Friday, September 19, 2008

Cruel Fate Mocks Jim McGregor in the 20th Statehouse District

Seriously, what are the odds of a former mayor, who has been out of the public eye for almost a year, making headlines on an ethics issue on the very same day his endorsement letter for Jim McGregor lands in local mailboxes?

Signatures from Arno to be Voluntarily Tossed by Payday Lenders

The headline is clear enough. The rest of it has me confused/chagrined...

Payday Lending Campaign Agrees to Toss Disputed Signatures
Consumer Groups Warn Issue 5 Still Expected to Make November Ballot

For Immediate Release: September 19, 2008

COLUMBUS -- The payday lending campaign finalized an agreement today to throw out all petitions circulated by a California company with an abysmal ethical track record, as part of a settlement with consumer groups working to keep Ohio's payday lending reform law in place.

The agreement ended the need for a public hearing to determine whether Issue 5, the payday lending referendum, should be kept off of the Nov. 4 ballot.

"This is a positive development for consumers and for fair elections, but it does not deal a fatal blow to what is emerging as one of the most dishonest and deceptive campaigns Ohio has endured in a very long time,'' said Bill Faith, executive director of the Ohio Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO). "We fully expect Issue 5 to be on the ballot.''

The settlement means that the lenders will be unable to include in their tally the 12,928 signatures collected by the California-based Arno Political Consultants that have already been submitted. It also means that the lending campaign cannot submit any signatures collected by Arno after the initial ones were filed on Labor Day.

The national payday lobby is financing the multi-million dollar campaign, which seeks to ask voters to undermine Ohio's new law that caps the annual interest on payday loans at 28 percent, down from the 391 percent allowed previously.

A YES vote on Issue 5 keeps the 28 percent rate cap in place. A NO vote allows lenders to keep charging 391 percent interest APR.

The campaign has been dominated by evidence that petition circulators falsely claimed that the referendum is designed to lower interest rates -- not raise them --; allegations that homeless people were paid to sign petitions, a practice banned under Ohio law; and charges that Arno did not file the proper disclosure forms which are required to guard against fraud.

Arno's shoddy track in other states shows why these forms are necessary to alert the public about which outside outfits have been brought in to influence Ohio's elections, said Faith, one of the leaders of the YES on Issue 5 effort.

According to "Abusing Direct Democracy,'' a 2007 report by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Arno is known for being "accused of deception and illegalities.''

Unrelated to the Arno matter, the county boards of elections in Montgomery, Hardin, Hancock and Allen counties are investigating potential election fraud on the payday lending referendum petitions.

12,928 signatures?!?!? The lenders turned in more than 420,000 signatures overall, which would indicate that Arno was responsible for approximately 3% of the signatures turned in. So, while this settlement is good news, it would also appear that more than 40% of the signatures turned in were neither valid, nor collected by Arno. It now would appear that A- The lenders put themselves in a bad situation (involving Arno in the process) for very little (actually as of today, no) payoff, and B- That bringing in another company is a little more understandable given that the original collection company (the Ohio Petition Company)was not performing nearly as well as they might have expected. I was impressed with the quality control methodology described on their website:
Step 4: Real-Time Validation Services - Our circulators can be deployed with handheld computers that connect to a proprietary voter database system. This system allows circulators to check petition signers’ voter registration status at the time of signing. This real-time, in-field validation will notify the circulator if the person signing is registered and/or providing a valid address. The system then alerts them to either accept the signature or ask the signer execute a change of address/voter registration form.

Step 5: Recapturing “Lost” Signatures – The Voter Services systems are designed to transform invalid signatures into valid by identifying provisional and non-registered voters. In turn, our Voter Services operation can send these individuals prepopulated change of address and voter registrations forms(and Vote By Mail/Early Voter applications) as well as assistance in filing these forms with local board of elections offices.
Several months ago I wrote about how this methodology could completely transform ballot access in Ohio. What we've got right now, however, could pretty much pass for any number of petition efforts in Ohio's "checkered history."

My take on this when the petition campaign began was that a petition drive needed three things to succeed, and could possibly get by with only two of them, but that one alone had never been enough. Those three things were money, time, and grassroots support. The Sick Days initiative (another OPC effort) had all three to some degree, and handily made the ballot before it was withdrawn. The lenders, on the other hand, only have money. They may very well make the ballot yet (in part because they have more time, as they can continue collecting signatures while waiting for the process of initial signature certification to be finished by the SOS, at which point a 10-day clock will start counting down).

All told, I'm happy that it seems that even as technology and expertise increase, it is extremely difficult to simply spend your way onto the ballot in Ohio. And as I've said before, I don't think that making the ballot will do the lenders much good. You want to talk about broad-based opposition...When was the last time Rod Parsley and I agreed on something?

Bexley Headlines

This one was a disappointing false alarm.

The one about former Mayor Madison letting his wife carry a city-issued cell-phone, unfortunately, wasn't. The review that led to this revelation began in early 2007. After you read the cell-phone article, read the "Bexley" part of my post from March 1, 2007. The offer still stands.

And even though it's not actually a Bexley headline, this horrific shooting took place less than 1000 yards from the site of the proposed new Bexley PD station. I would have simply called it the future site, but that has apparently taken a baby step backward.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Payday Lending Form 15 Hearing Canceled, Settlement in Works

I've gotten nowhere in my attempts to catch myself up with the Issue 5 story. Pardon the lack of links, but the story is basically that the petitions that were turned in are largely unacceptable, and the lenders will have to go to a second round of signature collection in order to get on the ballot (they'll have a ten day second chance window). In the meantime, in what may or may not be considered a related story, the entire petition effort appears to have been put at risk by Arno Political Consultants, who came in to supplement signature gathering activities without (apparently) filing the proper paperwork.

Today comes this Press Release:

For Immediate Release:
Sept. 18, 2008

The following statement can be attributed to Bill Faith, executive director of the Ohio Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, and a leader in the Vote YES on Issue 5 campaign:

"Tomorrow's hearing to determine whether petitions circulated by Arno Political Consultants for Issue 5, the payday lending referendum, should be invalidated, has been canceled. The parties are working on a settlement and more information will be released tomorrow.''

Your guess is as good as mine.

Race and the Rational

In amongst the heavy weather and financial sector meltdown, there's been a steady uptick of talk about the role race will play in the Presidential election. Everyone from Jill Miller Zimon to Tim Russo, from Paul Hackett to Sherrod Brown, From Ted Strickland to Kevin Dewine, to Salon's Walter Shapiro (filing his dispatch from Whitehall) has been talking about Ohio's "Elephant in the Room".

Everyone is pondering one basic question, and one main follow-up: Is there a sizable contingent of Ohio voters who would be voting for Barack Obama if he was a white guy named Barry O'Bannon? If so, does that number cause Ohio to go for McCain instead of Obama?

I haven't jumped on this particular topic for a few different reasons. The first is that nobody has any credible support for whatever number they're guessing. Most folks won't come right out and say that, all else being equal, they'd prefer a white guy. So the scope of the problem is unknown, and although many are urging Dems to take the problem more seriously, it is also possible to over-react.

That leads to my second source of hesitation - The problem is not folks who would never vote for a black candidate, it is the people for whom race is a thumb on the scale, the people who are pushed from 'undecided' to "lean McCain' by skin color. The vast majority of these folks are unaware of any bias, and would sincerely deny that race is playing a part in their decision. Some of these folks will even end up voting for Obama, when other issues and attributes allow Obama to beat the mental point spread. Because of this, the scope of the problem is not only unknown, it is possibly unknowable.

Even if we could confidently identify a group of folks who were biased to vote for Obama's opponent due to conscious or unconscious racial prejudice, perhaps the single worst thing we could do would be to tell them that we had identified them as a racially biased group of swing voters. On the one hand, racism is rightly condemned by the majority of our society. On the other hand, this condemnation has led even the merest hint of racism to be considered a very serious charge, and one that causes people to become understandably defensive. The easiest defense to use in this situation would be for the voter to come up with all of the non-race-based reasons to vote against Obama as a way to argue that race has nothing at all to do with their discomfort. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not put swing voters in a position where it's in their best personal interest to brainstorm Obama negatives.

Which brings me to my final reason to not have addressed the issue: I have no clue what to do about the problem, if in fact a significant problem exists. Racial bias is not rational. You will not change a single vote from McCain to Obama by debating the merits of using skin color as a reason to vote for or against a candidate. I like to debate merits, so we're obviously not on my field of choice, here.

As I see it, there are only a few things that could be done:

1) Be enough better on everything else to overcome biased tendencies within voters.
2) Dampen enthusiasm amongst prejudiced voters to the point where they don't vote.
3) Work to make sure you have more voters who would have otherwise sat out or voted GOP who are voting against the generic old white guy than there are voters voting against the generic young black man.
4) Convince biased voters that Barack isn't "really black."

#4 is offensive on too many levels for me to consider it, #3 is already one of the campaign's main strategies, #2 would potentially flip a number of down-ticket races to the GOP, and #1 is what you do in every campaign, regardless of the race, gender, age, etc. of your candidate.

What it boils down to is that racial bias could hypothetically tip a close election. Our job during this campagn season* is not to shout "RACISM!" or to whisper "privelege and prejudice." Our job is to make sure that the race isn't close. As such, expect me to ignore Babar this fall and focus instead on points like these:

John McCain favors tax policies that would increase income inequality without any convincing evidence that the economy or the federal budget would be better off.

When faced with a foreign policy dilemma, John McCain's thoughts turn to artillery. If anything, his policies will put us in more danger than Bush's have.

John McCain has spent the last ten years trying to get into the White House. Along the way, he has abandoned nearly every reason he originally had for wanting to be there. His quest is not to clean up D.C., it is not to restore America's standing in the world, it is not to put America back at the forefront of the global economy, it is to get himself into the White House as an end unto itself. If he actually gets there, I don't think even he has any idea what the hell he'll actually do.



*As opposed to during the long haul of our lifetimes

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Emergency Caffeine Management

For those of us who start off our commute on Main St. in downtown Bexley, we've been treated to a pretty nifty sight these past couple of mornings. With Cup'O'Joe and Starbuck both victims of the power outage, there was no way to make or obtain hot coffee for (literally) miles on Monday. On Tuesday, however, a stand had been set up in front of City Hall with a big sign advertising "Free Coffee!"

On Tuesday, Mayor Brennan was front and center among the Barrista Irregulars, this morning it was Police Chief Rinehart.

I couldn't stop either day, but I really appreciate the gesture. Thanks you guys, and your companions at the coffee stand, and really, thanks to everyone who is working their butts off to get this community back up and running.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Joyce Beatty Hired by OSU

As Vice-President in charge of Outreach and Engagement, effective after her term in the legislature ends.

From the Announcement:

Beatty will begin her new role at Ohio State in January, following the completion of her final term as a state representative.

“This university was founded to improve lives and enrich communities, and our faculty, staff, and students fulfill that mission through thousands of programs in our neighborhoods and around the world,” said Gee. “Joyce is one of the most accomplished public servants I know and exactly the right person to help us take a more comprehensive approach and make our programs even more effective.”

Beatty has served in the Ohio House of Representatives since 1999, representing major portions of the city of Columbus. In 2006, she became the first woman leader of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus.

When Foreclosures First Started Making Headlines Here

Three years ago this week, the Columbus Dispatch ran an excellent series on a problem that was just then beginning to explode: suburban foreclosures due to bad loans made by greedy lenders, and trapped homeowners who were making their payments, but couldn't sell their homes because the rash of foreclosures in their neighborhoods had lowered property values to the point where even owners who were making their payments had significant negative equity.

For many readers, this was the first look at what would eventually become known as the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The highest profile target of the paper's investigation was Dominion Homes:

-Dominion's two-year default rate is the highest in the nation among homebuilders with mortgage divisions that handled more than 1,000 Federal Housing Administrationbacked loans. It ranks fifth among all types of large lenders.

-The company leads the state in the number of homeowners who defaulted on FHA loans within two years of closing: 221 between August 2003 and July 2005.

-11.5 percent of Dominion?s customers in Franklin County have fallen more than three months behind on their FHA mortgages in their first two years of homeownership. That?s nearly 2? times the national figure. At least half of Dominion?s customers have government-backed mortgages.

-Nearly a third of the Franklin County houses and condominiums built since 1998 that have been listed for sheriff?s sales involved Dominion buyers, a Dispatch analysis found. Of the 1,253 new homes sent to public auction, 395 were built by Dominion and 295 by its larger competitor, M/I Homes.

-Since 2000, Dominion is the only central Ohio builder whose mortgage practices have raised red flags at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which insures FHA loans. HUD auditors found violations that included false or undocumented income levels for buyers.

When loans go bad, FHA reimburses lenders 100 percent, removing all risks to them and to the brokers who arrange the financing. The reimbursements are paid from insurance premiums paid by every FHA borrower.
As a result of the series, Dominion Homes was subjected to increased HUD scrutiny, lawsuits from customers, and a loss of business. They eventually sold off a majority share of their mortgage business to Wells Fargo.

Even so, the CEO of Dominion Homes was sure to point out at the time the article was published, "that his company operates within the law and remains in good standing with HUD."

Is it possible that Dominion had a friend on the committee that oversees banking and credit?

Someone who introduced a bill to loosen borrowing requirements for government-backed mortgages?


Monday, September 15, 2008

Garland's Rally Big Fat Success

I'm sure it was because of my promotion here at Blue Bexley, rather than the draw of Sherrod Brown or the hard work put in by the folks at the Garland campaign. Approximately 100 people showed up to a meeting room in Gahanna for a September rally sponsored by the campaign of a challenger in an Ohio State House race. I think it was Ted Celeste who said that it has been a long time since a Democrat in the 20th could fill a room like that, and the room was certainly enthusiastic about Nancy Garland.

I recorded the entire thing on audio, and got a few pictures, but I don't know how they turned out because I couldn't upload anything to my computer at home due to Ike. Several pictures and the newsiest bits can be found in a series of reports by Justin Miller on

Now, to be fair, it's been a while since a Democrat could get most anyone like Ted Celeste into a room in the 20th. It's clear that the state and local party are behind Nancy, and that bodes very well for her chances in November.

It hasn't been as clear to me that there has been that kind of party support for David Robinson, running for the U.S. House in the 12th District. Not that there's been any animosity, but with open seats in the 15th and 7th, Robinson's fight isn't just against an incumbent, it's for attention. Two things popped out at me regarding the Robinson campaign at the rally on Sunday. First, the more people that can listen to him in person, the more votes he's going to get. I'd really like to see what he can do in front of one of those Obama-sized crowds. Second, I'm more hopeful that I'll get that chance today than I was on Saturday. Most of the speakers were understandably focused on talking about Nancy Garland, Barack Obama, and Sherrod Brown, but when Sherrod was speaking he not only mentioned Robinson, he opened with a reference to a (kinda-had-to-be- there-but) hilarious line from Robinson's remarks, and prominently listed Robinson's campaign when talking about the overall battle in November. It was possibly my imagination, but it seemed that the tone of some of Brown's statements were not only approving of Robinson, but disapproving of others who were not treating the race in the 12th with the same seriousness.

Like I said, perhaps my imagination, but Senator Brown is certainly capable of pulling ears that few others could.