The eyes of the nation are once again focused on Ohio thanks in part to Robert F. Kennedy's epic essay in the June 15 Rolling Stone, entitled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" Kenneth F. Bunting, the Associate Publisher of the Seattle Post-Intellligencer, wrote that the article essentially is "singling out Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell for much of the blame, . . ." Blackwell, never one to be an easy target, recently fingered William Anthony, the Franklin County Democratic Party Chair and Chair of the county's board of elections, as the real culprit. Blackwell told a group of black ministers in Cleveland that the long waits to vote on November 2, 2004 in Columbus were due to the black Democrat, Anthony.

The target: Black votes

The tactic is understandable since most mainstream corporate newspapers, like the Dayton Daily News, have been pointing out that the election hinges on black crossover votes. As the Dayton paper put it on May 9, a week after Blackwell's victory over Attorney General James Petro in the Republican primary for governor, some political analysts "believe that large numbers of black Democrats may defect to vote for Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell in November."

Listening to Blackwell's plans for Ohio's Appalachian region, one can see why he needs the black Democratic crossover vote. Blackwell, preaching traditional social Darwinism, wants the region's nearly 1.5 million residents with an average income of $20,516 to "climb the economic ladder" and his original plan to bring prosperity was to cut much of the safety net in southeast Ohio by limiting state spending.

But Blackwell's secret weapon here is his embracing of white evangelical Christian rhetoric and his connections with a grassroots network of a thousand or more "patriot pastors." He's fond of quoting the Bible in his speeches, but he also knows how to praise the Lord and round up contributions and endorsements from would-be presidential candidates.

Ohio at ground zero again

The Boston Globe and other newspapers pointed out that the 2006 gubernatorial battle in the Buckeye State may determine the presidency in 2008. No Republican candidate has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio and the winner in Ohio, Democrat or Republican, has prevailed in 15 out of the last 17 presidential elections. As a result, national presidential contenders have flooded the state to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Ted Strickland or for Blackwell. Sen. John Kerry came recently as well as his former running mate, former Sen. John Edwards. Retired General Wesley Clark, Sen. Joseph Biden, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack have visited. On the Republican side, Senators John McCain and Bill Frist took trips here and so did Governor Milt Romney of Massachusetts and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Despite initial problems with the black elected officials in the major cities, a month after the primary Strickland was able to finally win endorsements from Clevleand Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Mayors Michael Coleman of Columbus, Frank Jackson of Cleveland and Rhine McLin of Dayton. Blackwell's strategy for the black community is two-fold. On the one hand, appeal directly to the black ministers on conservative social issues like gay marriage and on the other, suppress the heavily Democratic urban vote in Ohio's largest cities. Suppressing registration

Aided by the Republican-dominated Statehouse, Blackwell is now working with laws that greatly restrict voter registration drives and require photo ID at the polls. A recent ruling by Blackwell, in his capacity as Secretary of State, requires any individual who registers someone to vote to personally submit the person's registration card at Blackwell's office in the capital city of Columbus. Raj Nayak, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, came to Columbus to denounce Blackwell's rules for "obstructing voter registration efforts." Peg Rosenfeld of the League of Women Voters lamented that while the law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature is restrictive, Blackwell's rules "are more restrictive than the bill."

Common Cause President Samuel Gresham weighed in as well, telling the Columbus Dispatch that the ruling "raises questions about the intent of the Secretary of State." Shocking to most people was the fact that Blackwell implemented the rules prior to holding a public hearing or obtaining approval from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

But that's Blackwell, just being Blackwell, using the law to its full advantage for partisan political purposes.

Strickland immediately called for Blackwell to give up oversight over the 2006 election. Strickland's running mate, Lee Fisher, stated, "His decision this week to suppress Ohio votes for personal gain is where he draws the line." Too bad they didn't draw this line during 2004.

Dubious plans, suspicious past

Blackwell, no fan of secular institutes of higher education, vows to bring the voucher plan to colleges and universities. According to the Dayton Daily News, "Blackwell says he wants state funding to follow students, rather than institutions." Blackwell also told the Canton Repository that he seeks to privatize services at colleges and universities and that state college trustees should be able to ignore Ohio's prevailing wage law in construction projects. Blackwell also wants to lease the Ohio turnpike to private operators.

Blackwell is that rare public official who managed to become a multimillionaire while working as the state's Treasury Secretary by parlaying a $500,000 investment with three other investors into a $190 million sale of radio stations within six years. Some have questioned whether or not his decisions as Treasury Secretary influenced the millions of dollars in loans he received from friendly banks including those owned by billionaire Carl Lindner of Cincinnati. The Lindner family is Blackwell's major donor in the last campaign reporting, giving him $90,000.

Blackwell's cozy relations with Lindner and the Bush family, with direct ties to neocon think tanks that support regime change in countries opposing U.S. foreign policy, has not emerged as a major issue in the election. Rather than portraying himself as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bush Family, Inc. and their allies, he recently described himself as "unbought and unbossed."

King had a dream
Blackwell is a nightmare

Blackwell's fond of using civil rights phrases and comparing himself to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and, ironically, Robert Kennedy. Recently, Blackwell spoke at the Omega Baptist Church in Dayton and, according to the Dayton Daily News, found a receptive audience among the mostly black congregation. About half of them gave him a standing ovation.

Blackwell told the assembled audience: "I don't wear my religion on my sleeve – it is my armor."

The Dems quickly countered by holding a press conference at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing and Cultural Arts Complex in Columbus to attack Blackwell and praise Strickland. State Rep. Joyce Beatty, leader of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus, reminded reporters of the massive disenfranchisement of black voters in the 2004 presidential election, a fact reiterated and documented in detail in Rolling Stone's Kennedy article.

The National Hip-Hop Convention then attacked Blackwell for adopting rules "reminiscent of the Jim Crow-era."

Still, Blackwell works the religious circuit, secretly meeting with a dozen or so ministers at Wilberforce University on May 31, including the influential Rev. Keith Troy of Columbus and Pastor Aaron Wheeler, Chair of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Desperate Republicans

But leave it to British journalists to put Ohio in perspective. London's Guardian newspaper noted in their Sunday May 14 edition that "Desperate Republicans Chase the Black Vote," pointing out that as Bush's poll numbers and support collapse to near record lows, the White House and top Republican officials have launched a blitz to persuade black people that their future will be better served by shedding decades of loyalty to the Democratic Party and voting Republican instead. The Republican national strategy will be tested in the United States' premier bell weather state – Ohio. One great fear, according to the Guardian, is that Hurricane Katrina will re-emerge as a campaign issue.

The Republicans are pushing black Republicans in other key states as well. Maryland's Michael Steele is seeking to become a U.S. Senator and former Pittsburgh Steeler star Lynn Swann is vying for governor of Pennsylvania.

Apparently it was God's will that Blackwell take $10,000 from a Diebold lobbyist

The Chicago Tribune has dubbed Blackwell the "anti-Obama" and far right political strategist like Paul Weyrich has dubbed Blackwell "someone who is God-centered and who prays to do God's will rather than his own." The right-wing journal Human Events compares Blackwell to Ronald Reagan and see his election in Ohio as a "sea change." Blackwell told Human Events that, "The churches put that issue over [anti-gay marriage amendment], and in the process, put the president over the top and doubled the share of black votes."

As Secretary of State, Blackwell encouraged the controversial voting machine company Diebold to enter the Ohio market. Also, he disclosed just before the primary that he "accidentally owned Diebold stock" while personally negotiating a no-bid contract for the company to bring private proprietary electronic voting machines into 47 of Ohio's 88 counties. Diebold lobbyist Mitch Given recently donated $10,000, the maximum allowed under Ohio law to Blackwell. Blackwell's version of the Lord surely works mysterious ways.

Bob Fitrakis, Free Press Editor, submitted 11,000 signatures on May 1 to run as an independent Green-endorsed candidate for Ohio governor. His signatures have just now been certified by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's office.