Cleveland Plain Dealer | Brent Larkin | July 31
The funeral of former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Paul Tipps was a turn-back-the-clock moment for a political party that has lost its way.
Tipps was the state party boss at the beginning of a decade-long run that might have been the 20th century's best for Ohio Democrats. In the 1982 and 1986 statewide elections, Democrats won all 10 contests for the state's five executive offices. Since then, they've lost 27 of 35, including 10 in a row.
Here's a statistic that might be even more stunning: In the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats won 81.5 percent of the contests for Ohio's executive offices. Since then, Republicans have won 77.8 percent.
So it was understandable that "remember the good old days" was a major theme in the three eulogies for the astute and personable former chairman at his April 24 funeral in Columbus.
Those eulogies came from the dominant Democratic leader during that decade of success, 77-year-old former Gov. Richard Celeste; from Jim Ruvolo, 68, who succeeded Tipps as chair in 1983; and from Gerald Austin, Ohio's most prominent political consultant of the period, who is 70.
One of that day's messages was: We knew how to win.
More subliminal was this one: Today's Democrats don't.
Generational comparisons are a risky business. But all things being equal, any political dispute that pits old versus young should be resolved in favor the latter.
Ohio Democrats should have thought long and hard about the wisdom of endorsing a 75-year-old freshman (Ted Strickland) for election to the seniority-conscious U.S. Senate next November. Attorney General Mike DeWine, who wants to be Ohio's next governor, would be a way-too-old 80 by the end of his second term.
Age became a relevant issue when Strickland's friends in organized labor rammed through a party endorsement of his Senate candidacy in next spring's Democratic primary against 30-year-old Cincinnati Councilman PG Sittenfeld.
And another food fight with age implications exploded into headlines across Ohio in late July when David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party's new state chair, somewhat gently — but unwisely — suggested that Sittenfeld's candidacy for statewide office distracted from the business of curing Cincinnati's rising crime rate.
Never mind that Pepper was an elected official from Cincinnati when he ran around Ohio for a year chasing, but failing to land, the job of state auditor. Pepper's remark about Sittenfeld was a minor, albeit unnecessary, mistake that received a huge amount of attention when Ruvolo ripped Pepper for attempting "to intimidate PG into leaving the race."