Ohio Governor Indicted on Gift Disclosure Reports

In the latest scandal to hit Ohio Republicans, Gov. Bob Taft today pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor charges of failing to accurately list gifts on his financial disclosure reports. Alex Chadwick talks with Jo Ingles, Statehouse reporter for member station WOSU, about how the case could affect the future of politics in the state.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The governor of Ohio, Bob Taft, pleaded no contest today on misdemeanor charges that he failed to disclose more than 50 gifts, including golf outings and meals and hockey tickets. He'll get a $4,000 fine, but no jail. This ends the legal case. Politically, however, it's very awkward for the Republican Party in Ohio, the key state for President Bush's re-election last year. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles is covering the story. Jo, first of all, the governor doesn't have to resign. He's going to remain in office.

JO INGLES (Ohio Public Radio): No, he does not have to resign, and he says he will remain in office. He says that the people of Ohio elected him, and that he has work to do. He wants to continue to, what he says, improve Ohio's schools. He also says he wants to continue to work on Ohio's lagging economy, bring jobs into Ohio and work on high-tech research and development.

CHADWICK: But what is the background here? I mean, he's really embarrassed himself and others in the administration. How did this come about?

INGLES: Well, he admitted this morning in court that he was quite embarrassed, but, you know, basically, he's the first governor in Ohio to ever face criminal charges. He did not claim these golf outings and gifts on financial disclosure statements, and Ohio law says that anyone who holds a political office, a public office, needs to file those reports. And what even kind of makes it worse is he didn't discover this discrepancy until after a scandal emerged here in the state of Ohio with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. That's the agency that takes care of injured workers. There were some bad investments over there, possibly in excess of a half a billion dollars worth of bad investments, and when the authorities started looking into those bad investments, then Governor Taft discovered these discrepancies, and he says that at that point, he filed an amended report, and that's what's led to these charges.

CHADWICK: Are there people there calling on him to resign? I imagine the Democrats are making some political use of this. How about the Republicans?

INGLES: Well, you know, the Democrats--they are pouncing on Governor Taft for this. They feel like he has let the state down, but right now, we don't have anyone calling for his resignation from the Democratic side. However, there are some Republicans coming out, and they're saying it's time for him to step down. One thing about Governor Taft is that he currently holds the lowest poll rating of any governor in the country, 19 percent at the last poll that was taken, and that was before this scandal and the court appearance and everything emerged. And so that's possibly even lower than 19 percent right now. And the question has come up among many, in both the Republican and Democratic Party, can this governor really lead when he doesn't have mass support of people?

CHADWICK: Lowest national approval rating--there's a distinction you wouldn't be looking for. The Tafts, of course, have a great political history in Ohio.

INGLES: Oh, sure. Our governor, Bob Taft, is actually the great-grandson of William Howard Taft. Bob Taft, our governor, has come from a long line of political leaders in Ohio and, by and large, the Taft name has always been unblemished. This is very hard for Governor Taft. He was visibly stressed this morning, and he admitted several times that he was embarrassed.

CHADWICK: Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles. Jo, thank you. you.

INGLES: Thank you.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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