In this year’s Republican primaries, I’m as fired up about the contests at the bottom of the ticket as I am about the top of the ticket (on the top end, I endorse Seth Morgan for Ohio Auditor and Sandy O’Brien for Ohio Secretary of State) . At the bottom of the ticket are the races for state central committee. A man and a woman are elected from each Ohio Senate district, 33 districts in all, for a total of 66 men and women on the GOP state central committee.
Chairpersons of the Republican Party in each of the 88 counties have no vote on who gets to be the chair of the Ohio Republican Party. The ORP has exhibited a penchant for attempting to dictate to county chairs which primary candidates to promote, and which ones to ignore and remain silent about. But just as the county chairs can’t force anything upon the ORP chair that the ORP chair doesn’t want to do, neither can the ORP chair force anything upon the county chairs that they don’t want to do. I’m sure there are things that county chairs and the ORP chair can readily agree upon, such as opposition to the Congressional agenda advanced by Pelosi and Reid, but there are other matters in which only some of the county chairs agree with the ORP chair, while others don’t.
These intra-party struggles to get one side or another to acquiesce can involve negotiations, arbitration, ultimatums, and threats. Money, credibility, clout, recruitment, public opinion, in-kind contributions, volunteers, territory . . . these are among the things at stake and among the things used as ammo when threats or ultimatums are issued. But, in the end, the ORP has no vote in who gets to be county chair and county chairs have no vote in who gets to be ORP chair, so, really, one side is not beholden to the other, and attempts to dictate can fall flat.
For rank-and-file Republicans, a county chair is practically within arm’s reach, and if one has a precinct seat on the county’s central committee (a number of precincts in any given county have vacancies, with no one stepping forward to represent that precinct on the central committee), which usually isn’t too difficult to obtain, one can have a vote in the county party, so it’s a lot easier for rank-and-file Republicans to influence the county party than it is the state party.
The Ohio Republican Party, which is the Republican Party at the state level, is really difficult to influence. Seats are scarce. With an Ohio population of about 11,000,000, sixty-six seats don’t seem like much. At the county level, by contrast, how many people are there in a precinct? Anywhere between 400 and 1200? The exact number of people in a precinct isn’t set exactly, so there can even be more in a precinct than what I’ve guessed the top of the range to be, and there can be less in a precinct than what I’ve guessed the bottom of the range to be. Potentially, every precinct has a seat, so, one out of a thousand can be on a county central committee, but only 66 out of eleven million can be on the state central committee. The ORP Chair is hired by the state central committee, and the ORP staff is accountable only to the men and women on that state central committee.
If you comprise the committee entirely of rubber-stamps for the ORP chair, then there isn’t really much of a check and balance system in place. I’d much rather have an ORP chair who is a rubber-stamp for the committee than the other way around. With such a scarcity of seats on the central committee, rank-and-file Republicans ought to investigate these races far more carefully than one would ordinarily do for a bottom-of-the-ticket race. That’s what I’ve been trying to do–investigate more carefully.
The 13th district is comprised of Lorain County, Huron County, and the eastern third of Seneca County. The men who are running for state central committee in this district are Andrew Winemiller, from Lorain County, Robert Rousseau, from Lorain County, and Robert Duncan from Huron County. The women who are running for state central committee (a topic for a separate blog post) in this district are Marilyn Jacobcik and Joyce Houck.
I admire much about these three men. They’re all really great guys. However, none of them, in my opinion, is a perfect fit for this seat. Each of them has their drawbacks and their strong points. I almost hate to have to select between them. I don’t wish to alienate any of them by endorsing against them, so, let me say, at this juncture, that I extend an olive branch to all of them, and, just because I may not be on your side in this race at this time doesn’t mean I won’t be in your corner in some future instance.
I had seriously considered writing a profile of each of these candidates and saying “Take your pick,” without issuing an endorsement. I vacillated for a while on who I, personally, would support. I spoke, in person, with Robert Duncan and Andrew Winemiller at length at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Fremont. I’ve exchanged some emails with Andrew Winemiller, and he wrote a guest blog article about his platform, and I’ve talked on the phone with Bob Rousseau and Andrew Winemiller. In the end, after much soul-searching, I’ve come to the realization that sitting on the sidelines and not weighing in is not a good idea. My thoughts have had an opportunity to crystallize, and I’ve arrived at a firm decision on my endorsement.
Robert Rousseau, is a former chair of the Lorain County Republican Party. Currently, Helen Hurst, of North Ridgeville, is the county chair. During Rousseau’s tenure as chair, the Lorain County Republican Party did not endorse, nor steer county party funds to, a candidate in a contested primary. There was often external pressure to endorse, but Rousseau resisted calling for committee endorsement votes in contested primaries. I am in complete agreement with Bob Rousseau on this stance. I believe the party should remain neutral in contested primaries, support the nominee elected in the primary by the Republican voters, and save the party money for the general election.
For a long time, the ORP also didn’t endorse in contested primaries, but that changed about three years ago, when the state central committee voted to change the bylaws. During the course of this year, it’s clear to see just how heavy-handed the ORP has become in issuing these endorsements. Note that I’m endorsing Sandy O’Brien and Seth Morgan, but the ORP is endorsing Jon Husted and Dave Yost.
When the state central committee called for an endorsement in the Secretary of State primary, the petition filing deadline hadn’t even been reached yet. Robert Rousseau objected. Before the filing deadline is reached, there’s no way to know exactly how many candidates there might be and who they are. Only once the deadline passes do you know for sure who’s in the race. So, item one, the call for a vote was premature. Item two, Jon Husted was presented before the committee, but Sandy O’Brien, who had also announced her candidacy in the SoS race, was not presented before the committee. It wasn’t fair. What did Bob Rousseau do? He cast a dissenting vote. For this, it’s been said that he’s “not a team player.” It’s been said that he “hasn’t gained the respect of his colleagues” on the state central committee. It’s been said that he’s a source of friction that the state central committee doesn’t welcome or need. His vote was the ONLY dissenting vote, so it didn’t pose much of a threat to the ORP chair’s agenda, yet he’s been singled out for it, vilified for it, and targeted for replacement on the committee by withholding the ORP’s endorsement for the 13th district state central committee seat, even though the ORP is on the record stating that state central committee incumbents are “automatically” endorsed. Bob Rousseau’s initial exclusion (without a committee vote on the matter) from the list of incumbents endorsed by the ORP shows that what’s on the record about automatic endorsements for incumbents is a complete lie. The ORP paid staff, including the ORP chair, is making its own picks for state central committee, and such self-dealing is wrong.
The state central committee has four regularly scheduled meetings per year. Rousseau attends those. The ORP chair, particularly the current one, Kevin DeWine, also schedules special meetings. When the special meetings are called, Rousseau inquires as to the purpose of such meetings, and he may decline to attend if it doesn’t seem particularly compelling. Andrew Winemiller pointed out Rousseau’s absences in the guest blog article he wrote.
Lorain County has a much larger population than Huron County or the portion of Seneca County that’s included in the 13th District, even when comparing the population of Republicans. When Rousseau was Lorain County chair, the Huron County chair was David Kniffin (Hurst and Duncan are the chairs now). Lorain County could easily dominate the 13th districts representation on the state central committee. Instead, Rousseau made a “gentleman’s agreement” that was deferential to Huron County, in that Lorain County would not contest races for one of the seats if Huron County didn’t contest the races for the other seat. Both counties had a representative on the state central committee by virtue of this agreement. Bob Rousseau usually, but not always, represented Lorain County on the state central committee, and Joyce Houck always represented Huron county on the state central committee. This isn’t the first time that Rousseau has had two opponents for a state central committee race. A few years back, he faced two opponents from Lorain County, and one of those, Shawn Brady, won that two-year term. However, since Huron County field a candidate in that race, Lorain County held true to its word and didn’t field any opposition for Joyce Houck. Rousseau and Kniffin aren’t the county chairs now, so, has the gentleman’s agreement expired? Robert Duncan, the current Huron County chair thinks so. Bob Rousseau doesn’t think so. For myself, I think if Bob Rousseau wanted to extend the life of the “gentleman’s agreement,” he should have brought it to the attention of Helen Hurst and requested that she negotiate with Duncan to see if the agreement could be renewed, since both counties now have new party chairs. It does seem a bit elitist, and counter to grassroots, to have a gentleman’s agreement regulating which county will have which seat. On the other hand, it’s the only guarantee Huron County had of being represented.
With the “gentleman’s agreement,” there also appears to have been a division of labor between Rousseau and Houck. Rousseau kept Lorain County “in the loop,” and Joyce Houck was to keep Huron County and Seneca County “in the loop.” Houck resides in the Willard area, so the Seneca County portion of the 13th district is no further from her home than the eastern parts of Huron County are. Houck does attend many Huron County and Seneca County functions, and even a few in Lorain County, too. Rousseau, indeed, keeps Lorain County “in the loop,” which is a lot more than can be said of Shawn Brady, during Brady’s two-year term. Brady communicated with no one. I must grant, though, that Rousseau rarely appears at Huron County or Seneca County functions. In Andrew Winemiller’s guest blog, he emphasizes that Rousseau does not make the rounds of the entire 13th District. I think that’s a fair criticism, and I think it would reap great rewards for Rousseau if he did circulate more extensively through the district. For one thing, when it comes to knowledge, Rousseau is not just astute at politics, he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s wise enough to see through any kind of political smokescreen. He crunches numbers, too, so he knows where the votes come from, and he knows how changes in election laws or changes in directives from the Secretary of State’s office will manifest itself at the ballot box. He sees much more than meets the eye of the ordinary political observer. If more people knew Rousseau and got a glimpse into what’s inside that brain of his, he’d have quite a devoted fan club. I think it would work wonders if Rousseau put more time and effort into reaching out.
He’s not attempting to steer any party money toward his favored candidates in the primaries, but, as an individual, he is supporting O’Brien for Secretary of State, and Morgan for Auditor.
I have to disagree with Andrew Winemiller’s assertion that Rousseau isn’t a “cheerleader” or doesn’t support all our party’s candidates in the general election. Me, personally, I have voted split tickets before. Rousseau, on the other hand, is extremely loyal to the Republicans. As one would expect from a party leader, like Rousseau, not only does he feel gratitude for loyalty shown to him, he also practices loyalty toward the Republican ticket.
The loyalty toward the Republican ticket and the deference shown to Huron County by way of the “gentleman’s agreement,” two things I would never restrict myself to, actually illustrate that Bob Rousseau IS a team player, despite the murmurings out of the ORP. He’s far more of a team player than I am, that’s for sure.
Robert Duncan is a breath of fresh air with the way he handles the Huron County Republican Party when compared with his predecessor, David Kniffin. Kniffin could be a bit heavy handed, and Duncan has a lighter touch. Duncan is a clergyman, and one of the criteria he prioritizes higher when choosing which candidates to support is their track record on pro-life issues. I think that’s admirable. For myself, I’m anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia, but I differ from some in the pro-life camp in that I think there are rare instances in which a death penalty is warranted. Some in the pro-life camp oppose the death penalty in all instances, and I’m respectful and tolerant of their viewpoint.
My parents have seen Robert Duncan at many a meeting of the 9-12 group in Huron County. Of the three men running for the state central committee seat, it’s apparent that Duncan is more involved in the Tea Party movement. I think that’s commendable, too. I believe that, in this nation, the people are sovereign, and I welcome the pushback that the Tea Party is engaging in to remind government that there can and ought to be limitations to government power. I believe that the provisions of the Constitution are being eroded, and the Tea Party is one vehicle to rally against such encroachments.
Duncan’s political instincts aren’t as sharp as Rousseau’s, and, though he won’t back down on certain principles, there are situations in which I think he should be more assertive. He is more accepting of the ORP’s maneuverings. He’s quite OK with clearing the Ohio Attorney General primary for Mike DeWine, and shifting David Yost over to the Ohio Auditor primary against Seth Morgan. He may not agree entirely with the transaction and how it all went down, but it doesn’t ruffle his feathers enough to elicit a strong rebuke. In the case of the ORP initially endorsing candidates for state central committee without conducting endorsement votes, he seems to be OK with the self-dealing, and is supporting Joyce Houck, the ORP-endorsed candidate, over Marilyn Jacobcik, in the other state central committee race. When I spoke with him, Duncan was in general agreement that it would be better for the ORP to not spend money on contested primaries and use that cash for winning the general election. But, do you see the disconnect? If you really mean it, then push for it, assert it. So, either he doesn’t mean it, or he’s being pushed over.
I agree that the gentleman’s agreement expired when Duncan and Hurst became the party chairs in their respective counties. If Duncan wanted to switch around the gentleman’s agreement, where he could sit on the state central committee on behalf of Huron County while Lorain County put forward a woman to occupy the other seat, he could have tried to arrange that through negotiations with Joyce Houck, Helen Hurst, and Bob Rousseau. He’s chosen to abandon the agreement altogether, which is his prerogative. The risk is that Huron County could possibly wind up with no seats on the state central committee. However, for Duncan to protest that Houck is being opposed by Jacobcik for her seat simply because Duncan is opposing Rousseau in the other race makes no sense. If Duncan’s tossing the agreement out the window, then he’s tossing it out for both the men’s race and the women’s race.
If one were assessing Houck versus Jacobcik based on their own merits and what they bring to the table, apart from what county they are from, particularly with the political views that Duncan espouses, then Jacobcik would be the clear pick. And on the 9-12 front, Jacobcik is more a leader than Duncan is. So, Duncan’s support of Houck is more territorial than it is principled.
Andrew Winemiller is anywhere from 20 to 40 years younger than the others, on both the men’s and women’s sides, that are contesting the 13th district races for state central committee. I see nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. Sooner or later, there will be a changing of the guard simply because mortality makes it so.
As Winemiller points out in his guest blog article, he does circulate. He has attended Republican events on a regular basis in Lorain County and Seneca County for some time now, and has recently added Huron County to his itinerary. I do agree that outreach is important, and it certainly helps the rank-and-file Republicans to know that you are accessible to them when you appear at their functions and work the room, introducing yourself to everyone the way Winemiller does.
Winemiller has vowed to attend all the state central committee meetings, regularly scheduled or not, and I believe him, as he attends many functions as it is, even when he serves in no official capacity.
I applaud Winemiller for being able to assess how to do the job of a state central committee member better. He’s shared some thoughts that could help state central committee members step their performance up to the next level. I’m glad he has an attitude of looking to move forward and not always cling to the conventions of the past.
There are a lot of things unsaid, though, in his guest blog article. Right away, someone posted this comment after reading Winemiller’s statement: “I sense an omission—what about selection and grooming of candidates?” In addition to the email exchange and the guest blog article, I’ve interviewed Winemiller twice, while the other two candidates I’ve interviewed just once. In conversation, Winemiller and I see eye-to-eye on many things, or so it would seem. Yet many of the points I thought most important were left out of his written statement. Do the points he wrote down trump the other considerations?
Yes, reaching out to Republicans throughout the district is very useful. Attending the meetings is certainly what constituents expect. Being a cheerleader for our candidates and helping them win in November is also what one expects in any official Republican capacity, whether on the state central committee or on the party central committee, and, on that point, I think Rousseau and Duncan do good work, so I don’t agree with Winemiller’s assessment on that point. But what about the function of a member of the state central committee? Attend the meetings, yes, but to do what, exactly, when one attends those meetings? Be a cheerleader, gain the respect of colleagues, and let everyone know that you try to touch base with all your constituents back in your home district?
So, if you’re going to outline the top three tasks that a state central committee member is responsible for, I think something less important should be dropped from those top three that Winemiller cites, because something more important is missing.
The second interview with Winemiller was after I received his written statement. I wanted to sound him out on the contested primaries, something we didn’t really do the first time I interviewed him. On the matter of selecting and grooming candidates, Winemiller was consistent in both interviews that it would be better for the party to remain neutral in the primaries, let the contest go forward without intervention, and that could forge a better candidate for fall, and then bank the party’s money for fall rather than fritter some of it away by picking sides in the primaries. I agree with that. Perhaps the selection and grooming of candidates is not among the top three tasks of someone on the state central committee. After all, much of the selection and grooming takes place at lower levels than at the state level, but it would’ve been nice to respond, in writing, that perhaps the state central committee should take a less hands-on role in selecting candidates than it currently does with its endorsements in contested primaries–if that’s what one truly feels. Winemiller did took a paragraph to respond to the comment, and he made himself accessible by sharing his email address and inviting the reader to leave an email for him. What Winemiller did not do, however, is actually answer her question in writing. Basically, he was saying, “Ask me that question one more time, in a private email, and I’ll answer you privately.” It’s not the most transparent way of addressing the question, and I think it’s a question many constituents would like to know and I think it deserves a public response.
To be fair, I have nothing in writing to share from Duncan and Rousseau. And, on Duncan’s part, it’s not really his fault, because I didn’t have an email address for him to which I could send him an invitation to write a statement. But on the other hand, Duncan and Rousseau have a track record working in an official capacity. They have actions that are seen by all who care to look. They can be measured by their actions. Winemiller because of his newness on the scene, and only the beginnings of a body of work by which he can be measured, pretty much needs the opportunity to make his case in writing for people to see and measure in order to compensate for what he doesn’t have that the other two do.
So, back to what’s left out of the three top tasks: the function of a state central committee member. The state central committee ought to be guiding the ORP staff, including the chair. Right now, the opposite is happening: the chair and the staff are orchestrating the committee and pulling its strings. The state central committee is the only governing body that has a check and balance against the chair and the staff. Inasmuch as the chair and the staff meet expectations set by the committee, then the need to exercise those checks and balances is diminished. It would seem that right now, the ORP chair and the staff are permitted to set the bar for themselves wherever they want. There appears to be a lack of discipline and accountability. The ORP chair seems to be permitted to snuff out debate and discussion at the meetings, leaving the committee straitjacketed.
Does the Ohio Republican Party really need a committee of rubber-stamps for the chairman? Why not dissolve the committee, if it’s only function is to rubber-stamp? Let the ORP chair and the staff do whatever they feel like doing, and don’t bother with meetings, if you favor the course that the ORP staff is on right now.
But if the ruckus outside party headquarters on the night of the Yost endorsement over Morgan is any indication, perhaps there should be more than just a rubber-stamp. Perhaps there should be a vigorous and open debate at these meetings.
Though Winemiller seemed to share my sentiments about the foregoing during our conversations, even on the what the functions of the committee should be, he’s backing Joyce Houck for state central committee, a woman who doesn’t attend the regularly scheduled meeting in winter because she’s in Florida, a woman who makes appearances in Seneca, Huron, and sometimes Lorain counties to be recognized as a dignitary because of her position on the state central committee, not so much to communicate the work of the committee to constituents, a woman who, for years, has taken sides in contested primaries and assisted in steering party funds to that end, a woman who has always been a rubber-stamp on the committee, which is exactly why the ORP staff endorses her and why they printed that endorsement on the literature they’ve been mailing to Republicans. If Winemiller and Duncan truly believe what they say they believe, they’d back Jacobcik, but something other than principles is guiding their support.
Who will stand up to the chair? Who set expectations for the ORP staff and demand accountability? Who has a backbone?
There’s something bigger to consider than just the profiles of each of these men running for this seat. Kevin DeWine is setting himself at odds with some of the county parties. He is endeavoring to twist their arms. Some county parties are in DeWine’s camp. Some remain defiant. Kevin DeWine is playing a strategic chess match with each county not in his corner. In the first round of the chess tournament, DeWine was losing badly even before it was underway. I’m talking about the many counties that were endorsing Dave Yost for Attorney General while no counties were endorsing Mike DeWine. So the first round was scrubbed, and no ORP endorsement vote took place on behalf of Mike DeWine. Rousseau’s dissenting vote on the Husted endorsement put Lorain County in the crosshairs, even though the county party doesn’t take sides in contested primaries, but Kevin DeWine isn’t that tolerant, and he’s doing battle with Lorain County, nevertheless. Also, there are county parties endorsing Seth Morgan for Auditor instead of Dave Yost, and DeWine will take those counties on, too.
But Rousseau’s Husted snub is particularly egregious in the eyes of Kevin DeWine, and so the chess match is being played out between Kevin DeWine and Helen Hurst. The ranking chess pieces on DeWine’s side are Joyce Houck and Robert Duncan. The ranking chess pieces on Helen Hurst’s side are Bob Rousseau and Marilyn Jacobcik. Andy Winemiller is a pawn on DeWine’s side. Houck’s side is DeWine’s side, and by choosing Houck’s side, Duncan and Winemiller are on DeWine’s side. Even if Winemiller wins this election, he’s still a pawn, because the ranking pieces on each side will hedge up the way around him. The way that DeWine hopes to use the Winemiller pawn is to take away enough Lorain County votes so that Duncan will win and Rousseau, who voted against Husted, will be out. Does Winemiller know that he’s a pawn? If not, then he’s in over his head, and he’d better wise up if he’s not going to be manipulated and buffaloed as a member of the state central committee. If he is aware, then he’s being capricious, and what he’s not saying in writing is a tell-tale sign that he’s not going to displease DeWine with what he writes.
For what it’s worth, Husted has not been good for the Republican Party, not just because he couldn’t reign in spending while he was Speaker of the House, but because bills were passed during his tenure that paved the way for Jennifer Brunner to manipulate the elections the way she did. Under Speaker Husted, early voting began in earnest, with no reason needed for voting absentee. The early voting period begins before the voting registration period ends, creating a window where a person can register and vote all at once at the Board of Elections, posing a risk of voter fraud. Observers were only permitted at the polls on Election Day, and observers were barred from Board of Elections polling places during the early voting. The last four digits of a social security number written on an envelope is the only ID required for the absentee ballot, and the election workers don’t even have to match it up for verification purposes. Since these changes were made, Republicans have been greatly disadvantaged. Thanks for nothing Mr. Husted. Furthermore, if Husted’s elected SoS, he wants to introduce a new redistricting process that is supposedly more non-partisan than the Apportionment Board we now have. There is no such thing as a non-partisan redistricting process, because, no matter how you set it up, the incentive for political parties to game the system never goes away. At least the Apportionment Board is elected by the people. Creating a non-elected body to redistrict would take the voters out of the equation, and thereby deprive the people of having a check and balance on the redistricting body. There is no compelling reason for Republicans to endorse Husted for SoS.
What Kevin DeWine is attempting to do is wrong. He needs opposition on the state central committee. I endorse Robert Rousseau.
April 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm
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April 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm
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April 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm
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April 20, 2010 at 8:58 am
Great article, Dan–it’s obvious you put a lot of time and research into it. This is an race I’m watching, as well, and the dynamics surrounding the three candidates is very interesting. Keep up the good work . . .
April 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm
Thanks for taking the time to read this very long post. I must admit that I changed my mind 3 or 4 times. I’ve finally arrived at a decision that I’m very comfortable with, in my head, in my heart, in my conscience, in my gut.
April 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm
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April 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm
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