Sleazy Does It

Running for office in Ohio means never having to say you're sorry.

The presidential race wasn't the only one to get nasty in the final days. Ohio Republicans did their damnedest to create an alternate reality by any means necessary:

· Most incumbents who are up 64-to-32 percent in the polls and holding an 8-to-1 war chest advantage would just run out the clock. Not U.S. Senator George Voinovich. The old geezer bared his teeth down the stretch, rolling out an ad accusing Democratic opponent Eric Fingerhut of voting "to cut funding our troops needed to enforce the Iraqi no-fly zone." The ad failed to mention that the vote was in 1994.

· The six candidates running contested races for the Ohio Supreme Court raised a whopping $5.8 million by the middle of October, second only to Illinois. Republicans raised triple the amount gathered by Democrats. And Chief Justice Thomas Moyer -- who raised seven and a half times as much as his opponent -- managed to keep a straight face when he declared in an October 24 speech, "We have to get money out of the selection of judges in Ohio."

Hey, judge, is that $1.4 million in your pocket, or are you just glad to see us?

· Lorain native Terry Anderson, a Democrat running for the Ohio Senate in southeastern Ohio, got tag-teamed. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell accused him of a campaign-finance violation -- without informing Anderson. Instead, Blackwell delivered the complaint to his opponent, Senator Joy Padgett (R-Coshocton), who immediately launched radio attack ads. As of late last week, Anderson still hadn't received the complaint.

This came after Padgett accused Anderson of being soft on terrorism. Her proof? A photo of Anderson interviewing the secretary general of Hezbollah. What she failed to mention is that Anderson spent seven years as a hostage of Shiite militants in Lebanon. He'd gone back to confront his kidnappers and force them to apologize as part of a documentary he was making.

Apparently Padgett's years of brave service in war-torn Columbus have taken a toll.

Breathing is a privilege
The federal government spells out exactly how much pollution factories and energy plants are allowed to spew into the air. All Ohio has to do is type up permits stating how much arsenic, mercury, and other nasty stuff the plants are allowed to emit. If a plant spews more than its permit allows, the company is supposed to inform the surrounding community so neighbors can break out the surgical masks.

But even this is too much for the Ohio EPA. The permits were supposed to be completed by 1998, but the agency has written only a handful, according to Keri Powell, a lawyer for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group. So PIRG sued the agency in federal court.

The decision, which came down last week, suggests the judges got their hands on some very good crack and mistakenly believed they were practicing law in Cuba. Not only did they rule that companies can't be held accountable for illegal pollution; they ruled that the Ohio and federal EPAs cannot be held accountable for never enforcing the law. Bonus round: Citizens have no right to sue an environmental agency for sitting on its ass.

"The court decision is devastating," says Powell. "Unless citizens have the potential to sue them, these agencies don't do anything. The public is really left to the whim of whoever happens to be in control of the U.S. EPA and whether they're willing to take the steps to enforce the law."

Yard wars
John Horvath was used to snowplows digging into his yard. Every year plows come through and scrape dirt from his Broadview Heights treelawn. "The damage didn't even bother us, to tell you the truth," says Dave Horvath, John's son and lawyer.

But the city felt bad. So in April 2003, a crew came by to tamp the ground back down and spray bright-green hydromulch over the hole. What service! People in Cleveland feel lucky when someone responds to a 911 call.

Unfortunately, nobody at City Hall told Horvath that they planned to fix the damage. So when the 62-year-old was mowing his lawn later that morning, he slipped in the wet mulch and broke his ankle. The injury prevented him from taking a job, so he promptly sued. "It was negligence," says Dave. "They created a hazard on someone else's property, and by law they have a duty to notify people of that hazard."

A county judge threw the case out, likely noting that the luminescent green mulch can be seen from anywhere in the solar system, providing sufficient warning in itself. But Horvath challenged the ruling. Last week, the appeals court slammed the city for not checking with Horvath before messing with his yard. "This really is a watershed case," Dave says. "For the first time, we established that if a trespasser comes onto your land and creates a hazard, they have to warn you about it."

Phew! Now that we know the law's on our side, we can finally take on the all-powerful Mexican landscapers and the sod industry.

Nader = nada
"Many sorries, many sorries," muttered Ralph Nader as he approached the podium an hour late for his press conference at Cleveland State's Mather Mansion last week.

Nader made some good points during his 10-minute diatribe. True: Ohio Democrats committed a "constitutional crime" (in Nader's words) by heaving him off the ballot, despite his having collected the required signatures. True: America is ruled by a "two-party electoral dictatorship."

But the TV cameras didn't come for a political-science lecture. They came to ask one question: "Why are you here?"

He was in Cleveland, he said, to ask voters to write "none of the above" on their presidential ballot, in lieu of Nader's name. Of course, Nader and "none of the above" have always been interchangeable. But there was something forlorn and desperate about his campaign. As he stamped out of the press conference, Nader fumed about how the networks have slashed his "face time."

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