7-18-14 WHAT WOULD REAGAN DO?

Believe it or not, I had this week’s column outlined in my head before the Malaysian jet was shot down over the Ukraine this week. I happened to be reading Ronald Reagan’s autobiography last weekend and was ready to write about the different approaches to leadership Reagan took as compared to those of the current President.

In my house, FoxNews is usually on somewhere in the background. (Yes, I know I’m getting my news with a conservative bias – I trust myself to filter it.) I came home Thursday night to footage of the speech Reagan delivered in 1983 following the Russian downing of a Korean passenger plane. Megyn Kelly was contrasting that with President Obama’s response to the current disaster, where he hinted at tragedy before telling some jokes and heading off to a fund-raiser, not to be heard from again that night. Other Fox personalities also noted the contrast.

Well, it wasn’t the example I was going to use, but it’s exactly on point with what I had been planning to write. I just missed the chance to be prophetic.

The topic: leadership and politics. Our current President is intensely interested in one and seemingly annoyed at the obligations of the other – I’ll let the reader pick which so as not to be labeled a racist. (Be careful how you choose reader, very careful.)

This isn’t about ideology. FDR was every bit as good at accomplishing his goals as Reagan was at accomplishing his.  Knowing what to do intuitively, being able to convince others to come along, and having the resolve to move forward despite bad polls – that’s the subject here. Reagan made hugely unpopular decisions in his time but carried them through until they proved right.

Reagan won the Cold War and he saved millions of lives in the way he did it. It wasn’t like the killing of Osama Bin Laden where the President had no more to do with it than saying “Go!”  The whole strategy of bringing down the evil empire came from Reagan and his staff. It was innovative but it was also political dynamite – very easy to criticize in the short-term. Early on, Reagan took a bath in the polls.

In retrospect, the decline of the Soviet Union might seem to have been inevitable. In 1981, nothing seemed inevitable. After four years of appeasement under Jimmy Carter, we were well behind the Soviets in the arms race and everyone on both sides was scared feces-less.  But Reagan noticed how globally stretched on credit the Soviets were (similar to where we are now). If America utilized its superior economy to outspend the Russians in arms, the Soviet Union could very well collapse trying to keep up.

The Left screamed for arms reduction, as if the Soviets were ready to agree to such a thing. They labeled Reagan a warmonger for the dramatic increase in military spending. It would have been politically expedient to change course, but Reagan didn’t. Eventually, the Soviet Union did collapse, unable to financially maintain the grip on its empire. We won the most critical war this world has known so far without firing a shot.

Reagan dealt with his enemies decisively, but he was just as decisive in handling friends. The Iran-Contra affair involved Israel selling arms to a moderate element in Iran that was helping to negotiate the release of hostages held by terrorists. When Oliver North illegally diverted some of the money from the sales to support the Contras opposing communism in Central America, a scandal ensued.

What did Reagan do? He immediately appointed a special prosecutor, knowing that it would be the end of his National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who knew of the transfers. Any appearance of impropriety in government beyond the few bad actors was promptly eliminated. You could trust the Reagan government.

Reagan’s famous tax cuts that led to a decade of prosperity were passed through a Democratic Congress. In contrast, President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act without one Republican vote, creating the bitterest bi-partisanship in this country’s history. He now refuses to work with Congress at all – it’s too difficult.

The President refuses to hold friends accountable, prohibiting some from answering questions about the IRS and Benghazi and allowing others to arrogantly ignore requests for information. He changes course on tough political questions – like he did a few weeks ago on immigration – when his big donors disagree with him.

His international strategy is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. What will be our response to the jet downing? What can our allies or enemies expect from us? Who are our allies and our enemies anymore? What is our long-term strategy with Iraq, Iran, Israel and Russia? Is there one? Even if it’s non-intervention, why isn’t that clear?

With Reagan, you knew where he stood on an issue as soon as you asked him. When air traffic controllers went on strike, they were fired. Air traffic controllers didn’t go on strike anymore. When IRS agents illegally targeted conservatives, Obama was outraged. What happened next? Nothing. Not one person held accountable.

That old footage of Reagan has to make the staunchest liberal long for the days when the country’s leader exuded commitment and strength. Whatever this leader has been exuding for five and a half years, it doesn’t resemble either of those two things.

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7-11-13 FOR A STRONGER 4-H AND A TAX CUT

In the Commissioners’ office, we hear complaints daily about this or that government office. We also hear complaints daily from this or that government office. If you are looking for a job where you are constantly bombarded with praise and good news, this ain’t it.

One of the few government-sponsored programs – maybe the only one – with virtually universal support is 4-H. (And by saying that, I am guaranteed messages on my phone by Tuesday telling me what’s horrible about 4-H.)

4-H is Ohio State Extension’s premier program. Largely identified by its livestock shows, it also promotes youth studies in computers, cooking, public speaking – something for just about everyone who wants to be involved in learning outside the classroom.

OSU Extension promotes our local 4-H through its agricultural offices out at the Fairgrounds. This office is taxpayer supported through a levy that generates about $200,000 annually. Extension’s economic development office has separate funding.

Extension recently approached us about putting this levy on the ballot for renewal – it is up at the end of next year. County Commissioners, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code, have to approve the levy before it can be voted up or down by the electorate, meaning we have the only opportunity to request specific changes. You will get a simple yes or no option in the voting booth.

Outside of 4-H, there are other Extension programs supported by this levy. Before putting it up for renewal, we have some questions about the programs that aren’t 4-H.

My fellow Commissioners are from the agricultural community. They polled a small sampling of people only to discover what we already suspected- that Extension’s role as disseminator of information to the farming community has diminished with the rise of technology. The role of the Extension Agent has been largely replaced by Google and various local reps from within the ag industry.

4-H is still viewed as the indispensable Extension program. With this in mind, we have requested that the levy be redesigned to strengthen 4-H locally and perhaps cut unnecessary programs. It is also a concern that since we finance Extension more than our neighbors, that Van Wert County taxpayers are being burdened with providing services to the entire region while other counties skate.

If there is a perceived need for other Extension programs besides 4-H, we haven’t heard it yet – feel free to contact us. As of now, it’s our inclination to request that the 4-H program be more heavily funded and the others less so. Much less so, perhaps.

If we were to put the same levy up for renewal, that would be handing $200,000 to OSU Extension to spend as it sees fit. It has been a focus of our office to make sure that if an outside agency is receiving local funding it has accountability to local taxpayers. Common sense, you say? That simple premise has led to exhaustive objection.

But we are at a point where we can turn a corner with Extension generally. A new regional director started last month, Cynthia Torppa. In our few communications with her, she seems committed to tailor all branches of OSU Extension to the needs of our community. This is in contrast of the past regional director who seemed determined to tailor all our needs to fit the goals of Extension.

A key to good fiscal conservatism is cutting unnecessary programs when you don’t have to. The levy as is doesn’t cost the individual taxpayer a big pile of cash, but it costs the county as a whole one such pile. If the levy is halved, $100,000 is immediately put back into the hands of Van Wert County taxpayers. If we can work with Extension on such a levy that still strengthens 4-H, then that’s what we intend to give to voters instead of a mindless renewal.

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7-4-14 INDEPENDENCE 238 YEARS LATER

Why would you trade 1 tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants less than 1 mile away?” – Mather Byles’ quote from colonial times used in the movie “The Patriot”

Despite popular misconception, America was never meant to be a democracy. A pure democracy, also known as mob rule, rivals a dictatorship in its lack of protections for its citizens. We were meant to be a constitutional republic.

It is noteworthy that our first national document is titled “The Declaration of Independence” and not “The Declaration of Separation” or even ”The Declaration of Revolution”. We started by declaring ourselves independent, stating that we were born free, able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as we individually saw fit – and we meant to keep it that way.

238 years later, the Progressive movement, after a century’s incubation, has manufactured the consent of the mob into the greatest force of anti-independence our republic has known – a stronger force of subjugation than King George ever sent. After all, the British taxes we rebelled against were trivial compared to the rates we pay today. He may have had his redcoats, but even in his madness, George never dreamt punitive schemes that could rival the EPA or the IRS.

The Progressive mob, with free cell phones in one hand and a ballot in the other, re-elected a blatantly failed president. It does not care if its policies have disastrous long-term effects – maintaining independence is not its goal, not even in its top ten. It only cares that some people have more and others have less. Its only guiding metric is that hazy subjective target of fairness. And nothing short of total surrender will satisfy its demands, as was demonstrated in its response to two Supreme Court decisions last week.

In one case, Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations were found able to refuse to insure what are basically abortion drugs. Hobby Lobby still must insure 16 other birth control options. Progressives claim this extremely limited ruling to be part of the conservative “War on Women”, even though half of the fertilized eggs killed by the pills would eventually turn into women. Pretended outrage ensued.

The other case found that a few home health care providers in Illinois don’t have to join a union. What about the indentured servitude of all employees forced to pay union dues contra the freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment? If you want to see what a real fight against public unions looks like, read Scott Walker’s book “Unintimidated.” This ruling was laughably limited but again, pretended outrage ensued.

These decisions were hailed as victories for conservatives. If these are what constitute conservative victories, then the mob has already won. These rulings are worse than nothing at all because they pretend to be something and only serve to rally the mob.

The Constitution is no longer the safeguard against the mob that it was intended to be. Conservative justices, in their reluctance to overturn precedent, will never reinstate its protections. They struggle to declare even the obvious, as they did last week, in the face of the Progressive media storms. Liberal justices only await the discovery of the next loophole to expand government. Brother, it’s a rigged game.

Americans generally don’t know what the rest of the world does – that independence is not the natural state of things, tyranny is. And, ironically, after all this time, the biggest threat to American independence is its incredible success, a success so great it has created the luxury of apathy. Even a $17 trillion debt fails to intimidate in the face of the inescapable inertia created through our past liberty.

Our independence is a Catch-22. Those who appreciate the freedom for which our founders fought tend toward just wanting to be left alone. That spells trouble for organized movements, as the Tea Party discovered when it was hijacked by some poor candidates and a few unapologetic racists. Freedom needs a guiding force.

We all live better than King George did 238 years ago – even the poor have cars, electricity, microwaves, and in-door plumbing. The ultimate goal of the Progressive mob is that we forget that independence, not entitlement, is why this is so – and they are advancing. As thousands of illegals flow across the border, at what point does this mob reach critical mass? At what point does apathy deserve tyranny? Nothing says this has to last forever – Rome and Britain each once had inescapable inertia as well.

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6-27-14 IRAQ AND US: CRAZY IS AS CRAZY DOES

Political correctness dictates never to label as “crazy” beliefs held by a culture. Instead, utilize euphemisms such as “unique”, “intriguing”, or, at worst, “misunderstood”. The Islamic radicals that just invaded Iraq from Syria hold to the belief that everyone in the world that does not agree with them should be killed.

Hard to misunderstand that. To paraphrase the old country song, if calling them crazy is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

But then there’s us. After over a decade of failed experiments in nation-building, there are still calls from some of our leaders for immediate re-engagement in Iraq. Bombs, troops, helicopters – kill some sense into ‘em.

One measure of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. By that metric, where does that crowd stand on the crazy scale?

It’s safe to say that we are done nation-building in that part of the world. Fini. What seemed like a noble but ludicrous proposition – transforming Iraq into a democratic beacon for the entire Middle East – turned out to be just that. Admit it, even if you are a Republican, when George W. first unveiled that plan, you secretly rolled your eyes. It was just so George W.

So, if we are not looking to nation-build anymore and we are not looking to topple a government, what is the ultimate goal beyond killing just as many of them as we can? To feel good? Where are we hoping to be when that dust settles? Would killing all of the crazies bouncing around in the back of those Toyota trucks solve anything or accomplish any long term American objectives?

Our own heritage should be exhumed. Despite what else political correctness dictates, it’s fair to say that we are a nation founded in Christianity. So we know about Jesus. We know that his teachings made for a better way of life, but it was his crucifixion that made a religion. Killing a person tends to do the opposite to the idea that person represents.

In the Middle East, we are, and always have been, fighting an idea disguised as insane people. It’s a simple idea but sometimes those are the most catchy, like an early Beatles’ tune. It’s not an idea familiar in the Western World, so we will never understand it. Not totally. We can kill the people who hold the idea, but in doing so, we’re sanctifying the idea. I mean, 72 virgins is one thing, but 72 virgins and revenge on whoever killed your family? That’s downright motivational.

What do you do for a part of the world that has no aspiration other than to get its Jihad on? From the American experience, the hope should be that they want to Jihad all over each other, as they did quietly for centuries before we started buying their oil. Now, that is apparently what they desire again if we would just let them. Iran, if you think Israel is a problem, let us introduce you to our little friends.

We are at a point in history where we can be a peaceful country again. We are possibly one election away from proceeding with energy independence and our first freedom from the Middle East in almost three generations – long enough ago that no one remembers a nation that wasn’t perpetually at war or on the verge of war. No one else in the world is foolish enough to want to tangle with our military. Although we can’t impose freedom on the world, it is finally available to us again.

There are the innocents in Iraq that will be brutalized by these invaders. But this is their war. We have tried to fight it for them and that doesn’t work. We’ve learned that nations aren’t formed through our sacrifice. If they are never willing to fight, there’s nothing we can do for them in the end anyway.

There is the danger of the formation of a terrorist state. Maybe, but let them get bogged down with trying to govern. Heighten our intelligence, build an invisible fence around it all and watch it like a hawk, as I’m sure we do North Korea – a rogue state with nukes. Eventually, as this terrorist state fights its neighbors over the years, it will forget all about us.

It’s a human tragedy but it’s not ours. We have officially tried more than we ever should have to fix the unfixable, costing us thousands of our own sons and daughters and billions of dollars. We are only as crazy as our inability to learn. The last twenty-five years have been, to say the least, instructive.

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6-13-14 Ben Carson: The Man Who Could Save Us All

If he runs in 2016, Ben Carson will be the first presidential candidate since George Washington who can put “performed miracles” on his resume. Washington pulled off the impossible by winning the American Revolution. Carson’s miracles came in the world of brain surgery back in the 1980s.

The movie Gifted Hands, a biopic starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., captures Carson’s rise from poverty and ignorance in 1960s Detroit. Carson’s mother, who saw her sons failing in school but could not even read herself, turned young Ben’s life around when she shut off the television and made him and his older brother start reading two books a week. The track from there to performing unimagined procedures on the operating table and saving the lives of children makes for a good flick.

Carson is being recruited by an element in the Republican Party to run for the highest office in the world in 2016. According to his last two books, “America the Beautiful” (2012) and “One Nation” (last month), this could be problematic. Carson is a professed independent who identifies bipartisan rancor as one of our country’s defining problems. In short, he’s not your typical party-line candidate and won’t be. If he decides to run as a Republican, it will be on his own terms.

Republicans, at least conservative Republicans, should be able to live with that. Carson worships in the temple of logic. Although in his books he repeatedly emphasizes how everyone needs to examine both sides of any argument, whenever he applies reason to a current issue, he lands squarely in the conservative camp. One could say he’s right-thinking.

In fact, the problem with a Carson candidacy may be his love of meditative deduction. The American public long ago abandoned logic in its politics. We like to applaud, not think, at the end of a politician saying something. Mostly, we already have our minds made up and just want someone to say what we’re already thinking. It’s too early to tell if Carson will be able to maintain the soft-spoken, patient approach that he now takes with the media after the media, which never much cares for long-term reasoned approaches, turns on him, and it will.

He advocates cutting corporate tax rates (America has the highest in the world) to spur economic growth. He advocates self-reliance and not handouts to eliminate poverty. He advocates what amounts to a flat tax on income.

He also strongly advocates against Obamacare. What he does that Republicans haven’t been able to do is provide a viable alternative. His plan highlights expanded Health Savings Accounts to encourage patient responsibility and government funded medical school for aspiring doctors – his closest thing to a liberal proposal. As a surgeon, he knows that tort reform is an absolute must.

To balance the budget, he proposes an across the board cut in every federal agency of 10%. If that doesn’t fix it, another 10% cut the next year. That would be a practical way to get there and force tough decisions on the people who are supposed to be making them instead of on the next two or three generations.

Carson brings what few other conservatives can: street cred. As an African-American from Detroit, he may say many of the same things Mitt Romney said, but no minority from the inner city gave a flying expletive what Romney ever had to say about anything – they tuned out at “I’m Mitt Romn-.” Romney was a good guy and did his mission work, and, most importantly, was right in his arguments. But he never lived in hopeless poverty.

And although Bill Cosby has been preaching self-reliance and the value of the traditional family to the African-American community for years, there is still a “yeah, but” attitude when the likes of Cosby, people with extraordinary talent, say it. Might as well be Michael Jordan saying that if you just work hard, you can be like Mike. (But what if I can’t jump?) Carson’s life is on display and it’s something real – start by reading two books a week.

Carson experienced racism when racism wasn’t taboo and he doesn’t hold grudges about it, at least not outwardly. In 2012, President Obama got 100% of the vote in some all black districts. Carson v. Hillary – those districts are up for grabs. And as a man of a more accepted faith, the Evangelicals who stayed home rather than vote for a Mormon would be out in full force for Carson. Further, I would wager that over 95% of the people who voted for Mitt would also vote for Ben.

It may take someone with these kinds of credentials to do some of the things that obviously need done and someone of Carson’s intellect to do other things that aren’t so obvious. If he does run, he will be coming at a perfect time for conservatism. After an eight-year experiment with socialism, America will be primed for the opposite. Take the time to read his books and watch his movie – this might be the guy who could save us all.

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6-6-14 Bowe Bergdahl: The New American Hero

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address. January, 1961.

Whether or not John F. Kennedy was one of our great presidents is debatable. He got kicked around something fierce in his first year in office. The Bay of Pigs invasion was one of the most botched operations in U.S. history and the botching was largely Kennedy’s. Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, to bolster his world image, took the opportunity of a peace conference in Berlin to kick around the young American President who was naively looking for a restart in Cold War relations. The same strategy would work for Vladimir Putin five decades later.

But Kennedy learned from mistakes and by the Cuban Missile Crisis in his second year, he showed a determination that re-inspired a nation. As the last Democratic president before the meaning of being a Democrat changed, he cut taxes. He was, in fact, a Tea Party Democrat.

Hard to tell what he would have done with more than a thousand days. Perhaps his philandering or his chronic back pain might have limited him. But what is not in dispute is the fact that Kennedy was a war hero. His actions after the sinking of PT-109 to save the survivors of his crew are well documented – the subject of books and movies. He was of the Greatest Generation that fought and won World War II. When he implored to ‘ask not what your country can do for you’, people believed he meant it and they cheered. Leadership, 1961.

Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, a Senator who immediately set about transforming America into the “Great Society.” The Senate is where you gain prominence by securing government handouts for your home constituents. After Johnson, we had not had a Senator elected to the White House until President Obama, who, it could be said, is completing the bejesus out of the Johnson mission of pervasive government dependence.

Fast forward to this week’s negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Gitmo. That Bergdahl was considered a deserter by his platoon was known. It now is further coming out that several of his fellow platoon members believe that Bergdahl likely aided the enemy in planning attacks against them.

The White House knew of Bergdahl’s desertion and possible treason. That isn’t to say he should be left behind, but this trade cost us much more than five enemy combatants and is indicative of what we have become – a country that can’t be trusted.

The Obama administration initially tried to hail Bergdahl as a hero – a soldier brought home to his family from enemy captivity after honorably serving his country. Poor Susan Rice – sent out to lie (again) on the Sunday morning talk shows about the urgency of completing the deal due to Bergdahl’s health. This was the reason, she said, why the administration didn’t follow the law and consult Congress first. Turns out his health was not in danger. One wonders if Rice shivers when the White House calls to say, “Here are your talking points for Sunday.”

Soldiers may or may not have lost their lives searching for Bergdahl, but some certainly lost their lives in capturing the five Taliban that were exchanged. How do you explain this to those soldiers’ families? How do you explain it to our Afghan allies, or any of our allies, who are now justified in every misgiving they had about us. The Afghans will now have to deal with these five Taliban in the inevitable and perpetual civil war that will resume once we leave.

There are columns arguing that the five Taliban would have been released soon anyway as the war is ending and enemy soldiers are always released at the end of combat. That’s crazy. We aren’t fighting Germany or even North Korea where released prisoners go back to serve their country. We’re releasing Taliban who believe it is their holy mission to kill everyone who disagrees with them, including their own countrymen. Those put into the most immediate danger as a result of this exchange are Afghan women.

From a President whose greatest accomplishment so far is being quick to announce and take credit for the intelligence community’s and the Navy Seals’ killing of Osama Bin Laden, this is no surprise. Heroes are made not in actions, but in announcements. The release of Bergdahl made for the perfect announcement, with his parents there as Rose Garden ornaments.

It would be nice to think that the five Taliban thugs who were just released have some sort of tracking device imbedded in them and that there will be a glorious series of drone strikes a few years from now. No one believes that is going to happen. What is more likely is a series of kidnappings because we now negotiate with terrorists.

This is what we gave up for Sgt. Bergdahl, deserter. It is tragically ironic that Bergdahl’s release comes in the same week as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, where there was a shore full of Americans who died not deserting their country. Bergdahl is the new American hero – President Obama’s kind of hero. No sacrifice required. He deserted his post to help people who would like nothing more than to see America, its people, and its liberties wiped from the face of the Earth. But it makes a tidier photo op than dead bloody soldiers on a beach.

We may be only fifty-three years from Kennedy’s inaugural address, but we are light years from being the crowd that cheered it.

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5-30-14 Think Different Part III – The Phoenix Initiative

Educated in a small town/ Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town/ Used to daydream in that small town/ Another boring romantic that’s me. – John Mellencamp.

I was born in Defiance, Ohio, which isn’t really a small town, but lived the first few years of my life in Ayersville, which is. My dad was a math teacher and a job at Lincolnview in the early 1970s transplanted our family to Hoaglin Township. The small town of my childhood became Middle Point.

Growing up in a small community, one develops predictable allegiances. The movie Hoosiers may have caught the attention of city kids, but there was more in it than Jimmy Chitwood’s last second shot to us hayseeds. Gene Hackman’s drive through the villages of the Indiana countryside trying to find Hickory resonated strongly, as did the people he found – those were our grandparents. The gyms of that movie were the gyms we played junior high basketball in in the 1980s and that are now mostly gone. Oddly, also gone are most of the gyms where we played high school basketball in the 1980s.

The small town still thrives in Northwest Ohio. But Van Wert County struggles more than our neighbors because our small towns, save Convoy, have lost their schools. Back in the Hoosiers era, the Van Wert County basketball tournament was something – York, Van-Del, Convoy-Union, Wren, Willshire, Hoaglin-Jackson, Ohio City-Liberty. All of those are now absorbed into something else, something bigger.

Without the schools and with Wal-Mart eliminating the utility of most of our village stores, there is a creeping sense of decline in our villages. My question two years ago was what can be done to change that? I sought advice from Jared Ebbing, the Community Development Director of Mercer County, where small towns seem to thrive like nowhere else.

We already utilize some of Ebbing’s strategies. Rebuilding infrastructure through Community Development Block Grants and other funding has been steady. Convoy got its highway rebuilt last summer, Middle Point will get major upgrades soon, and Ohio City is progressing through the first stages of another large grant. We’re learning how to use the revolving loan fund to enable more projects.

But what stuck with me from my time with Ebbing was a story he told about a company looking to locate near Mercer County. The company was deciding between two locations and Celina was geographically between them. The company’s rep stopped for a meet-and-greet with Ebbing as he was passing from one to the other, just to make contact and introduce himself. Ebbing asked the guy if he could just have an hour of his time.

Ebbing proceeded to take him on a quick tour of Mercer County. I don’t remember which towns, but seems like Coldwater, Fort Recovery and St. Henry were involved. The company rep was impressed. He brought back some of his compatriots later for an expanded tour. That company, after having narrowed its choices to two sites prior to its visit, Celina being neither of them, located in Celina and is now one of its larger employers. But it wasn’t Celina that closed the deal, it was the rest of the county.

Our towns are actually in decent shape – there are still mostly nice homes out there. It’s just that one damn windowless, roof-caved-in, abandoned house on every other block that makes each of our villages seem like they’re falling down.

One of the more successful programs I had a chance to be involved with last year was called Move Ohio Forward where the state provided grant money to tear down dilapidated homes. The cost of the average teardown, even with the EPA’s ever over-involvement, wasn’t outrageous – usually between six and ten thousand per home.

The Phoenix Initiative is something I have put forward to further this effort. The idea is that the county can partner with a village or a township to tear down a house – sharing the cost fifty-fifty. A lien would be placed on the property with hopes to later recoup the investment. But just the elimination of a neglected and crumbling house would be worth the cost multiple times over for the rest of the community and the county – and, in the end, to the ability of the City of Van Wert and Delphos to attract large employers.

It’s not as easy as all that, though. You’d think you could just pick a junk house and proceed. But some of the owners of these properties have what might be termed delusions of profitability. The trick is getting permission to tear things down – eminent domain is easy for the feds, not the locals. But if we can get just one a year in each of our villages, a disturbing trend could be reversed prior to its becoming irreversible.

Our small towns may never have industry like Leipsic, New Bremen or Ottoville. But they can certainly be the shining, quiet, desirable bedroom communities they used to be. It’s counterintuitive, but to build well, we need to look harder at tearing down.

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5-23-14 Think Different Part II – College Arrives

May 21, 2014. Mark that date on your calendar – it could be the low water mark in Van Wert County history, the point where real change began. This past Wednesday, Ohio’s Board of Regents designated Northwest State as the community college provider for Van Wert County.

What’s so significant about that, you ask? Northwest State has been in the county for years now. What’s significant is that it clears the way for that institution to begin making real investment in our county. Prior to Wednesday, Van Wert County was one of the few undesignated counties in the entire state. Although some institutions, including Northwest State, tested our waters with a smattering of courses, no one was willing to make a full-fledged commitment.

Northwest State being designated as the provider keeps other colleges from swooping in and undercutting any success it might develop here. If it demonstrates a profitable market, without a designation, others could come and start offering the same courses. I know, it sounds like a monopoly, which normally isn’t good. In the world of higher education, though, it’s what allows a community college some security to invest.

Now, when I ran for commissioner, I wanted a branch campus, not a community college. I have since changed my mind. This is better, and for almost every reason.   In the Lima News just last weekend there was an article about how enrollment is down at every Ohio State branch in the state, dropping 20% since 2009. Lima’s branch is down 28% in that span. This is, no

doubt, more than partially attributable to the options now available at UNOH in Lima. But branch campuses are receding because community colleges can now do what they used to do and more – and cheaper.

In the past, branch colleges offered affordable, transferrable college credits close to home. That can now be accomplished at community colleges. I’ve written in past columns about TAG (Transfer Assurance Guarantee) classes. You spend more than half your time at a major campus getting the liberal arts taken care of for that bachelor’s degree – math, science, social studies, history, etc. Now these classes can be taken at a community college and they are required by law to be accepted at any Ohio institution.

Further, community colleges can offer certificate courses. Not everyone needs a four-year degree. Many employers just need someone that has a rudimentary understanding of computers, electronics, or industrial maintenance. The jobs of the future are going to require an education, but not necessarily abstract thinking about Napoleon’s mistakes at Waterloo or the Theory of Relativity.

Northwest State can bring any of the outlying benefits of bigger institutions through partnering. According to Mari Yoder, its Vice President for Institutional Advancement, that is something Northwest State already does and will look to do more. For example, it offers a plastics program with the University of Toledo and bachelor’s degrees and MBAs with Bluffton University. Yoder says the programs at community colleges evolve around the needs of the community.

“Our welding program was shrinking for years until six or seven years ago when a company located in Hicksville that needed a lot of welders. Then some other companies came along needing welders and now that’s a big program we offer again.”

A local example is a program on windmill maintenance Northwest State is working on in a partnership with Vantage. It also already partners with Wright State on some courses. Yoder says a consortium with multiple colleges would not only be accepted, but sought out.

What used to be called dual enrollment and post secondary education is morphing into something called College Credit Plus. The larger presence of Northwest State locally can allow something like Becca Gear, a Patrick Henry senior who will graduate soon. Gear, recently featured in the Defiance Crescent News, took classes through Northwest State while in high school. She will start school next fall at Ohio State University’s main campus – as a junior.

After taking the College Credit Plus courses in high school, Gear has an associate’s degree and the first two years of college completed. Her cost for completing those two years of college in high school: $2,000 for the courses she took through the summer (classes during the school year are generally free.) Those two years at Ohio State main campus: around $50,000. That’s real money bro.

At Northwest State, the cost of a credit hour is $146. According to Yoder, the cheapest rate you’ll find at a university is somewhere closer to $300. Even if you don’t get it done in high school as Becca Gear did, you can better afford it close to home at any point in your life.

Community colleges have been around for decades, but not here. One is coming at the perfect time. Whatever might fill that Megasite (or Super Site as it now seems to want to be known) is going to love this for the development of its workforce and for its workforce’s kids. Mark May 21, 2014 on your calendar. It was the day that Van Wert, an aging community with a steady population decline, got younger for the first time in as long as anyone can remember.

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5-16-14 Think Different – Compressed Natural Gas

A focus in our county economic development efforts has been to think different. Of course, that slogan is stolen from 1990s Apple, Inc. but it seemed to work for them so I don’t mind plagiarizing for the county’s sake. Thinking different is how we are coming to have a compressed natural gas station in Van Wert – the first in what should be a long line of innovations to come.

A few months ago, Economic Development Director Sarah Smith was talking with Phil Burnette, a local green energy proponent, about incorporating a renewable energy fair into our county fair. (Another something new for later this year.) With our windmill fields, we are interesting to green energy companies and a green energy fair in Wisconsin draws quite an annual crowd. Smith asked Burnette about a particular green energy in which she had an interest – compressed natural gas (CNG). Burnette put Smith in contact with Ron Wyss of Tersus Terra Energies. Wyss represents several renewable energy companies, including Trillium, a CNG supplier. (You may have seen Mr. Wyss sporting around town in his Tesla car a few weeks ago.)

From Smith’s previous contacts with Cooper Farms, she knew that company was looking at switching their trucks to CNG if they could find a supply. The chips fell into place pretty quickly from there, to the point where you might have read in the vwindependent and The Times Bulletin this week that a Trillium CNG station is targeted for Van Wert in the near future.

CNG has been around for a few decades but the lack of stations and the relative equality in costs between natural gas and oil made the development of vehicles and infrastructure impractical. Until now that is. With the boom brought by fracking, suddenly the equivalent cost of a gallon of CNG is about half that of gas and diesel. In Oklahoma, CNG costs just a little over a dollar a gallon. (My source: the internet.)

CNG is safer than gasoline. It’s hard to catch on fire even if you’re trying. If a truck crashes and the tank leaks, guess what happens to CNG? It evaporates. Greenhouse gas emissions are about a third less than gasoline.

According to Bill Evans, Branch Manager of Kenworth Trucks of Dayton (and, incidentally, also Ridge Township Trustee and old school chum of mine), CNG has been rapidly growing in the regional freight hauling business. One freight owner told Evans he saved $724,000 last year on his fleet of 24 trucks having switched them to CNG.

“Some big advantages besides the cost savings are that it’s domestically produced, which reduces our dependance on foreign oil,” Evans told me. “It’s a lot safer and cleaner. It’s been big in over-the-road trucking and waste hauling for some time but as more stations are built, it’s going to become more practical for people looking at CNG cars. If there’s a station built in Van Wert, I’ll be looking at one.”

Call it coincidence, but when I called Bill on Thursday for more info on CNG, he was on his commute home from Dayton. That day in Dayton, a new CNG station had opened. The price per gallon – $2.24.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that converting just 350,000 of the 2 million 18 wheelers on the road from burning imported diesel fuel to domestic natural gas would create 420,000 jobs directly and an additional 1.2 million jobs indirectly. This is the economic boom on the horizon you’ve been hearing about.

Cars can be converted to run off of CNG, but the costs are from $4,000 to $12,000 for the conversion. The only light car produced as a CNG vehicle in the factory is the Honda Civic GX. The price tag on that according to Honda’s website is $26,640 – a comparable Civic is $5,000 less. But that is changing. As natural gas becomes even more abundant – Pennsylvania says it doesn’t know what to do with what it already has – CNG cars will start being mass produced, putting the price more on par with conventional vehicles. The infrastructure, already in the works, will be created at hyper-speed.

Trillium only needs 1.34 acres to build a Van Wert station. It can use the gas supply lines already in place and compress the gas on site. It needs a use commitment of 400,000 gallons a year to justify construction, which it already has from Coopers, Custom Assembly, and a few others. Since the story hit the media, we’ve received calls from other intersted parties wanting in on the action. Local freight carriers won’t be far behind.

Along with the one just opened in Dayton, there are CNG stations in Kenton, Findlay, and Fort Wayne. For awhile, if we get this built, we’re going to be unique, even cutting edge. It won’t be long until everyone catches up with us, but they’ll be doing just that when they do – catching up.

And like them or loathe them, we have the windmills. They’re not nearly as interesting to the people who live among them as they are to people from everywhere else, but it’s the people from everywhere else that we’re looking to attract– the rich people with businesses whose shareholders think anything relating to green energy is cool. With one of the area’s first CNG stations, we will become even a little bit cooler to those people.

To paraphrase Bill Murray in Caddyshack, “So we have that going for us, which is nice.”

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5-9-14 Windmills Part IV – Where They Stand

It has become a defining issue in our county – two sharp divisions have formed and there appears to be little common ground. Those who oppose the construction of wind farms see them as a plague on an otherwise beautifully flat Northwest Ohio landscape. Those who are in favor see them as the beginning of a green energy utopia. And both see the other side’s position as Quixotic (to bring in the most famous literary use of windmills) if not downright sinister.

The issue is defining because we are ground zero for wind energy in Ohio. There are no other wind farms in operation in the state besides the ones in Van Wert and Paulding Counties. The issue has become more fevered with the proposed construction of Iberdrola’s Dog Creek project, which is to be located entirely within the Lincolnview School District. The new mills are to be constructed in four townships – Ridge, Hoaglin, Washington, and Jackson – south of US 224 and north of US 30.

Iberdrola’s operational wind farm (Blue Creek) was built while the county had an Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ) in effect. The AEZ set tax rates at a level favorable to the wind companies. County commissioners can create an AEZ without input from the townships, and that was exactly how the initial AEZ was implemented before any of us were in office.

Early in 2013, the townships, through their elected trustees, approached us about eliminating the AEZ and giving them control of the taxing issue. Normally, if a business wants special tax treatment upon locating in the county, the township trustees negotiate any tax abatements. The question was asked as to why wind farms should be any different? The windmills are not to be located throughout the entire county but in a particular area where the residents are represented by a local government. It was a good question.

After several meetings where we sought input from anyone who could tell us anything about wind farms, we eliminated the AEZ. This does not mean we made it so windmills could not be built in our county. If a farmer signs a lease, a windmill can be built so long as standards for setbacks are met. The catch is that Iberdrola says it cannot afford to build and operate windmills, even with the generous government subsidies, without the special tax treatment.

The only discussion is, in fact, tax abatement – if there should be any at all and what it should be if there is. The four townships have formed their own committee to discuss the issue. Lincolnview will likely be brought into the discussion at some point.

Some have accused us of punting on this contentious issue by putting the tax question in the hands of the townships. This mostly comes from the pro-wind side of the argument who see us, the county commissioners, as a board that can override what the townships want to do and re-institute an AEZ. Iberdrola’s representatives ask us when we are going to do that literally every time they talk to us. (For the last time – NO!)

The township trustees wanted control of this issue and for good reason. They are elected officials and any proposed wind farm would be local, meaning not throughout the entire county. They know their communities and represent the people who will live among the mills. They are answerable to the taxpayers, the school, and the farmers who have property leased. If they are not representing the will of their constituents, they won’t have their positions long.

A meeting at Lincolnview a few weeks ago put the sentiments of the anti-wind crowd on display. It would be fair to say they dominated the debate. The school administration, very much in support of the new project, got its first exposure to what is becoming a well-organized campaign that presents not just sentiments but hard facts. Not to say they were right about everything, but Iberdrola didn’t have good answers multiple times and backed away from some of its initial assertions about electric rate savings and subsidies per megawatt produced.

The pro-crowd will need to organize and become more vocal if there is to be a serious debate. They likely need to drop the narrative about lower electricity rates (how is your bill lately?) and global warming (how was your winter?). Those two arguments aren’t going to win in these townships, not in the near future. What could win is pointing to not only tax revenue for the school but the marketing draw of wind farms to green energy-loving businesses and reduced property taxes for residents. These issues aren’t being considered in the discussions I’ve heard.

I’m not taking sides and neither are my cohorts in the Commissioners’ office. We see our place in this instance as protecting property rights and fostering open and local government. Everyone likes the concept of local government until the local government doesn’t agree with their position – then they like big government to intercede on their behalf. Until there is an over-riding countywide issue involved, the one school and the four townships should decide whether or not to grant special tax treatment. This is what local government is.

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