by Kyle Swenson
Day in and day out politicos line up before a firing squad of criticism and complaint. For such a flak-filled profession, you'd think they'd have developed the skin of the larger pachyderm set. But it seems someone deemed a low blow aimed at Rob Portman — delivered in the voice of a cartoon bear, no less — was too much dig for the US senator to handle.
This all went down at the Ohio County Fair. The Columbus Dispatch deals out the specifics. For 10 years, retired-teacher Paul Hammock has volunteered at the annual event in a special capacity: he enlists his vocal chords to do the voice of the 14-foot Smokey the Bear statute that lords over the proceedings and shouts out to people in the audience. Other fair workers would pass him names and info on who was close to the bear, and Hammock, from a hidden booth, would knock out quips in between reminders that only you can prevent forest fires.
Last Friday, none other than Senator Portman came walking by the bear.
Hammock said he welcomed Portman and made one of his standard jokes about how Smokey stays young-looking by dying his gray hair.
He said he then added something like: “That’s a little trick you might want to try.”
Hours later, Hammock got a call at home from the volunteer coordinator from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Don't bother coming back, was the message. The reason? His comments to Portman had been offensive.
Now, the retaliation isn't coming from Portman, according to Portman. In an interview with the Dispatch he said he thought Smokey's slight dig was funny. It seem the action was taken by ODNR; when pressed by the paper on the dismissal, the agency's spokesperson said Hammock was axed for “failing to confine his remarks to fire prevention.”