Widespread interest is being focused upon the election campaign of Attorney General Gilbert Bettman, the Republican candidate for the Senate.
If elected, Mr. Bettman will be the only Jew in the upper House of Congress. Mr. Bettman’s fate in the senatorial race will, it is believed be a barometer of the presidential weather. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation, according to politicians.
Mr. Bettman whose wife is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Isaac Wise; reform Jewish leader, is running on a plank calling for the repeal of the 18th amendment.
Mr. Bettman is no tryo in political office. Ohio’s Attorney General, he is now serving his second term in that office.
A member of a family, six generations of whom have lived in Cincinnati, he is identified with a number of Jewish causes.
He is vastly proud of his wife’s lineage. He has served as trustee of the Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati of which Rabbi James G. Heller is the spiritual leader.
In his fifteieth year, fearless, determined and ambitious, he is described by those who know him best as an interested and interesting friend.
In the contest this fall, he will be opposed by Senator Robert Buckley. Both contestants are out and out wets. Those who will venture a guess as to the outcome of the race, incline to Attorney General Bettman as the winner.
In Mrs. Bettman, Ohio’s attorney general has a fighting campaign director, a worker behind the scenes and when necessary a “pinch-hitter” as a speaker. There are three children.
In 1921 Mr. Bettman served as vice-Mayor of Cincinnati. In 1924 he was chairman of the Republican State Convention.
Gilbert Bettman started his career with his graduation speech at Harvard in 1907 when he pointed out the fallacy of injunction proceedings in labor disputes. Every labor paper in America printed the speech and some not friendly to labor. Next he startled Cincinnati, the “southernmost northern city,” by overriding objections to Negro students in the Y.M.C.A. law school. Negro law students in the Christian “Y” had been too much liberalism in one dose for the southerners who came to Cincinnati-”Athens of the Mid West”-to immerse themselves in the majesty of the law and in the arts and sciences. Bettman won the true liberals over to his viewpoint and since then Negroes are found in the “Y” law classes.
Bettman’s first big legal tilt was in taking up the famous Alms Wills Case which had been given up by legal brains of many famous law firms here. Alms, millionaire merchant-hotel-tycoon of Cincinnati and New York, provided that his heirs should get their portions through investments. The heirs tried to get their shares in lump sums and failed. There seemed no legal precedent on which to hinge the case until young Bettman studied the problem. He soon found a precedent and won the case (and a huge fee, in addition to the respect of the big-wigs who had tried and failed.)
Bettman distinguished himself in the Intelligence Service in the World War and was discharged with the rank of captain. He was co-author of practically all of the relief legislation for the war veterans and was honored by the Legion with many high offices. Legionnaires today feel free to call on him for almost any legal service he can render.
Immediately upon being elected attorney general of Ohio, the first time (1928), Bettman tackled cases his predecessors had given up because of legal tangles that seemed untanglable. He joined in and at time led the assault on Chicago for its diversion of Lake Erie water at the rate of 10,000 gallons per second to wash its sewers, lowering the lake level and converting Ohio lake ports into inland cities. The case was won and a. precedent established in such litigation.
The most important of his early victories as attorney general was in the East Ohio Gas Case. Public utilities with pipe lines drawing gas from border states had refused for years to pay taxes on their trading in Ohio, contending that fuel thus transported was in interstate commerce. Bettman won the case after a bitter fight and also got $2,000,000 in back taxes and now Ohio gets $500,000 a year from the East Ohio Company. His presentation of the case at that time is still illuminating:
“A review of the facts led me to conclude that my rule in private practice-that if one’s client were in good moral position and had a fighting legal chance. his case should be attempted-was equally applicable in public practice. So I concluded to rule to the Tax Commission of Ohio that the business was subject to Ohio’s excise tax and leave it to the court to decide that Ohio was wrong.”
He showed, in his brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, that if power companies continue to “hurdle state lines and to concentrate vast financial resources behind nation wide industries” they could easily dominate state politics and actually escape paying any part of government cost, existing on other peoples’ effort and at the same time make profit without competition.
The Cleveland Vote Frauds caused Bettman’s Republican friends untold agonies. Although in office a few months he tackled the powerful Republican machine of Cleveland where fraudulent votes exceeded good ones in many wards, and sent several ward bosses to the penitentiary. Patronage was rife in Ohio’s state affairs when he became attorney general but Bettman said “thumbs down.” The building material men lived on the fat of Ohio contracts for years but Bettman ousted them by forcing department chiefs to ask for public bids instead of giving the contracts to friends for political favors at elections.
Gasoline bootlegging, to avoid road maintenance taxes, had reached the proportions of whisky rings in the large cities but Bettman’s persistence in demanding local prosecutors to do their duty resulted in jail sentences and now the gas taxes are paid and the state has better roads.
He ran afoul of politics in the State Office Building Case. Land sharks, smelling a fat morsel in the proposed new office building for the state in Columbus, tried to jockey the building commission into a corner where the latter would have to buy an undesirable lot and pay a high price. Bettman fought for the state in a bitter battle, the land salesmen trying fair and foul means to stop the work. The net result was a saving of $500,000 on land alone.
He climaxed four years of independence in office by winning a battle in the Supreme Court and incidentally restoring the State’s credit. It was the Allen County Bond Case. Counties, like individuals, were taking advantage of the depression and refusing to pay their bills. A test was made of Allen County’s excuse and Bettman won the suit in less than fifteen minutes of pleading in the Supreme Court.
Ohio, a pivotal state in prohibition, felt so secure in its dryness that it was a cold shock when Bettman, in declaring his candidacy for the senate-and already a power in State Republicanism came out flatly for modification, leaving the matter to a referendum by states. His nomination in the May primaries was conceded even by the most rabid drys. His opponent was Louis J. Taber, a constitutional dry, master of the National Grange and behind whom were marshalled all the Ohioans whose fathers came over on the Mayflower or who fought at Bunker Hill. Racial, religious and the usual blue-law fanatics used all their weapons against Bettman but he carried the election by an easy majority.