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Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Early, Vote Often...

...vote all the way down the ballot! Especially if you live in Ashtabula, Portage, Summit, or Trumbull County, where there's a low-profile, but nonetheless important race for the Ohio Board of Education between Deborah Owens-Fink and Tom Sawyer. Here's what other bloggers have written about this race.

Yellow Dog Sammy of Ohio 2006:
In yet another descent into mud-slinging by desperate Republican candidates at the end of this election cycle, Debbie Owens Fink (R) is dumping much of her extraordinarily large war chest (about $90,000, incredibly huge for this kind of race) into an ugly and misleading negative campaign of mailers and robo-calls, claiming that Tom Sawyer (D) failed to pay taxes while he was a member of Congress. This distorted charge is debunked in an editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal here...

Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars:
The New York Times reports that a group of 75 scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio has endorsed the candidacy of Tom Sawyer in his race against creationist Deborah Owens Fink for a spot on the Ohio Board of Education. That group includes Lawrence Krauss and Patricia Princehouse. Amusingly, Owens Fink tries to give the idea that she's not really an advocate of ID creationism

Pho of Pho's Akron Pages:
Sawyer will be running against crypto-creationist and charter school honk Deborah Owens Fink. Through nothing but sheer luck and coincidence, I've been privy to much of the backstory as foes of Fink have looked for a champion. A number of university science professors have been actively seeking a candidate since D'Oh Fink led the unsuccessful Intelligent Design charge this past spring.
I have to give some serious credit to Sawyer for taking this on. He certainly saw the politics as ugly as it gets in the Ohio 13 primary. He is walking into a race that, given the stakes for the players, promises to be plenty ugly in it's own right. Anyone in politics will tell you that elected officials never run for a "lower" office, as a matter of etched-in-granite political law. Sawyer jumping back in this soon after a bruising campaign is a selfless, party-and-principle-first move -- one that makes me doubt some of the street gumbling I heard in the primary.

Last-Minute Notes on Ballot Issues

Issue 3
Issue 3 is far from perfect. First, it would establish a state-protected oligopoly. Second, it would legalize only slot machines, and give only Cuyahoga County the option of legalizing table games at a later date. Third, as Jill Miller Zimon points out, there are some unanswered questions about the scholarship program that Issue 3 would establish.

Still, for all its flaws, voted yes on Issue 3 earlier today. Sure, I'd rather see an open market for casino gaming, rather than a state-protected oligopoly. I'd also rather legalize full-service casinos, complete with table games and sports books, than just slot machines. But you go to the polls with the gaming amendment you have, not the gaming amendment you might wish for, and I've decided that a state-protected oligopoly is a lesser evil than the complete prohibition of casino gaming that exists under current law.

Vote yes on Issue 3

Issues 4 and 5

If you haven't voted yet, please read this article by Julian Sanchez on the economics of smoking bans. Here are a couple of excerpts:
...it's nevertheless true that a welter of studies have not found a dramatic decline in aggregate hospitality sales in many areas that have enacted smoking bans. In some, business even appears to be up.

Yet aggregate data can be misleading. It may be that aggregate revenue doesn't show a drop in business, but that doesn't mean that particular restaurants aren't hurting. In fact, you can count them. The pattern emerging in nearby Montgomery County is that business is steady or improving in big chains like Ruby Tuesdays, while small independent businesses are taking a hit. In an industry with paper-thin profit margins, those places may eventually have to close—a danger that's not visible if you lump together all bar and restaurant revenues, treating them as a mega-business, rather than a collection of separate businesses.

Mr. Sanchez further states:
It seems fairly clear that, at present, the market mix of smoking and non-smoking establishments is suboptimal: It does not yet fully reflect the public's growing preference for smoke free dining and carousing. If we imagine an inverted-U curve, with the relative proportion of smoking and non-smoking establishments on the X-axis and restaurant revenue (and, presumably, customer satisfaction with the available options) on the Y-axis, it's fair to suppose that, at present, localities that permit smoking are well to the left of the optimum, with the mix biased too heavily in favor of smoke-friendly joints. Smoking bans effectively jump the curve, apparently landing at a higher point far to the right of the optimum.

The problem is that, while the market process seeks to approach that optimum over time, uniform prohibition locks in an extreme, almost certainly suboptimal mix. Ironically, an excellent argument for the repeal of these restrictions is provided by the fact that some bar owners have reported with delight that, contrary to their expectations, business picked up in the wake of the ban. Those businesses now know that, given their clientele, a non-smoking policy is optimal for them. The unlucky losers, the bars whose chimneyesque customers have deserted them, discovered the opposite.

Please read Mr. Sanchez' entire article, then vote yes on 4 and no on 5.

Vote Yes on Issue 4. Vote No on Issue 5.

Here's what I wrote about the smoking ban proposals back in April:
Neither Cleveland nor any of the suburbs in Cuyahoga County has banned smoking in bars and restaurants yet, but that hasn't stopped several establishments from going smoke-free. ... If given a chance, the free market will provide both smokers and non-smokers with drinking and dining options that suit their preferences.

The free market might not get that chance, though. A gang of busybodies calling themselves "Smoke Free Ohio" recently submitted petitions to put the issue of a smoking ban before the Ohio General Assembly. In a rare moment of sanity, the General Assembly appears unlikely to enact Smoke Free Ohio's proposal, the Ohio University Post Online reports, so the issue probably will go to the voters in November.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association is gathering signatures for a saner smoking ban proposal, which, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer, would:

...require lawmakers to ban smoking in public places but exempt certain establishments such as bars, bingo halls, racetracks, bowling alleys and closed-off smoking areas in restaurants, hotels and nursing homes. If the language is certified, the group must collect nearly 323,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.

Ideally, the State of Ohio would not concern itself at all with smoking in privately owned buildings, but the OLBA's proposal looks to be the best way to stop the total ban that Smoke Free Ohio is pushing.

Both issues will appear on the ballot tomorrow. Smoke Free Ohio's proposal is Issue 5. The OLBA's proposal is Issue 4. I still oppose government-imposed smoking bans on moral grounds, but there's also a major practical reason to vote no on Issue 5 tomorrow. Issue 5 would favor upscale and outer suburban establishments.

In the wake of Washington's smoking ban, Sharon Pian Chan of The Seattle Times reported:
The effects of the ban seem to vary widely. In some upscale Seattle bars, the ban has attracted new, nonsmoking customers. But owners of some blue-collar neighborhood joints say their business has fallen by half.

Here on the west side of Cleveland, I live within staggering distance of several blue-collar neighborhood joints, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Then there are the loopholes in Issue 5, which tend to favor establishments in the outer suburbs. First, Issue 5 does not ban smoking in vehicles. In Edmonton, Alberta, some bar owners have taken advantage of a similar loophole in that city's smoking ban by parking buses outside their establishments for the use of smoking customers. There's no reason to think that some Ohio tavernkeepers won't do the same, but where is there room to park a bus outside a bar? Not in Cleveland. Not in inner suburbs like Lakewood and Cleveland Heights.

Another loophole in Issue 5 is the retail tobacco store exception, which allows smoking in businesses that derive more than 80% of their sales from tobacco products. However, § 3794.03 (E) states:
Any retail tobacco store that begins operation after the effective date of this section or any existing retail tobacco store that relocates to another location after the effective date of this section may only qualify for this exemption if located in a freestanding structure occupied solely by the business...
If I owned a bar, and I were losing business as a result of the smoking ban, I might consider building a small building in my parking lot and putting a cigarette machine in said building, making it a retail tobacco store. But where is there sufficient land for businesses to exploit such a loophole? You guessed it, in the outer suburbs.

You can find the full text of the proposed law here.

Not only would Issue 5 be an unjust infringement on property rights, it would also hurt businesses in central cities and favor those in outer suburbs. Vote NO on Issue 5, and vote YES on Issue 4.