As the Republican Party flails around trying to regain its bearings, party operatives should take a close look at Ken Blackwell, who just won the Republican primary in the governor's race in Ohio.
Blackwell decisively defeated Jim Petro, Ohio's attorney general, garnering 56 percent of the vote, and now has a shot at becoming the first black Republican governor in the nation's history. Initial polling shows him trailing his Democratic opponent Congressman Ted Strickland. However, it's early in the game and Blackwell, a former Xavier University football star, is both a competitor and a winner.
Blackwell also is a man of principle and is that rare and unusual politician who is clear, upfront and uncompromising about those principles. He serves up his agenda, a combination of limited government, fiscal conservatism and traditional values, in a straightforward way that makes typical political gurus and consultants wince. But, like Ronald Reagan, Blackwell knows that Americans respond to honesty and he also knows that he is right.
Conventional wisdom is that he's too conservative. There is also concern that Ohio is in such bad shape, and that the current scandal ridden Republican governor is so unpopular, that the door is wide open for a change in party.
But, in fact, Blackwell's clear and honest conservatism is the answer to the concerns about the state's economic problems and the problems with government corruption.
The point is that corruption is the product of big, undisciplined government, and this is exactly what Ohioans have gotten from their current regime. It is a joke to think that the way to solve corruption is to throw out a big government Republican and replace him with a big government Democrat.
The Cato Institute issues a bi-annual fiscal policy report card of the nation's governors. They grade governors, A to F, on their spending and tax policies. Not only did Ohio's Governor Taft receive an F, but his overall rating was dead last of all governors. Under his leadership, real annual per capita spending, according to Cato, has increased a whopping 5 percent per year. Over the last 10 years, total government spending in Ohio has risen 20 percent faster than personal incomes.
If corruption is the symptom of big government, economic performance is the victim. The Ohio economy has been sputtering. It is 47th out of the 50 states in job creation and has one of the nation's lowest growth rates. According to The New York Times, the state "has lost 175,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years and ... an average of 65 people ages 25-39 leave the state every day."
While other politicians are offering up the usual government engineered schemes to revitalize the economy of Ohio, Blackwell understands that the last thing that Ohioans need is more government.
He has proposed a constitutional amendment that would put a cap on growth of state and local spending of 3.5 percent, or the sum of the rates of inflation and population growth. Exactly the kind of formula that makes conventional politicians cringe, which is exactly what is happening.
However, he also knows that there are two sides to the coin of social and economic vitality. One is to keep government in check. The other is to maintain a positive healthy moral environment that sustains individuals and families. So Blackwell supports constitutionally protecting traditional marriage and he opposes abortion. And, he supports school choice.
So, in fact, Ken Blackwell has not stopped smelling the roses of the Reagan revolution. Or, perhaps I should say the American Revolution.
His opponents call him "radical" and an "extremist." His primary opponent called him "goofy."
And, of course, the left translates his stand for traditional values, which Americans overwhelming support, as "gay bashing."
We are in challenging times. Ohio is in many ways a poster child of the problems that the country is facing. If we check the track record of history, or even look around the world today, it is clear as a bell that countries with undisciplined government are both corrupt and poor. It is also clear that social vitality, that is traditional values and intact families, coincides with economic prosperity.
I have long felt, counter to the conventional wisdom that Republicans recruit blacks, that blacks will play a key role in defining and leading the Republican Party. It is because the black community needs the agenda of limited government and traditional values like oxygen.
The beauty is that it's an American agenda. Not an ethnic or racial or special interest agenda.
So watch Ohio. It may tell you a lot about the country's future.