Friday, April 21, 2006

Welcome Center


On 18 April 2006, President Bush appointed our former congressman Rob Portman to be the new head of Office of Management and Budget. Like Jimmy Dean sausages, Rob Portman is a product of Cincinnati, a city whose history is steeped in pork, a city whose nickname is Porkopolis. Appointing Portman, whose Portsmouth nickname is “Rob Porkman,” to head the Budget Office is like appointing Rush Limbaugh the Drug Czar or William Bennett the director of Gamblers Anonymous.

"It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Porkman!"

In a campaign stop in Portsmouth in September 2004, with Portman by his side, President Bush brought up the subject of the Visitor Center, or what was named the Welcome Center. Bush told a carefully screened audience that Portman had modestly urged him to mention the Welcome Center and take credit for it. But Bush told Portman, “Wait a minute, you did all the heavy lifting.” Always seeking to validate his macho credentials, Bush was casting a buddy he admires as a weightlifter. But Portman’s macho credentials were earned in kayaking. Mild mannered porktician by day, when Portman slips not into a phone booth but a kayak, he becomes Steve Canyon and Superman Marvel wrapped in one. In his younger days, he kayaked down the Rio Grande River and reportedly was the first westerner ever to paddle down the China’s Yangtze River. As a congressman, he kept a kayak in his office for those rare breaks from porking when he could slip away and paddle in the congressional pool.

On the same day Bush put Portman in charge of the budget, the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce held a forum at the Scioto County Welcome Center, a facility that would never have come into existence without the help of Portman, who steered U.S. Dept. of Agriculture pork its way. Portman is a political miracle maker who, with the waving of a magic bureaucratic wand, helped turn the urban-industrialized city of Portsmouth into a rural area that qualified for Dept. of Agriculture pork. To see the Portman-Portsmouth-Pork connection, check out the conservative blog Porkopolis: Rants on Pork-Barrel Spending. The Welcome Center is the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership’s new city hall. The Welcome Center, not the Portsmouth Municipal building, is where the important decisions will be made by the city’s unelected power brokers.

The Welcome Center should be called the Rob Portman Center. He personally delivered from Cincinnati to Portsmouth the government check that would turn out to be just a down payment on millions of pork dollars that would find their way into the Welcome Center. Portman could have mailed the check, but in an election season he wanted to be seen as the politician who was bringing home the bacon. He was not embarrassed at being the photogenic poster boy of pork, as the Superhero Republican politician who routinely spends millions of government dollars, rather than as an entrepreneur who creates jobs and generates profits in the private sector. Having worked in the private sector only briefly, and then as a lawyer, Portman knows much better how to spend the public’s money than to make his own. His wealth he inherited from his family’s business. Having impersonated Senator John Edwards and earlier Joseph Lieberman in mock presidential debates, Portman may now think he’s a Democrat. If he ever leaves politics, the 50-year-old Portman may become a lobbyist, as he was for a time in the administration of the senior Bush. But others see him as a candidate one day for governor of Ohio or president of the United States.

Because of the book-cooking that customarily covers up the true cost of pork projects in Portsmouth, it may be some time before we know exactly how many millions of pork dollars have gone into the Welcome Center. My requests for information have been ignored. I have been told by people in a better position to know than me that millions of public dollars have ended up in the Welcome Center, some of which was supposed to go for the underprivileged black youth of Portsmouth. Instead it went to over-privileged over-the-hill whites who dominate the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. There is an adage, “Youth must be served,” but in Portsmouth we say, “The over-privileged must be served.” If the over-privileged have an empty house or department store on their hands, or if they need a bank loan or sweetheart appraisal or an abatement, or a new clubhouse, the over-privileged know who to call – the SOGP.

By observing how the pork game is played nationally and globally, Portsmouth’s police chief has learned how to play the pork game in Portsmouth. He tries to frighten citizens into voting for new taxes by citing statistics that show Portsmouth is one of the most crime-ridden communities in the nation. Of course, he doesn’t take any responsibility for Portsmouth’s high crime rate, blaming it on out-of-town drug dealers who don’t think twice, as he likes to say publicly, about shooting police in the head. From what I’ve heard, the thugs who shot the Melchers in the head had Portsmouth family ties. And Ted Journey, who was operating a one-stop oxycontin chop-shop within a couple of minutes walking distance of the police station and a one minute walk from the Welcome Center, is a local boy who had previously served a prison term for an automobile insurance scam. How long would his West End Auto have continued as a bee-hive of criminality if law enforcement agencies from other communities hadn’t blown the whistle?

The report in the Portsmouth Daily Times on the forum at the Welcome Center began, “Amid tight police security, the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday presented a forum at the Scioto County Welcome Center on several issues facing voters on May 2.” The reporter, Jeff Barron, did not explain why there was “tight police security.” He didn’t need to, because the Daily Times had previously helped publicize Chief Horner’s incredible claim that the city government was threatened by a group of local “domestic terrorists.” Those so-called domestic terrorists were the excuse Horner used to impose tight security at the Welcome Center the night of the closed forum.

Hornermobile outside Welcome Center

Who are these domestic terrorists Horner has warned us against and who he was on high alert for at the Welcome Center on May 2? They’re us, that’s who, a couple of dozen people who have formed an organization called the Concerned Citizens of Portsmouth and Scioto County, or Concerned Citizens, for short. A disproportionate number of the Concerned Citizens are senior citizens. The average age of the president, the vice president (yours truly), and the treasurer of the Concerned Citizens is 70. This is not an organization supported by a foreign government; this is an organization supported by the U.S. government in the form of Medicare. Before resigning for reasons of health, the founding president of Concerned Citizens chaired meetings with a portable oxygen tank at his side. A number of senior Concerned Citizens have recently undergone surgery. There are as many hearing aids, canes, and sprained backs at a typical Concerned Citizens meeting as there are at a Hill View Christmas party. These are sexagenarians and septuagenarians whom the police chief has labeled domestic terrorists. These are the people he used as an excuse to impose the kind of security on the Welcome Center that you might expect at a meeting of the World Bank in a third world country. At Horner’s direction, the police would not let the Concerned Citizens distribute literature at the Welcome Center, claiming that it was private property. Private property? Had Superhero Rob Porkman worked a miracle? Had he turned pork into gold? Had he privatized the Welcome Center?

The connection between Portman and the Welcome Center, and between Portman and the closed forum that was held in the Welcome Center, offers insights into the changes that have taken place in the Republican Party in the last quarter century: the party of entrepreneurs has become the party of pork, the party of Free Enterprise has become the party of Free Lunch, the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has become the party of Abramoff and Delay, or to make the Ohio connection, the party of Taft and Ney.

Portman may turn out to be the great white unindicted hope of the Republican Party. Looking up into the clear blue sky over the Welcome Center on April 18, I imagined him streaking across America, in charge of our national budget. Think of the miracles our Superhero can perform as budget director, turning the USA into one consolidated pork project, into one huge Welcome Center.