A controversial proposal has brought together the right, the left and everyone in between.
Plenty of topics are out of bounds when the Advocates for Responsible Taxation get together. To name a few: gun rights, universal health care, immigration, former President Obama. Some members stringently oppose abortion; others lobby for a woman’s right to choose. Some despise Trump while others are proud “Trumpers.” And so on.
Although the Advocates are all over the political map on those heated subjects, they work together in one battle: attempting to defeat a 7 percent tax that Columbus City Council may levy on entertainment tickets to provide additional funding for arts groups and to maintain Nationwide Arena.
The group, which has existed for about 20 years under various names, now includes Mike Gonidakis, 45, president of Ohio Right to Life and a prominent Republican; Bob Fitrakis, 62, former co-chair of Ohio’s Green Party and publisher of the far left Columbus Free Press;
Tricia Sprankle, 48, political director of the Libertarian Party of Ohio; Dan McCormick, 61, a Democrat with a long history of involvement in civic advocacy; Jonathan Beard, 54, a community activist who’s been a thorn in the side of Columbus City Council for years; and Jim Lorimer, 92, founder of the Arnold Sports Festival and former vice president of government relations for Nationwide Insurance.
“We avoid talking about other political issues,” says Fitrakis, who’s known to spout off about the evils of power and wealth in his Free Press columns. “Everyone is very respectful of each other. We realize that politics make strange bedfellows, and this is one of the strangest.”
Gonidakis, perhaps the most controversial of the group, says they have an “extreme level of respect for each other” and for “diversity of thought,” something sorely lacking in today’s politics.
“We don’t believe in personal attacks,” Gonidakis says. “If we did, I would walk away. People need to look past the differences and find the commonalities. If you’re looking for purity, you’re never going to find it. We don’t need the superficial litmus test that says unless you’re with me 100 percent, you’re against me.”
McCormick, one of the group’s founders, says members have discovered common ground in their opposition to various tax increases, including one benefiting COSI in 2004 and one for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 2014. The Greater Columbus Arts Council brought the ticket tax proposal to City Council in September and asked councilmembers to impose it by January 2019. As of press time, they hadn’t voted on the issue.
“There’s a commitment to looking at any kind of tax request and seeing how it affects the people in the community and the neighborhoods,” says McCormick, who calls the ticket tax “regressive.”
The group isn’t against arts funding, says Jonathan Beard. What it opposes is having 30 percent of the tax receipts funneled to Nationwide Arena for maintenance and upkeep when citizens have repeatedly voted down efforts to publicly fund the arena.
“What they’ve done is they’ve wrapped this bailout in a pretty bow of arts,” Beard says. That issue is what binds their group together, “despite differences in economics, race and political perspectives.”
The Advocates want taxpayers to decide the ticket tax through a referendum, which the alliance is considering putting on a ballot, depending on the outcome at City Hall.
Lorimer says that approach would suit him fine. Besides being a member of the Advocates, he’s formed the Anti Ticket Tax Coalition, made up of nearly 50 entertainment venues that also oppose the tax, including Marcus Theaters and the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
Sprankle, too, says she’d love a referendum. “I enjoy these people and, for this single purpose, we can work together. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party couldn’t be farther apart, but we work together where we can.”
Their cooperation borders on miraculous in today’s contentious political climate, in which barbs are flung indiscriminately via Twitter and opponents demonize each other daily.
“You find everyone saying, ‘I’m willing to work with the other side,’ but we don’t have a lot of evidence of that,” Sprankle says. “A lot of groups would rather preserve the issue they’re fighting about rather than solve the actual problem.”
Perhaps others can take a page from their book and link hands across the aisle.
“You sit down and get to know each other on a personal level,” McCormick says. “I have friends on the right and the left, and we can find areas of incredibly common agreement. We’re all putting our oars in the water and pulling in the same direction.”
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