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'Values voters' ignore scandals

Leaders: They'll turn out in force

By John McCarthy, The Cincinnati Post, October 9, 2006

COLUMBUS - The "values voters" who helped Ohio give President Bush his 2004 victory remain motivated despite scandals in Washington and Ohio and will turn out in force Nov. 7, two of the movement's leaders said Sunday.

The Rev. Russell Johnson, chairman of the Ohio Restoration Project, and Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said their memberships feel energized. They were among the panelists at a discussion of the role of religion in politics attended by about 200 people at a downtown theater.

Conservative Christians remain committed to electing like-minded candidates despite being appalled by the scandals that have scarred Republican U.S. Reps. Mark Foley of Florida and Bob Ney of Ohio, Johnson said.

"Christians ought to be crucial to the solution," said Johnson, whose group includes 300 "patriot pastors" and encourages Christians to take a more active role politically.

Foley resigned Sept. 29 after the disclosure of his sexually explicit electronic messages to teen boys serving as pages. Foley is under investigation by federal and Florida authorities.

Ney agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and to making false statements. He admitted in court papers that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips and other perks from lobbyist Washington Jack Abramoff and an international businessman. He is not seeking re-election.

In Ohio, Democrats hope to break the GOP's stranglehold on statewide offices with help from an investment scandal whose investigation led to Republican Gov. Bob Taft pleading no contest to criminal charges of failing to report gifts.

Although the GOP has taken the brunt of the hits from the scandals, voters are tired of all officeholders, said Burress, whose group fights pornography and gambling and will urge the defeat of a ballot issue that would allow slot machines at Ohio racetracks.

"I know they're disgusted with politics, but I think it's across the board," Burress said.

Johnson's Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church of the Rev. Rod Parsley, another politically active evangelical minister, were the subjects of a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service by 31 other pastors in January.

The other pastors said Parsley and Johnson should lose their tax-exempt status because they improperly used their pulpits for partisan politics, namely the promotion of Republican Ken Blackwell for governor, who is running against Democrat Ted Strickland. Johnson and Parsley have denied wrongdoing and the IRS has taken no action against them.

The Rev. Eric Williams, one of the pastors who filed the complaint, said at the discussion that the scandals could serve as a catalyst for cooperation between conservative and liberal people of faith.

"My desire would be that the dialogue widens," said Williams, senior pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus and spokesman for the complaining pastors.

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