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Ohio Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole discusses self-driven cars, infrastructure policy, and leaving a legacy of good governance


“Within the next decade, we’ll see self-driven trucking units – probably with detachable cargo modules – carrying goods around the country,” Ohio Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole told the Campaign Battleground class. “The major auto-manufacturers have all pledged to have a self-driving option for every car rolling off the line from model year 2020 on. There will be cars produced in the next five years that are driverless.”

Mr. Cole’s self-described career goal is to “make government more efficient through technology.” Prior to his appointment to the turnpike, Mr. Cole ran his own consulting firm, GovTech Solutions, dedicated to bringing technological efficiencies to government. Following GovTech, Mr. Cole joined State Auditor Mary Taylor’s Office as the Director Audit Services & Technology.

His time at the Auditor’s Office lead to an appointment to the Controlling Board as its president, where Mr. Cole worked as part of a large team to help close an $8 billionstate deficit, create a $2 billion state surplus, and expand Medicaid in Ohio.

“This year, our Medicaid costs in Ohio are a billion dollars below projections. We’re working toward paying for value [of medical procedures] instead of paying fee-for-service,” Mr. Cole told the class. Mr. Cole’s perspectives on government efficiency and budget policy give him unparalleled insight into infrastructure policy.

“Last year, we set an all-time record in the United States for vehicle mileage traveled,” he said, responding to a question regarding the state of America’s roads and highways. “On the Ohio Turnpike, we have 53 million trips – amounting to 3 billion miles – traveled annually.”

Though some states are experimenting with a “Roade Usage Charge” or millage-based tax, Mr. Cole maintains there will be other avenues for funding. “Tolling is a big part of the answer. It has to be. Funding solutions in the future have to include tolling,” Mr. Cole said. Even so, Mr. Cole notes that Ohio maintains, “near the lowest tolls for passenger and commercial vehicles in the Midwest.”

To be successful in politics, Mr. Cole suggests students “have thick skin, short memories, and a very close group of friends.” However, he was quick to remind the class, “There’s a difference between governing and politicking. Real governance becomes your legacy.”

Students and others are encouraged to follow Mr. Cole on Twitter @CRandyCole.

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Ohio plays critical role in a most unusual campaign season

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The current brand of presidential politics has created a historic campaign season that has surprised political experts and the Washington establishment, Dr. John Green told an audience today at the 2016 Power Players Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland.

“In my career, I’ve never seen a presidential nominating campaign like this one,” Green said at the event, presented by Smart Business magazine. Green is director of The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have ridden a surprising wave of anger against so-called establishment candidates, Green said. “I didn’t see it coming either.”

Ohio’s March 15 primary was critical to both Gov. John Kasich and Hillary Clinton but for different reasons, he pointed out. Ohio’s governor had to carry his own state to continue in the GOP race, and Clinton had to regain the momentum she lost when Sanders beat her in Michigan on March 8.

“Kasich and Clinton came into Ohio with must wins,” Green said. “A week ago, Clinton was surprised in Michigan. The Clinton campaign had already begun looking forward to the campaign in the fall. That’s a mistake.”

“For both parties, if you carry Ohio, that bodes very well for the fall election,” he added.

Now, both the Republicans and Democrats can expect a protracted battle for their party’s respective nomination before the summer conventions.

The Republican establishment faces a critical decision, as it has to determine if it will support Trump, particularly if he comes to the GOP convention in Cleveland just short of the 1,237 delegates required for the nomination.

”The GOP leadership has yet to sort itself out,” Green said. The decision could lead to a contested convention that could damage the Republican Party.

“Donald Trump has the potential to scramble the usual electoral coalitions that we have in the United States,” Green added.

Among Green’s other observations on Trump:  

  • He is effective at using social media: “Donald Trump is a better Tweeter than any other candidate.”
  • He has an ability to overcome seeming adversity and bad publicity: “He just seems to shrug everything off.”
  • His campaign represents a decline in the nation’s civil discourse: “It may well be that America has reached a point of greater tolerance for disrespectful discourse. More and more, people are rewarded for breaking those kinds of rules.”
  • “This is an unusual candidate, who whether rightly or wrongly, and I think wrongly – is being held to a very different set of standards.”
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State Representative Emilia Sykes visits the Bliss Institute


Image from Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission

Campaign Battleground welcomed House Representative Emilia Strong Sykes (D) to our discussion this month. A graduate from Kent State University, Rep. Sykes returned to northeast Ohio in 2014 to take her father’s seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Rep. Sykes earned a master’s degree in public health from The University of Florida, and has experience serving as an administrative adviser in the Summit County fiscal office. As a representative of the state’s 34th District, Rep. Sykes works to provide quality healthcare to her constituents, in particular advocating for infant mortality rate reductions.

“There are two zip codes in Akron where the infant mortality rate is double the national average. We need to address this problem on a number of levels,” Rep. Sykes said.

In addition to her work on public health issues, Rep. Sykes  strives to empower the community and improve the education system in order to create good paying jobs. She also has become involved in voting rights issues. Rep. Sykes discussed whether or not 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the Ohio presidential primary and commented on a recent lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State John Husted.

“John Husted has yet to win a single voting rights lawsuit. Not one,” Rep. Sykes noted.

Though our time with Rep. Sykes was brief due to a prior engagement, the class very much enjoyed her discussion and look forward to her bright political future.

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Pollster John Zogby discusses NASCAR Dads, the evolving Latino voting population and the potential of a Trump-Clinton presidential race

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“I ran for mayor in 1981, and thankfully I didn’t win,” pollster John Zogby told the Campaign Battlegrounds class. Mr. Zogby began as a self-described “left-wing political activists” before migrating to professional polling.

In the mid-1980’s Mr. Zogby began polling local races, something unseen in the field at the time but is now considered common practice. By 1994, Mr. Zogby was conducting polls for Richard Murdoch, generating information for Fox News and the New York Post . Two years later, Mr. Zogby was polling for Reuters and NBC News.

Zogby was the first pollster to coin the term “NASCAR Dads.” He explained, “Weekly Wal-Mart shoppers are one of the key groups, when they are with Obama his approval rating is good. When they are against him, his approval rating is not.”

For this election season, Mr. Zogby suggests the most decisive demographic will be what he terms, “First Globals.” Coined “millennials” by others, Mr. Zogby suggests, “There is a clear demarcation on foreign policy attitude at the age of 50. Those older than 50 believe in ‘American Exceptionalism’ – the idea America plays an exceptional role in foreign policy. Those below 50 are more cautious about foreign policy.”

Mr. Zogby also discussed how the Latino participation has evolved. “In 1992, Latino voters were 4 percent of 92 million voters . Now they are 10.1 percent of 132 million voters,” Mr. Zogby explained. During our discussion, Mr. Zogby also commented on the decline in support for Republican candidates among Latinos.

“George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote, John McCain won 31 percent, Mitt Romney won 29percent. In 2010. Latino voters turned out at 70 percent and voted 80 percent Democrat,” Mr. Zogby shared.

On the phenomenon of Donald Trump, Mr. Zogby said, “I thought he would be a summer fling. All the rules have been broken and anytime he breaks the rules he does better.”

On Hillary Clinton, Mr. Zogby said he has met her several times and has personally told her, “I don’t really know who you are.” He further suggested, “It’s easy to see how [a Trump-Clinton race] becomes competitive. Not trusting a candidate,” he told the class. “is powerful.”

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Elections analyst Henry Olsen shares his thoughts on the GOP presidential candidate race


“There are four factions of the Republican Party,” Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) shared with our class, “you have your moderates or establishment candidates, the evangelical voters, very conservative seculars and then your somewhat conservatives.” According to Mr. Olsen, it is the movement and allegiances of these four factions that dictate the outcome of Republican Primaries. The 2016 Primary fits this model, with one exception.

A self-described “political junkie,” Mr. Olsen analyzes elections for the EPPC and blogs for the center as well as the National Review.

“Trump doesn’t quite fit. He is attracting people on a class base, not ideological,” Mr. Olsen said. “Senator Rubio appeals to ‘somewhat conservatives’ – whereas Kasich appeals to ‘moderates.’” Not surprisingly, Gov. Kasich did well in New Hampshire, a state Mr. Olsen described to the Campaign Battlegrounds class as 45 to 49 percent moderate and the most moderate of early voting states.

Throughout our conversation, Mr. Olsen shared his insights on many recent events, including the Iowa Caucuses. Mr. Olsen noted that the polls were largely accurate. However, the voters’ capacity to change their minds was underestimated, resulting in a surprise win for Senator Ted Cruz.

On Governor Bush’s campaign, Mr. Olsen referred to a blog post he had written comparing Jeb to Rip Van Winkle, suggesting Governor Bush had taken a twenty-year nap, entering the 2016 campaign prepared to run in 1996. Clearly, the Jeb Van Winkle problem was real, contributing to the governor’s suspension of his campaign following the South Carolina caucus.

In our discussion, Mr. Olsen also cautioned against stereotyping Southern Republican primary voters as exclusively Evangelicals.

“John McCain beat Mike Huckabee in Texas in 2008,” Mr. Olsen reminded the class. Suggesting those Southern states are not necessarily committed to the most religious candidate.

As for the current state of the GOP race, Mr. Olsen noted “three candidates are still viable.” Updates to Mr. Olsen’s interpretation of the current primary process can be found on his blog for the National Review.


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State Representative Mike Curtin discusses marijuana legalization legislation, the 2016 presidential race and Citizens United

mike curtin“It’s been said your number one priority is family, and your number three priority is politics, so why don’t you tell them what your number two priority is?” Jerry Austin asked State Representative Mike Curtin (D) of Ohio’s 17th District during our class on January 26.

“I umpire baseball and fast-pitch baseball,” the Rep. Curtin replied. “Baseball is my love.”

Certainly, that is not the only unorthodox aspect of Rep. Curtin’s venture into politics. Born in Columbus in 1951, Rep. Curtin attending The Ohio State University where he majored in journalism and wrote for The Lantern.

“It was a tumultuous time on our campuses in Ohio and across the country,” Rep. Curtin told the class. “I got a great education in journalism because the times were so turbulent. We were covering riots, escalations with police….It was a great time to be thrown into the pool. To learn journalism by doing it.”

After college, Rep. Curtin joined the Columbus Dispatch. He spent the next 31 years there, eventually becoming the paper’s Chief Operating Officer. Rep. Curtin spent most of his time with the paper covering state and local politics. Rep. Curtin is also a published author. He co-wrote The Ohio Politics Almanac with Julia Barry Bell in 2006.

Following state-wide redistricting in 2010, Rep. Curtin ran for a newly created seat on the Westside of Columbus in 2012. Rep. Curtin has been active on a number of issues including redistricting reform, constitutional reform to block state-sanctioned monopolies and opposing monopolistic marijuana legalization – an issue he notes, “Willie Nelson was with us on.” Rep. Curtin further suggested similar tactics were impending with possible legislation for a Green Energy monopoly.

In our discussion, Rep. Curtin also discussed Citizens United, which allows for unlimited campaign contributions from corporations and unions to politically-motivated non-profited.

“Citizens United changed everything,” Rep. Curtin noted. This anonymous money can be used to mobilize canvassers, issue direct mailers, and purchase television and radio ads.

When asked about the 2016 Presidential race, Rep. Curtin said, “Twenty years ago, [U.S. Senator] Rob Portman would have been the strongest presidential candidate.” However, Rep. Curtin noted, “John Kasich has a good ground game.”

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Ethics and Public Policy Senior Fellow Henry Olsen to discuss Election Returns and Polling on Feb. 2

Henry Olsen will speak to Campaign Battleground on February 2, 2016. Mr. Olsen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center as well an elections analyst and political essayist, studying conservative politics in America and abroad. His writings have been published in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Post, among other prominent publications.

In his work, Mr. Olsen studies election returns and poll data to understand why people are voting in certain ways. He also analyzes how conservative politicians can best promote their ideas.

Mr. Olsen’s book, coauthored with University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala, Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination is expected to be published this fall. Mr. Olsen is currently writing a second book, which focuses on President Reagan’s legacy for the conservatives.

During our discussion, the Campaign Battleground and Mr. Olsen will talk about his career, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and perhaps, the Iowa Caucus results and the upcoming New Hampshire Primary.


Source: Ethics & Public Policy Center

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Spring 2016 Class Welcome


Welcome back for another exciting semester of National Battleground with Dr. John Green and Campaign Consultant Jerry Austin. With such an unprecedented race for the Presidency unfolding, we are thrilled to have you following the campaigns along with us in real-time. Will the unorthodox Donald Trump assume the Republican Party’s nomination in Cleveland? Can Secretary Clinton fend off the insurgent Senator Bernie Sanders? Perhaps we will know the answers to these questions at the cessation of class, perhaps not!

We are looking forward to sharing our discussions with you. In National Battleground, we hope to bring in speakers in and around to political and policy processes for in-depth interviews with the class. We strive to delve deeper than the traditional stump speech, asking our participants about the background, motivation and, occasionally, some “inside baseball.” Our line-up could include journalists, pollsters, elected officials and party leaders from the local, state and national levels.

We also hope to share our Week In Review presentations. It is a tradition of National Battleground to have one or two students recap the previous week’s news and events, with special emphasis on the campaigns. Doing so allows our class to stay well versed in the happenings of the world and lets our students dig a little deeper into the headlines. We’re sure you’ll enjoy their work.

Looking forward to having you along for the ride, and be sure to buckle-up as this particular nomination process could be a bumpy one!

-Alex Pavloff

National Battleground TA

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Democratic Debate Recap

Last night the 5 democratic presidential candidates debated in Las Vegas, Nevada with CNN and Facebook sponsoring this event.

Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton was center stage with the Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to her left, the former Mayor of Baltimore Martin O’Malley to her right, and Senator Jim Webb and Governor Lincoln Chafee at the ends of the stage.
Clinton made it a point to target the NRA and say that Americans need to stand up to them and go with what the majority of the country wants on gun control. The topic of the email scandal of course came up and Clinton admitted that she did make a mistake and she has and will continue to answer all questions about the topic. She made it a point to target the Republican lead committee who has been seen in the media saying that their goal is to drive her polls down. When confronted by Governor Chafee and given the opportunity to respond, she simply said no. This can be looked at as not taking the Governor as a serious candidate or she’s tired of talking about. The highlight of this topic was when Senator Sanders chimed in and said, “American’s are tired of hearing about your damn emails! It is time we about the real issues facing America”. This line stole the show and got the loudest applause from the audience throughout the whole debate.

Sanders proved to be the most liberal on most issues except gun control where Clinton certainly is further left on that issue. O’Malley proved to the be the furthest left when it comes to climate change and the energy crisis in this country as he laid out a plan to have America be 100% clean electrical grid by 2050. Chafee struggled to stand out when talking about issues as did Webb. Talking of the economy, Sanders views on regulating Wall Street, campaign finance, the struggling middle class, and raising the minimum wage resonated well with the audience and the middle class. Clinton made the statement that when “Democrats are in the White House the economy does better” and how her plan is much tougher on the big banks and we must deal with the area called “Shadow Banking”. O’Malley aligned himself with a lot of what Sanders stated and showed how he implanted them in the state of Maryland while he was governor. His main difference was that he wants to separate the casino, mega banks from the commercial banking and reinstate Glass-Stegall.

Overall, Webb found it very hard to stand out during the debate as he had very little time to talk and when he did talk it almost sounded like he used the same block statements about his military experience and being in the pentagon to answer most questions. Chafee did stand out more than Webb but also did not gain too much traction. O’Malley showed the country that he is a real candidate with real ideas that can move this country in the direction the democratic party wants it to go. However, Clinton and Sanders stole the show. They were the focus of the debate and were certainly the loudest. Although Clinton was simply the best debater on the stage and out-performed her opponents, Sanders was the clear winner of the debate not only by listening to the applause form the audience when he spoke but every single poll that followed the debate showed Sanders as the clear winner with a margin between 60% to 75% of the people voting in those polls for Sanders. Regardless, the debate will not change polls on who will win the nomination as there were no surprises at this debate. The democratic party as a whole will benefit more than these individual candidates as they all banned together against the republicans and lead a strategic attack on the party as a whole together. The attack points on the Republicans were much stronger than any the Republicans have used against the Democrats.

David J. Matheny

Any opinions and views aforementioned are entirely my own and not associated with the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics