Last night I attended a meeting of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Central Committee at Euclid High School, where gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon), his running mate Lee Fisher (D-Cleveland), treasurer candidate County Auditor Richard Cordray (D-Columbus), and attorney general candidate State Sen. Marc Dann (D-Youngstown) spoke to an enormous and enthusiastic crowd of precinct committee members, county party officers, and local judicial and legislative candidates.
Registration was set to start an hour before the meeting, so I had plenty of time to meet and greet. Apart from talking with my dynamic new city leader, Austin Dunn, and some members of my local Democratic club, I was pleased to meet 10th Ohio House District candidate Eugene R. Miller (D-Cleveland), who was passing out literature for Cordray; campaign co-coordinator Elaine Fortney, who is doing great work for secretary of state candidate Jennifer Brunner as well as my friend and court of appeals candidate Melody J. Stewart (D-Euclid), who was also present; 7th Ohio House District incumbent Rep. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights), a very cordial and genuine man; 16th Ohio House District candidate John M. Celebrezze, who I would like to get to know better; the incandescent 21st Ohio Senate District candidate Rep. Shirley Smith; and the personable and multi-talented Rep. Lance T. Mason, running for the 25th Ohio Senate seat of term-limited Eric Fingerhut. I had heard Mason sing a beautiful rendition of an anthem at an earlier event, so I hoped he would sing at this meeting, which he did not. However, he did a nice job of praising County Party Chairman Jimmy Dimora while nominating him for re-election, and then joking that Dimora has "all of the virtues and all of the vices that I so admire," a big laugh line for this pumped-up crowd.
Dimora opened the meeting by stressing the importance of precinct committee members, the "front line soldiers" of the party, and thanking us for "coming to the plate when we need you the most." He described 2006 as a "vital election" and promised that "Ohio will be a blue state in 2006," and that "we will be poised for 2008 when we take back the White House." He outlined our responsibilities, including recruiting good poll workers, electing ward or city leaders and county party officers, "giving presence to Democratic clubs" (which I first heard as "giving presents," causing me some consternation), and of course turning out the vote.
Mayor Bill Cervenik (D-Euclid) welcomed us to his city, referring to the portrayal of William Wallace in the movie "Braveheart" for the slogan "Unite the Clans!", which he adopted as a rallying cry to bring together the diverse communities and factions of the party. He also said that as a mayor of an inner-ring suburb he "cannot tolerate any more Republican ... (pause) ... well, I can't really call it leadership!" and called on us to let people know about how the Democratic party cares about every single human being.
After the nominations, voice vote election, and swearing-in of county party officers, Dimora introduced Ted Strickland and Lee Fisher to a standing ovation. Fisher called 2006 "the single most important election in our lifetimes" and said we "learned in 2004 that Ohio is the pivotal state in choosing the president." Since the future of the whole world depends on who is president, and Ohio is the key to the presidency, and Cuyahoga County is the key to Ohio, therefore the future of the world is in our hands as precinct central committee members. (Great, I thought, no pressure there.) He noted the presence of Cordray and Dann, and said they would agree that their races depend on the gubernatorial race. He then reviewed the story of Strickland's life, from growing up on a dirt lane called Duck Road, where Roy Rogers and Branch Rickey were also born; having no indoor plumbing until he was in high school; being the only one of nine siblings to go to college; his ordination as a Methodist minister and his Ph.D. in psychology: and his decision that instead of choosing an easy career "I want to work with the least among us," leading to his work as a prison psychologist at the notorious Lucasville prison. Noting that Strickland won re-election easily in 2004 while Bush defeated Kerry in his district, Fisher pointed out that Strickland could have chosen to stay safely in Congress for a long time, but chose instead to run for governor because "if Ohio ever needed a leader with a moral compass it is now."
Strickland started by pointing out that he has probably spent more nights in Cuyahoga County during the campaign so far than in any other county. He said that the most important people in this election are not Fisher or Strickland, but the old, the young, and the struggling, and said that the state is at risk. "What's happening in Columbus and Washington is similar," he said, "Incompetence, corruption, and sometimes criminal behavior," and the reason is the abuse that arises from control of all of government by one party. Republicans inherited a big surplus and a country largely at peace, and now the surplus has been squandered and "our sons and daughters are dying in a war that George Bush chose to start." Bush has no plan in Iraq, and "he does not know what he's doing when it comes to foreign policy." At home, the Republicans have neglected the 40 million Americans without health insurance, and have not funded the No Child Left Behind law. The only way this country is going to be returned to the people, he continued, is if Ohio is returned to the people of Ohio.
"Ohio is in serious trouble," Strickland went on, citing horrible statistics about the alarming state of Ohio's economy and education system. "People say 'What do you plan to do about all of that?'," and he replies to them, "I'm going to be a law-abiding governor, and I'm going to work to make Ohio a law-abiding state -- it's tough to argue with that." This was a huge applause line, which in itself is sobering if you think about it. If you apply that plan to Ohio, he said, "the implications are profound." He proceeded to talk about our obligation to have a lawful system for funding education ("What is it that Taft and the Republicans don't understand in the word 'unconstitutional'?"), saying that "no problem is more important than school funding," and about the need for the minimum wage amendment to maintain a decent living wage. He said that "Lee and I have a plan to turn around Ohio," and noted that their own recent polling shows that 72% of Ohioans say Ohio is on the wrong track.
Strickland mentioned members of his family who are laborers, including three nieces who are a concrete finisher, a pipe fitter, and an electrician, all union workers, and declared that "people deserve a living wage, health benefits, and a vacation occasionally." This is the standard of living that Democrats before us believed in and fought for, and it is in danger, he said. "It is time for all Democrats to stand together in common purpose for the opportunities that all people deserve." In Washington D.C., he said, Karl Rove, George Bush and Dick Cheney are sitting around a table talking about Ohio (although Rove is also talking about being indicted for outing that CIA agent), and they think that Ken Blackwell is the person to win Ohio for them. Blackwell, he said, is writing a book with "one of those Swift Boat Veterans for Truth characters," and we all remember how he went to Florida to help Katharine Harris deliver the nation to George Bush in 2004. "We know what Ken Blackwell did to try to make sure that Democrats couldn't get out and vote in 2004," he continued. Blackwell is the one who wanted to put TEL into Ohio's constitution, and said that TEL was important to Ohio's future until he got the nomination, when he flip-flopped and got rid of it. "They're trying to trick us," Strickland continued, "Because there is a Tel-Lite out there," which may not apply to localities and schools but is a trick to accomplish much of the same thing. "He's the father of TEL and TEL-Lite," he said, which "will cripple the state" and "make us a fourth-class state" for years to come. "You are fighting for your children, for your parents, for your neighbors, for your state, and ultimately for your country," he concluded. "We are going to take back Ohio in 2006," he said, and then build an infrastructure "to take back our county in 2008." The crowd stood and roared their approval as Strickland and Fisher waved, shook hands with people on stage, and exited.
Dann and Cordray spoke briefly. Dann said "I'm going to end the pay-to-steal system in the State of Ohio." He told the story of how a supporter called out to Harry Truman to "Give 'em hell, Harry!", and Truman replied "We're going to tell them the truth, and they'll just think it's hell!" Dann promised to do the same, and to end the "corruption tax" that saddles our state and prevents adequate funding of our educational system.
Cordray used a nice visual of holding up a shiny coin and saying that as Treasurer he was going to end the wasting of state funds on such investments.
As with the ODP 2006 State Dinner last Saturday, the crowd at this event was huge, energized, and electrified by the candidates. The craving for strong and successful campaigns is palpable, and they loved hearing bold predictions of victory in November. Every Democrat senses that a change in the party's fortunes in Ohio is in the works.