It’s campaign season and J. Kenneth Blackwell’s political machinery has kicked into high gear. On a hot, humid summer day — more than two months after he won the GOP primary to become the Republican nominee in the race for the governorship of Ohio — the solid, 6-foot-4 political veteran endures yet another whirlwind schedule. Traveling across the state in a modest, nondescript minivan, he’ll log more than 500 miles to meet key constituents and possible donors.
At 9 a.m., his first stop is Cincinnati’s spanking new convention center. He stands at the podium in a cavernous ballroom, addressing hundreds of African American police officials as part of a conference for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Blackwell, who served as the city’s mayor more than 25 years ago, intimately knows the challenges of local police officers. He begins with an everyman tale of how his father, a meatpacker, used hard work and determination to pull his family out of public housing. He then shares a coming-of-age tale of learning about industry and responsibility by selling peanuts and working in a funeral parlor. Then in his deliberate, measured style, Blackwell delivers his core message — complete with Biblical references — on the value of community service. He tells the crowd that they represent “more than the sentry in the watchtower. You must not only be in the community but of the community…We cannot give lip service to the challenges. None of us can take a sideline position. It requires education … an obligation to give back … we must lift as we climb — not as sentries or palace guards — but as role models.”
As he finishes his speech, thunderous applause fills the room. Checking his watch, Blackwell leaves the podium to join his entourage of political handlers and security guards. Over the next few hours, his team will travel 102 miles to Columbus, where the candidate will meet a group of black CEOs. After that session, they must make a 143-mile trek to Cleveland so that Blackwell can share his views on economic development with heads of some of the state’s major corporations. En route to these engagements, Blackwell operates from the backseat of his van, reviewing position papers and newspaper articles one minute and calling campaign staff via cell phone the next. Between conversations with his political operatives, Blackwell discusses how he would cure the litany of ills that plague a state that is 47th in job creation and dead last in the nation when it comes to business startups. “There are three things that we are going to have to do to change the nature of our economic situation statewide to get the economy expanding and producing jobs: moving to a single-rate tax system over the next four years; cutting our capital gains tax; changing our residency requirements via state tax; and reducing lawsuit abuse, better known as tort reform,” he asserts, ticking off items that, in his view, choke business investment. “If you put risk-taking at risk, you put entrepreneurship