Newspaper: Tourism Ad Reshot To Give Governor Role

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft's office ordered that a new tourism commercial be re-shot to include the governor, costing about $148,000 at a time state agencies were told to cut spending, The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday.

The newspaper said documents it obtained also showed that the decision to re-shoot and overhaul the "So Much to Discover" commercial was made over the objections of Ohio's top tourism official and its media consultant.

A Taft spokeswoman said the original commercial was poorly made, lacked diversity and included an insensitive reference to American Indians.

"The bottom line is the ad was totally unacceptable," spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said Monday.

The Dispatch said that in a memo dated Nov. 21, 2000, Jim Epperson, then state travel and tourism director, encouraged the administration to leave the commercial alone.

"We believe that it will totally put the brakes on the spot as currently produced," Epperson told interim Development Director Joseph Robertson and George Kaitsa, Robertson's chief of staff. "With the shoot and re-edit of the spot to include the governor -- we're talking about a minimum of $100,000 additional -- I just can't afford that," Epperson wrote.

Sharkey said Monday that the governor's office ordered Epperson to re-shoot the commercial because it contained almost no minorities.

The officials also wanted an image of an American Indian in war paint removed, which Taft's office considered offensive, Sharkey said. She said that segment appeared just before an image of the Cleveland Indians, whose Chief Wahoo symbol is offensive to some American Indians.

The commercial was also geographically imbalanced, with several references to Cleveland and few rural scenes, and the music was too loud, she said.

The decision to include Taft (pictured, above) was made because the commercial "didn't have an ending," she said. Taft, a Republican, is running for re-election.

The commercial shows various scenes around Ohio. It includes a welcome by Taft at the beginning and a scene at the end in which he is joined by children at Ohio's Center of Science and Industry.

It was shot Feb. 8, 2001, and was broadcast in Ohio and five other states during last April, May and June.

The newspaper said a spreadsheet showed the final production cost at about $700,000. The original estimate was $554,000.

On Dec. 15, 2000, the governor told agencies to cut their budgets by 2 percent to 4 percent for the next six months because of a slowing economy and a $249 million Medicaid program bailout.

In January 2001, Taft introduced a low-growth two-year budget that included an average increase of just 0.8 percent for most agencies in the first year.

In March 2001, Taft ordered state agencies to cut additional 2001 spending by 4 percent over three months, on top of $125 million in cuts he made in December.

The Department of Development later fired Epperson because of problems with Travel and Tourism, including the commercial, Sharkey said.

In January, Taft said that after he appointed Bruce Johnson to lead the Development Department last fall, he told Johnson that travel and tourism was "an area that needed to be stepped up. It needed to do a more vigorous job of promoting travel and tourism in Ohio."

Epperson, now marketing vice president at the Providence-Warwick Convention and Visitors' Bureau in Providence, R.I., disagreed that the ad was inadequate.

He said he and the ad's producers were careful to hire a diverse set of actors and tried to depict experiences that were possible in Ohio, not specific locations.

Except for such obvious places as Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, "I would have been happy if no scene was recognized as a particular location," he said Monday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy Hagan criticized the decision to re-shoot the commercial.

"It smacks of propaganda in the worst kind of dictatorial government to use the kind of funds they're using to insert your face in an ad," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)