would be 
available to first- and second-time offenders.

Taft also could face a legislative ballot issue asking vot ers to OK video 
gambling at horse racing tracks to raise more than $400 million annually to 
help fund a settlement or Ohio Supreme Court order to improve school funding.

While he won his bid to allow Ohio to join a multi-state lottery such as 
Powerball or the Big Game, Taft draws the lines at what he perceives as the 
addictive qualities of casino-like gambling.

''It's not a secure or certain source for the school-funding lawsuit'' 
since it would face a vote before Ohioans who twice have rejected casino 
gambling or a referendum to overturn a bill directly passed by lawmakers, 
he said.

On both dictated drug treatment in favor of imprisonment and so-called 
video lottery terminals, Taft said he would organize campaigns and raise 
funds to defeat both.

The governor also insists his threatened veto of a bill to allow most 
adults to carry hidden handguns, which could win House approval next year, 
stands unless major police groups drop their opposition.

''I'm talking about the rank and file and the police chiefs, they are the 
people who are on the front lines and the folks who are vulnerable, so I 
want to be assured they are supportive of the bill before I could support 
it,'' Taft said.

Taft is coming off a tough year in which $1.5 billion in cuts, tax 
increases, borrowing and spending of savings were required to balance a $45 
million two-year state budget adopted earlier this year.

Taft on other topics:

Court-ordered mediation on the school funding lawsuit: ''I'm not saying it 
can be done, but we're certainly going to work on it and go into it 
seriously. There's a big gap there (from what suing districts want), but 
maybe communication will help.''

Funding a settlement or court order in the school lawsuit: Revoking sales 
tax exemptions and other moves may be required, but the governor rules out 
a broad-based, across-the-board increase in income or sales taxes.

Cincinnati's progress in resolving race relations problems: ''A lot of 
people are working very hard on that issue.... I think a lot of things have 
been done,... but it's going to be a long-term process to bridge the gap 
and heal the wounds.''
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart