Zack Space, the most likely Democratic candidate for state auditor, starts the race this year with a trifecta of issues against his Republican opponent, state Rep. Keith Faber, that should raise the profile of what it usually a snoozer of a statewide contest.
Those issues include the auditor’s role in the gerrymandering of statehouse and congressional districts — something voters are becoming aware of just in time for the 2018 election.
The auditor is one of three elected officials who is automatically part of the 7-member commission that draws statehouse districts — and which might draw congressional district maps too.
Mr. Space also has political advantages in a year when gerrymandering, underperforming charter schools, and the Republican Party’s anti-alternative energy policies are ripening.
For example, Mr. Faber’s authorship of a last-minute amendment in 2014 that created deep setback requirements for new wind turbines. The legislation stopped the expansion of the wind energy business in Ohio in its tracks.
There’s also Mr. Faber’s history of support for ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow internet-based charter school that was forced to shut down in January, and the current auditor’s lack of an aggressive challenge of ECOT.
Mr. Space, whose last name was a mistranslation at Ellis Island of his Greek immigrant grandfather’s name, is a former congressman from southeast Ohio.
He was elected in 2006, defeating a Republican mired in a scandal and in a year that Democrats swept many elected offices in Ohio. Mr. Space won again in 2008 but was defeated in 2010.
The year 2006 was when Tom Noe’s thefts from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation and his federal campaign finance violations put him behind prison bars. The Noe scandal swept Democrat Ted Strickland in as governor and Republican Mike DeWine out as U.S. Senator.
Winds of scandal, or at least of bad policy, are blowing again from Lucas County, where ECOT is chartered and sponsored in Lucas County by the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, a local elected board.
Mr. Space came through northwest Ohio this week. He stopped for an interview with The Blade on his way to a fundraiser at the Oregon home of Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter.
Along with him, as he is on all of his campaigning, was Mr. Space’s father, Socrates Space, a former Democratic chairman in their home county of Tuscarawas.
His opponent is a Republican from Celina, Mercer County, on the state’s western side. Mr. Faber has been in the General Assembly since 2001. As he came up against term limits, Mr. Faber bounced between the two houses, serving in the House 2001 to 2009 and in the Senate 2009 to 2017, and is now finishing up his first term back in the House.
A lawyer, Mr. Faber is making his first statewide run for office.
He’s vulnerable from his association with ECOT.
Mr. Faber has been a supporter of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a charter school operated by a for-profit business run by founder Bill Lager, which has received $1 billion in state education funding over 18 years. In that period, ECOT and Mr. Faber donated $34,013 to Mr. Faber’s political campaigns.
Mr. Faber is a considering returning those contributions.
“It’s important to remember that Bill Lager hasn’t been happy with me for a long time. When I was president of the Senate we passed the charter school accountability measures that ended with ECOT being shut down,” Mr. Faber told The Columbus Dispatch.
ECOT was poorly supervised, and its claims of enrollment were not seriously challenged by state government until 2016. Since then ECOT was ordered to return $80 million to the state, forcing it into bankruptcy.
Mr. Space is vulnerable as well, due to mistakes of his own making. He let his law license lapse, a mistake that adroit negative advertising will make some voters think he was disbarred.
Negative campaigns have been built on less.
A Democrat in Ohio hasn’t won state auditor since 1994. With the issues on the table this year, Mr. Space at least should be able to make it close.