Sunday, June 25, 2000

Could gas hike be attack on Gore?

        This is a case for agents Scully and Mulder. A genuine X-File. The facts:

        1. Gasoline prices suddenly blow up to well over $2 per gallon.

        2. Prices escalate mainly in a relative handful of states — states like California, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan — that almost precisely mirror the list of key states in the 2000 presidential election.


        The truth is out there.

        Politicians, of course, have met the gasoline “crisis” with their usual automatic neuromuscular response. Standing upright, they raise arms in a postion perpendicular to their torsos and extend index fingers in a direction away from their own bad selves.

        Democrats — Al Gore, for one — point in the direction of the oil companies, speaking vaguely of collusion and price gouging.

        Republicans — George W. Bush included — point in the direction of the Clinton administration (or the “Clinton-Gore” administration, as it is now known in GOP circles) and blame the current occupants of the West Wing for not having a coherent national energy policy, one that works as smoothly as the lost-and-found department at Los Alamos.

        Take your pick.

        American voters — particularly the ones in these key election states — are scratching their heads over why this bump in gas prices is happening now and so rapidly.

        After all, was it not just nine years ago that the United States fought a war in the Persian Gulf to keep just such a thing from happening?

        Or was that war fought to free the Kuwaitis from oppression? Free the Kuwaitis — yeah, that's the ticket.

        Those with a conspiratorial turn of mind might believe that skyrocketing gasoline prices in states Al Gore has to win might be related to the fact that the oil barons, many of whom reside in Texas, might be hankering for a president who has not only been a governor lookin' out for bidness in the Lone Star State but a rootin', tootin' oil man himself, just like his daddy.

        Others might be marking their calendars for the day in August when the Clinton administration cuts its deal with OPEC and gas prices start going south.

        The present situation is not just a factor in presidential politics; rising gasoline prices and fears of further inflation spook politicians at all levels, particularly those up for re-election this year.

        Take Frank O'Bannon, the Democratic governor of Indiana, for example. Last week, Mr. O'Bannon announced he was suspending his state's 5 percent sales tax on gasoline sales for the next two months — a move that the charitable among us would say has nothing to do with the fact he is running for re-election with a GOP opponent creeping upward in the statewide polls.

        Mr. O'Bannon's public-spirited act immediately put pressure on the governors of neighboring states to do something, even though governors such as Republican Bob Taft in Ohio and Democrat Paul Patton in Kentucky aren't up for re-election in 2000.

        Neither the Kentucky nor Ohio governor has a sales tax on gasoline to remove, but their states do have sizeable excise taxes on gasoline that raise money for highway construction and repair.

        These decorative pigs that are strewn about Cincinnati these days really will fly before any state cuts that tax.

        Much easier to start aiming that index finger.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 513-768-8388 or e-mail at


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