State Sen. Eric Kearney,
Democrat Ed FitzGerald's choice to be lieutenant governor, owes about $700,000 in outstanding state and federal tax liens in connection with his Cincinnati-based publishing business and other ventures.
The Cincinnati area legislator says that shouldn't disqualify him from the Democratic ticket in 2014 and vows to remain on it. "I'm in to stay. ... We're in it all the way, and we're going to see this through," he said Wednesday.
He ought to reconsider that. As long as he owes money for state and federal taxes -- and barring a lottery windfall, it's unlikely that he's going to be able to pay off his debts soon -- his finances will remain a campaign issue, one that could overshadow whatever he may bring to the Democratic ticket.
Kearney, his wife and his firm, KGL Media, whose holdings include minority-oriented publications in Cincinnati and Dayton, have accumulated multiple tax liens totaling nearly $1 million over the past 15 years. He blames the debts on a downturn in the newspaper industry and said he has a repayment plan in place with the Internal Revenue Service.
FitzGerald said last week that he's sticking with Kearney because of "all his other stellar qualifications." Kearney's "record of service ... outweighed all the other criticisms," he said, adding that his running mate is "trying to keep a business afloat."
While FitzGerald may score points for loyalty, his selection of Kearney can't help but cast doubt on his judgment. If he knew about Kearney's tax issues and discounted them, that raises questions about whether he overlooked them in the interest of political expediency. If he didn't know about them, that raises even more questions about his failure to do so.
Standing by Kearney, and having to defend his decision to do so, could become a significant distraction for FitzGerald in his bid to deny Gov. John Kasich a second term. One can only imagine the campaign ads spotlighting Kearney's tax issues if he remains on the ticket.
It's probably not an exaggeration to say that most Ohioans would be hard pressed to name the lieutenant governor, which is a low-visibility post to say the least. In the past 60 years, only two have succeeded the governor, and in both instances served for less than two weeks after their predecessor resigned to take a Senate seat.
The fact remains, however, that the choice of a lieutenant governor is an important one; the gubernatorial nominee is choosing a potential chief executive, not simply a ticket balancer.
Eric Kearney's tax issues make him a flawed choice for lieutenant governor. Ed FitzGerald probably realizes that, too. Kearney ought to step down from the Democratic ticket.