Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Dowlin rolling out big guns of the GOP

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] GOP stalwarts gather at Republican Party headquarters downtown Tuesday in a show of support for County Commissioner John Dowlin (right), who is facing a primary challenge from Cincinnati City Councilman Pat DeWine.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
Young vs. old. City vs. suburb. Conservative vs. moderate.

The upcoming March Republican primary for Hamilton County commissioner is shaping up to be a study in contrasts, and maybe even a referendum on the direction of the county.

The rank-and-file, not used to having any choices in their primaries, in two months will have to choose between two Republicans whom they've voted for in the past: Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine and County Commissioner John Dowlin.

Dowlin said Tuesday he intends to win a fourth term as commissioner despite DeWine's recent announcement that he wants Dowlin's seat.

The primary face-off is tantamount to a general election in this Republican stronghold. The only Democrats in the race so far are Forest Park Mayor Stephanie Dumas and activist Kabaka Oba of Lincoln Heights - neither of whom has name recognition to rival either Republican.

Dowlin, 73, of Sharonville, has the weight of most local officeholders behind him, including Sheriff Simon Leis and Prosecutor Mike Allen. He also has Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro on his side.

DeWine, 35, of Pleasant Ridge, brings a marquee name to the contest, courtesy of his father, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. He also has support from a few key Republicans, including Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters and state Rep. Tom Brinkman of Mount Lookout.

County party chairman Michael Barrett is staying out of it.

"My position is that we've got two elected Republicans in good standing, so the party's not going to endorse either one," said Barrett, who was conspicuously absent from Dowlin's press conference Tuesday at GOP headquarters.

The early indication is that the Dowlin camp will appeal to suburban voters to carry their candidate.

"He has been a steadfast supporter on township and suburban issues," said state Rep. Bill Seitz of Green Township. "Now is no time to leave our county at the mercy of a city-centric commission."

Dowlin's two fellow commissioners - Republican Phil Heimlich and Democrat Todd Portune - are both former Cincinnati City Council members forced out by term limits. Portune is also up for re-election, but the highest-profile of the five Republicans competing to challenge him is from City Hall, too: ex-Councilman Chris Monzel.

At the same time, Cincinnati residents make up less than 40 percent of the total county population. DeWine is paying little heed to geographic concerns, instead focusing on his theme of fiscal reform.

"I think most voters are more concerned about their property tax rates than where the members of their commission live," he said. "I think there are some real reforms that need to be made in county government."

Among those: The commissioners, who put countywide levies on the ballot, should not let them rise beyond the rate of inflation, DeWine said.

Dowlin used to be considered the conservative on the county commission. He opposed construction of football and baseball stadiums through a sales tax increase.

In recent years, however, conservative Republicans have increasingly blamed him for the fact that Hamilton County has one of the highest property tax rates in Ohio. Dowlin also has voted to fund social programs such as Friends of the Children, saying that investing in children ultimately reduces spending on cops, courts and jails.

"The John Dowlin of today is not the John Dowlin of four years ago," said Brinkman, founder of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.

Dowlin, asked Tuesday for his proudest achievement in his dozen years as commissioner, cited Governing magazine's recognition of Hamilton County as one of the best-run counties in the United States.


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