Battles being waged over Internet cafes, JobsOhio

The outcome of two Ohio Statehouse wars, now raging, will suggest who really runs Capitol Square.

One fight is between Republican Gov. John R. Kasich and Republican State Auditor David Yost. Ostensibly at issue is Yost’s quest to audit JobsOhio, Kasich’s “speed of business” replacement for the Development Department.

Another is inside the Republican-run Senate, which may ban or protect Internet sweepstakes cafes. The House, also Republican, has sent senators a bill to, in effect, ban sweepstakes cafes. The cafes claim they aren’t a form of (unregulated) gambling. But they also claim casinos fear their competition. There’s nothing like having it both ways.

The mystery is why Senate Republicans are dawdling over sweepstakes cafes, which have already burned the Florida Legislature. There, according to commentary by St. Petersburg’s Tampa Bay Times, it took “a racketeering investigation, dozens of arrests and the resignation of the lieutenant governor for the (Florida) Legislature to get serious about banning Internet sweepstakes cafes.”

There’s no known connection between any Ohio sweepstakes café and those mired in the Florida scandal. There, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “uncovered a sophisticated racketeering and money laundering scheme stemming from 49 illegal gambling centers operating under the guise of ‘internet cafes.’ ” That led to 54 search warrants and 57 arrest warrants “in 23 Florida counties and five additional states.” Ohio wasn’t one of them. Do Ohio’s Republican state senators feel left out?

As for Yost and Kasich, being state auditor can lead to the governorship.

One such auditor was New Philadelphia Democrat A. Victor (“Honest Vic”) Donahey, governor from 1923 to 1929. He’d been auditor from 1913 to 1921. A highlight of that was his refusal in 1920 to approve a travel expense filed by a Greater Cleveland judge, Willis Vickery, of the 8th District Court of Appeals. A Vickery meal tab listed a 30-cent baked potato. Said Donahey, “I buy a bushel of them for that where I came from.” He rejected the 30-cent charge, earning him lasting fame and the nickname “Honest Vic.”

Mr. Rhodes, governor of Ohio longer than anyone (16 years) was state auditor from 1953 through 1962. In that job, he learned where a lot of Ohio bodies are buried. And let the right people know it. Also elected to be state auditor, though never governor, was the Democratic father-son team of Joseph T. Ferguson and Thomas E. Ferguson. Joe, the father, was auditor from 1937 through 1952, and 1971 through 1974. Tom, the son, was auditor from 1975 through 1994. The family is from Shawnee, in Perry County.

Ferguson-style politics is subtle as a ball-peen hammer. Mr. Rhodes and the Fergusons were serious enemies. The auditor’s offices overlook the original Statehouse lawn site of a statue honoring Mr. Rhodes. During Tom Ferguson’s auditorship, late in 1982, the statue was unveiled. For a while that same day, these words, in letters big enough anyone near the statue could read them, just happened to appear in the auditor’s office’s windows: “Remember Kent State.”

The Donahey example, dollars-and-cents punctilio, stuck. When Joe Ferguson was auditor, he also rejected an expense claim, by a Statehouse Republican. The Plain Dealer’s Ralph J. Donaldson led that story this way: “Auditor of State Joseph T. Ferguson today found the ‘baked potato’ for which he has been looking for the last two and a half years.”

Now, after arguing with the Kasich crowd, Yost will get a crack at Kasich’s baby, JobsOhio. What Kasich pals privately ask is whether Yost is more interested in JobsOhio’s books — or in finding his own baked potato.

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