The Ohio Republican Party's Future

Apr 29, 2013

Ohio’s Republican Party elected its new chairman today and there were no surprises.

Matt Borges, the candidate favored by statewide officeholders and many party leaders, was elected to the post by a large margin. But tea party supporters of Tom Zawistowski, Borges’ challenger, showed up in force and, as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, are vowing this vote isn’t the end of the story.

The Ohio Republican Party has a new leader.  Matt Borges, the party’s acting executive director, will take over as Chairman in June when current leader, Bob Bennett, steps down.  Borges, who was supported by Governor Kasich and Republican leaders was expected to win the post and he did….by a large margin…..48 to 7.  His opponent, tea party activist Tom Zawistowski, said Borges would not take the party in a conservative direction.  And in his comments after being nominated, Zawistowski gave a specific example of what he was talking about when he told the crowd about a conversation he had with Republican State Auditor David Yost.

Zawistowski – When Dave Yost tries to tell me that we are winning because the house defeated the Governor’s proposal for Medicaid, I said Dave, you are using Obama math because I didn’t have Medicaid expansion before the budget, I spent 3 months fighting with people I like to make sure don’t have Medicaid in the budget so I gained nothing but I lost 3 months that I could use fighting the enemy.  That’s not a win.  That’s a loss.

As Zawistowski made his appeal to central committee members to ask for their support, his supporters were in the back of the room, cheering him on.  And after the vote was announced, some supporters were visibly disgusted.

In the hallway, after the vote, Anna Rehl of Newark, said she thought the vote against Zawistowski was unfair.

Rehl – I cannot believe after his speech that he only got seven votes.  This just proves my point that every politician needs limited terms because it is fixed.

Rehl said she thinks it’s time for tea party Republicans to quit trying to work within the GOP and go their own way.

Rehl – If there’s a third party, I will work very hard and become involved to make the changes and get back our country.

For his part, Tom Zawistowski says it’s clear there is a chasm between tea party members and the leadership at the Ohio Republican Party.

Zawistowski - They’re about electing candidates.  What do we want?  We only electing candidates to have policy.  Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you want policy.  But we are not getting the policy.  We are just getting the candidates and that’s where the system breaks down.
Still, Zawistowski himself does not rule out trying to change the Republican party from within.

Zawistowski – We’re looking for conservative candidates that will share our values and will implement them when they are elected.  And we are looking at every house race, every senate race, every state office and every central committee.  These people voted.

Ingles – You are looking for a third party candidate to rival the Republican candidates then?

Zawistowski – Well, maybe there will be someone in the Republican primary that we can get behind. Maybe there will be a primary.  We don’t know that yet.  Maybe it will be a third candidate.  Maybe it will be an independent candidate.  Maybe we will just let the Governship fall, meaning we won’t support Governor Kasich and still support the rest of it…..There’s a lot of options.  We have a lot of options.  And we will get together with our coalition members and discuss those options.
While tea party members decide their next move, Borges, the incoming chair, said he’s looking forward to bringing all Republicans together to support good candidates. When asked what he’s worried tea party activists might leave the party, Borges responds this way.

Borges – We certainly don’t want them to do that. And again, I hesitate to use words like “they” and “them”.  These are all members of our Republican family.

Borges said he wants to work with Zawistowski and tea party activists in the future to elect good candidates and establish good policy.  And Borges says there’s no need for conservative members of the party to think it will abandon its traditional stances on issues like the state’s ban on gay marriage for example.  If activists for gay marriage are successful in getting it on the ballot, Borges said his party will take a clear stand on the issue.

Borges – I’ll tell you something very clearly right now.  I’m 100% certain that the state party would oppose it. And if that gets on the ballot, I truly believe it would fail again and that Ohioans would retain the current definition that they have of gay marriage.

As Republicans have, once again, waged a public fight over the direction of the party in the future, Democrats have been watching.  Within hours after Borges was elected, the Ohio Democratic Party emailed a letter to reporters, pointing out some of his tax troubles.  And the party resurrected talk about the new Republican chairman’s criminal plea back in 2005 in connection with a pay to play scheme in the state treasurer’s office.