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    State of Play

    Opponent-less Primary Sets Up Campaign Fund Conflict

    State Capital Strategies
    Friday, April 24, 1998

    When millionaire Toledo businessman Bruce Douglas pulled out of the Democratic primary race for governor, former attorney general Lee Fisher remained the lone candidate. No primary challenge should have simplified Fisher's life, but Douglas's withdrawal has sent Republican and Democrat bean counters into a tizzy, trying to determine what to do with the campaign funds Fisher raised when he had an opponent.

    Ohio campaign law limits individual contributions to $2,500, but allows a candidate to accept unlimited donations if his opponent spends more than $100,000 of his own money. Douglas withdrew the night before Fisher was set to unveil a primary campaign ad – for which he'd already purchased $300,000 worth of air time. The status of those funds is unclear; even though the check was never cut, the Fisher campaign is still accountable.

    Republican conspiracy theorists have surmised the Fisher-Douglas race was a ruse to permit Fisher to raise more money, but this is unlikely. Douglas pulled out the night before Fisher could have actually spent some of the money he had labored intensely to raise over the prior three months.

    State law already requires Fisher to return some of the unspent primary funds to keep him from rolling over the unlimited contributions into the general election race. Secretary of State Bob Taft, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, wrote Fisher a letter asking him to return all of the money, not just what is legally required. Taft reportedly is beleaguered by the contribution limits and is feeling the pressure to match Fisher's fund raising.

    More State Political News From:
    Arizona | Colorado | Georgia | Louisiana I | Louisiana II | Nebraska
    New Hampshire | North Carolina | Ohio II | Tennessee | Utah | Wisconsin

    Arizona: Johnson Not a Threat to Hull, Even Among Democrats


    Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Paul Johnson is so far behind in recent polls, he may not even carry his own party in the November election. The former mayor of Phoenix trails Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull by 51 percentage points in a statewide survey conducted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Hull, who has seen consistently favorable ratings since taking office in the wake of former Gov. Fife Symington's fraud conviction, has the support of 71 percent of registered voters. Moreover, she garnered the support of 44 percent of the Democrats polled. Johnson only garnered 40 percent support among Democrats and 20 percent overall. Politicos believe Hull is scoring well among women Democrats and independents. Johnson's campaign calls the poll unfair, since it was conducted prior to the high-profile debate on school finance reform, an issue some feel will hurt Hull. The chamber survey, which polled 497 registered voters two weeks ago, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

    Colorado: 'Scarlet Letter' Designation Ruled Unconstitutional

    A federal judge has thrown out a portion of Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act of 1996. Sixty-six percent of voters approved the measure, also known as Amendment 15, which sought to keep campaign spending within set limits, among other things. A controversial provision that mandated the use of campaign ads and the ballot to publicize whether a candidate abided by spending limits was ruled unconstitutional.

    A coalition composed of the state Republican Party and the Colorado Education Association led the case against the so-called "scarlet-letter designation," claiming it violates the First Amendment. Colorado Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the attorney general's office are working together to keep the spending limits and other provisions in place. Candidates say that without the forced designations, the media and other political campaigns must ensure limits are followed. Most agree, however, that even without the provision most candidates will go to extremes to avoid being the first to violate spending limits – and the ensuing bad press.

    Current spending limits for statewide offices: governor – $2 million; secretary of state; attorney general, and treasurer – $400,000; lieutenant governor – $100,000; state senator $75,000; state representative – $50,000.

    Georgia: Party Switch Sets Up Democratic Targets

    Political observers are waiting to see if Senate President Pro Tem Sonny Perdue's recent switch to the GOP will cause any of his former Democratic colleagues to follow suit. Republican leaders certainly hope so, and are doing everything possible to lay out the red carpet. Senate Republican Whip Eric Johnson even sent a memo to fellow Republicans urging them to contact six conservative Democrats about switching affiliations. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Walker (D) says none of the targeted members will switch.

    Perdue's political fortunes could shift in the fall elections, but he is unlikely to be defeated. Even local Democratic leaders in the district predict Perdue's switch to the GOP would not hurt him at the polls. Though the filing deadline is not until May 1, no formidable candidates from either side have come forward to challenge him.

    Sources say the conservative Perdue could actually remain in a leadership position. If Republicans gain a few seats in the fall elections, Republicans and conservative Democrats could form a coalition to elect him to the top post again. Republicans, who are six seats shy of controlling the Senate, could also elect Perdue to a leadership position if they take control.

    Louisiana I: Preschool Programs to Experiment with Vouchers


    In a setback to the traditional education hierarchy in Louisiana, the state House has approved a major change in a bill sponsored by Republican Gov. Mike Foster's administration aimed at funding at-risk preschool programs. A group of conservative Republicans, fundamentalist Christians and middle-income lawmakers sought to amend the measure to include limited use of vouchers. Under the new version of the bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Charles McDonald, parents of at-risk preschoolers will receive certificates from the state worth about $2,500 per child. The parents could use the vouchers to send their child to the school of their choice. The Senate Education Committee approved the measure the later in the week.

    The state's teacher unions and education bureaucrats opposing the measure were soundly defeated, and are trying to regroup for the regular session after two previous losses on other education issues.

    Louisiana II: Donor Disclosure Bill Dies in Special Session

    A proposal pushed by Republican Gov. Mike Foster to identify political donors by occupation in campaign finance records died in the special session. The bill by Republican Sen. Jay Dardenne, fell after he said he felt the issue needed more study. Dardenne says he plans to look at how the other 27 states with the contributor reporting requirement handle the process. Foster said the legislation is necessary to help the public see where, not just who, contributions come from. Sen. Max Jordan (R) called Foster's support of the measure ironic, since Foster himself refused to disclose contributors to his inauguration and transition funds, citing privacy concerns.

    Nebraska: Six Lawmakers Set to Retire

    The Nebraska Legislature will have at least six new members when it reconvenes in January 1999. Six veterans – four Republicans and two Democrats – are not seeking seek re-election. The Republicans are Sens. Chris Abboud, Owen Elmer, David Maurstad and C.N. "Bud" Robinson. The Democrats are Sens. Don Wesley and Eric Will. The retirements will leave several key chairmanships vacant.

    New Hampshire: Weyler to Challenge Sytek for Speakership

    Rep. Kenneth Weyler (R) is expected to challenge House Speaker Donna Sytek (R) for the speakership next term. A five-term representative who currently heads the House finance subcommittee in charge of education financing proposals, Weyler has pushed House members to act quickly on the court-mandated education finance reform package. Weyler said Sytek did not handle the education reform package well and has essentially dragged her feet on the issue.

    North Carolina: Lawmakers Get New Deadline on Redistricting


    A three-judge federal panel has set North Carolina's congressional primaries for Sept. 15, while state lawmakers have until May 22 to submit a new congressional redistricting map. All non-congressional primaries will remain on May 5. A new filing period for the congressional races will re-open in July. The state's congressional districts have been ordered redrawn twice after the federal court found them to be racially gerrymandered. Lawmakers will begin work on the new redistricting plan when they convene the regular session next month.

    Ohio II: Term Limit Hits Nearly Half of Ohio House

    The exodus continues at the Ohio statehouse as the shadow of term limits descends on Columbus's Capital Square. Just 51 of the 99 Ohio House members elected in 1992 will be eligible to seek reelection this year, thanks to the term limit law enacted in 1992 that holds lawmakers to eight years – or four terms – in office. Of those, 30 are Republican and 21 are Democrats. In the first 15 months of the current two-year term, the House and Senate have sworn in 13 new members to vacancies created by departing members.

    Tennessee: Lawmakers Weather Tornado Damage


    Lawmakers in downtown Nashville this week are no doubt grateful to the architects who designed the Legislative Plaza. The building proved a sanctuary to members of the House and Senate finance committees, who were meeting to hammer out amendments to the state budget bill when staff alerted them to the tornado that damaged much of historic downtown Nashville. The mostly underground building, complete with few windows, provided safety to legislative several staff members and lawmakers who huddled in its confines. The Plaza, adjacent to the State Capitol, was also used as a shelter for many non-government people caught in the twister as the work day ended.

    Several senators' offices were badly damaged, some with collapsed ceilings and windows. The state flag flying above the Capitol building suffered the most notable damage from the twister – a hole blown right through it. Observers joked that the hole looks like a cannon shot.

    Utah: Leavitt Looks to Leave Utah for Washington

    Sources in the his cabinet say Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) has his sights firmly set on a seat in the U.S. Senate. Reports suggest Leavitt will run for a third term as Utah governor, but will likely resign in mid-term to run for the Senate. Leavitt's plans are contingent on whether Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) retires after this term.

    Wisconsin: Weeden's Status Integral to GOP Majority Status


    Republicans appear to be in good shape to retain their newly won control of the state Senate after the November elections. However, one potential departure could change the political forecast . State Sen. Tim Weeden (R), has not committed to seeking reelection, hinting it may be time to move on. Majority Leader Mike Ellis just appointed Weeden to co-chair the Joint Finance Committee, a move seen by some as an effort to keep him from retiring. Weeden held the post before the GOP lost Senate control in 1996, but Ellis did not appoint him to co-chair Finance until this term, when the Republicans were one seat shy of control.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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