Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Tough Times, Monzel is a Dangerous Choice

With the exception of the April 1st post, I've not blogged on the primary races for HamCo Commissioner. That's because the Democratic race is pretty boring (with a fairly obvious outcome). And since I generally consider myself a Democrat (though I've been re-thinking this over the past twelve or so months), I haven't felt the need to wade into the Republican contest.

But HamCo faces tough challenges in the coming years. And last night, it became clear to me that a Chris Monzel victory in November would be disastrous for our region. Let's talk about why.

Last night, the Republican Leadership Council and GOParty! (a Republican YP group) sponsored a debate between Monzel and Leslie Ghiz, hosted at Mainstay and moderated by Newsmakers' Dan Hurley. (Hurley will also host the candidates on his show this Sunday morning.) Monzel's lack of knowledge and dearth of viable solutions to HamCo's problems was stunning, particularly this close to the primary election. (And while I haven't seen the Enquirer report it, the event sponsors announced that Ghiz won the straw poll conducted at the conclusion of the debate.)

The contrast between Ghiz and Monzel was clear. Ghiz offered nuanced answers, the kind that you'd expect from someone who has thought about how to address development, budget, and public safety issues. Monzel, on the other hand, offered nothing but bits of his stump speech. His campaign strategy seemed clear: do nothing but throw out "red meat" to the base, and hope that the voters don't catch on.

There were several instances when it was apparent that Monzel just doesn't have a good grasp on the issues facing Hamilton County. Both candidates were asked about the need for increased jail space. Monzel's solution? Stop housing federal prisoners awaiting trial in federal court. That's an answer that's right out of a "conservative" politician's playbook: a local politician running for office just insists that things would be better without the federal government. But anyone with even the smallest amount of knowledge of the Hamilton County Justice Center and local law enforcement knows the following:
  • At any given time, there are only about a dozen inmates in federal custody at the HCJC. That's hardly the cause of jail overcrowding.
  • The inmates in federal custody are actually revenue generators for the county, as the US Marshall Service pays a per bed/per day rate to house inmates at the HCJC.
  • Over the last several years, local law enforcement has decided that one of the more effective ways of curbing drug and gun trafficking is to work with federal authorities and seek federal indictments, as federal law carries stiffer mandatory minimum sentences. For that to happen, those inmates have to be somewhere while they wait for their federal trials. Does Monzel want to get rid of ReNU and other joint task forces?
I could go on and on, talking about issue after issue about which Monzel just hasn't given much thought. What's truly disappointing is the utter disrespect with which Monzel treated Republican voters last night. Clearly, Monzel thinks that his constituents and fellow party members are mindless sheep just waiting to hear the right applause line. (I know that some of the more left-leaning readers of this blog will also hold that opinion of the GOP, but it's just not true.) Monzel doesn't trust the electorate. He doesn't trust its ability to understand that complicated issues don't have ten-word answers. He doesn't trust that his fellow citizens are smart enough to want to eat their veggies along with their "red meat."

On the other side of last night's stage, Ghiz offered a clear alternative. She acknowledged--several times--that our most serious challenges don't have "easy answers." She understands the need for everyone in county government to work together for the good of our community. And she realizes that not everything is black-and-white. Her discussion of the streetcar was a good example. She refused simply to ridicule the notion of a streetcar. She said--as she has in the past--that while the streetcar may be a good idea, it's not a good idea now, analogizing to a homeowner who needs to renovate the kitchen, but needs to put it off because of the tough economy. (That's a position the streetcar crowd will disagree with. Fine. But it's a reasonable position that shows thought and maturity on a tough subject.) There's one thing you can always be sure of with Ghiz: when she speaks, you're hearing what she really believes, not what her party wants her to say or what she thinks will help her with a particular contested enclave of voters.

Monzel isn't ready to be part of a governing majority. He's best suited to be a back-bencher, part of a small minority. That way he's free to offer terrible ideas, like his proposed tax on people who use sidewalk trashcans. Ghiz is ready to lead Hamilton County with passion and wisdom, both of which were evident last night.

Disclosure: I've known Leslie Ghiz for several years, and consider her a friend. My friendship alone, however, would not be sufficient to endorse her in the primary race.

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