On Monday, December 6, my wife Carrie and I, accompanied by a local ABC cameraman and a local radio talk show host, attempted to deliver a letter to the Secretary of State of Ohio, J. Kenneth Blackwell.
Ukiah Rabble-Rousers Jailed For Questioning Ohio Secretary Of State
On Monday, December 6, my wife Carrie and I, accompanied by a local ABC cameraman and a local radio talk show host, attempted to deliver a letter to the Secretary of State of Ohio, J. Kenneth Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell is housed on two floors of the Borden Building in downtown Columbus. We requested that Secretary Blackwell commence the recount of votes in Ohio, that he refrain from certifying Rebublican electors until the recount was completed, that he respond to questions posed to him by 12 House Judiciary Committee members led by Rep. John Conyers regarding the election and that he formally recuse himself from the recount.
I was surprisesd that very few Ohioans I spoke with over my week in the Buckeye state knew that the Secretary of State – in addition to being the constitutional officer in charge of the election – also served as co-chair of the Ohio campaign to elect Bush/Cheney, and as the spokesman for the state ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. This is the second time in two elections that the Secretary of State in the crucial battleground state also served as teh Bush/Cheney campaign chair. In 2000, it was Katherine Harris, who now represents Florida’s 13th district in the U.S. Congress. Word in Ohio is that Blackwell’s sights are even higher. He intends to run for governor of Ohio in two years, no doubt with significant help from the Bush machine.
From the moment we presented identification (God forbid anyone should try to go anywhere in post-9/11 America without picture identification!), there was trouble. Private security officers moved in to discourage us to pass through the now-omnipresent metal detectors and on to the elevators. However, we breezed past them, found an elevator and whom should we find on the same elevator that we were taking but J. Kenneth Blackwell himself.
"Hello, Mr. Secretary," I said. "I’m former congressman Dan Hamburg from California. We have a letter for you, requesting you recuse yourself from the upcoming recount of Ohio’s presidential vote. We have also raised several other issues that need your attention immediately." Blackwell quickly launched into a blustering monologue about how we didn’t understand Ohio law because if we did, we’d know that he had nothing to do with counting the votes. With the floors whizzing by, my wife Carrie asked Blackwell whether he thought there might be at least the appearance of a conflict of interest in his serving as both final arbiter of the vote and as co-chair of Ohio Bush/Cheney. Blackwell frowned, the elevator door opened, he made a beeline for his private office and disappeared behind glass and steel. However, we were far from alone. There to meet us as we stepped out was a phalanx of law enforcement and security officers – Columbus Police, Ohio Highway Patrol, Borden Building security, and several husky plainclothesmen.
I remember thinking that Columbus must be a really low crime town since they had the ability to assign so many officers to a couple of 50-plus-year-olds who hadn’t even let off a loud chant. After being rebuffed from attending the Secretary’s press conference (despite our Bullhorn press credentials) we retreated to Zuppa’s, a very untrendy cafe located on the north side of the lobby. We ordered orange juice and sat down at a table. Within minutes, security was all over us.
"You must leave this building now," said the exasperated Borden security cop, his hands shaking quite visibly. "What’s this charge?" I asked. "Are we trespassing or do you just ‘reserve the right to refuse service to anyone?’" "You must leave this building now," he repeated. "Sorry, we’re not going. We don’t believe we’re trespassing by sitting here drinking our orange juice. We’re not interfering with other patrons of the building. We’re not blocking or obstructing anything. But we understand that you’re just doing your job. Please try to understand that we also need to do ours."
It took about 15 minutes for several Columbus police and Highway Patrol officers to appear on the scene. We were cuffed, and taken out behind the building to a waiting patrol car. That was the beginning of our experience as arrested midemeanants under the authority of Franklin County. Over the next 30 hours, we were printed (not just fingers but hands) twice, photographed three times, cuffed and uncuffed more times than we could count, held in unheated and odor-challenged holding tanks for hours on end, served endless smashed baloney-on-white sandwiches, and subjected continuously to the sneering looks and acid tongues of our jailers.
We also had the opportunity to meet some of the people we had come to Ohio to see– poor, mostly African-American folks, the people for whom voting on November 2 had often been such a challenge. From inside the Franklin County Corrections Center (known affectionately as "The Workhouse") I heard stories from people who knew people who had waited many hours and braved lousy weather just to cast a vote to rid the country of the stench of George W. Bush.
It was not by chance that in Franklin County there were less voting machines available than in 2000, depite the fact that election officials, from Ken Blackwell on down, knew that registration was up nearly 25%. By contrast, the strong GOP precincts were provided with more machines.
Katherine Harris rode her performance in the duel roles of Florida Secretary of State and co-chair of the Bush/Cheney capaign to the US congress. How far will Ken Blackwell go, having delivered Ohio in 2004? Elected officials like Harris and Blackwell sow discord by taking on multiple, and conflicting roles, especially when the presidency is at stake. Blackwell has caused another problem by housing himself in a private building, secluded from the public that pays his freight. A private corporation like Borden should not be running interference for elected officials. Nor should the police. It would have been more appropriate for Borden security, or Blackwell himself, to have made citizen’s arrests and then let the court decide whether those arrests are appropriate to the circumstances.