COLUMBUS, Ohio – The September 10 meeting of the Ohio Republican Party (ORP)’s State Central Committee offers the first opportunity for reform-minded members to press their agenda for changes in the governance and policies of the GOP ahead of the 2022 election for five statewide officeholders and the congressional mid-terms.
Whether the voices for reform first heard in a series of stories The Ohio Star published in late July and early August carry the day at the meeting depends upon the willingness of central committee members on the sideline to consider whether to follow the bylaws of the organization representing nearly 2 million Ohio voters registered as Republicans or falling in line behind GOP Chairman Bob Paduchik.
But $500,000 payments from the GOP’s coffers to the reelection campaigns of DeWine and Attorney General Yost, who has not attracted a primary opponent, has raised the issue of whether the Republican Party should financially support an unendorsed candidate in the May primary election and whether voters and not the party, should choose the party standard bearers.
“Stopping primary endorsements is key for grassroots voters exercising their right to see their candidates for forward to the general election,” said Mark Pukita, a business from the Columbus suburb of Dublin vying in a crowded field for the GOP nomination to unseat U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) who announced earlier this year he would not seek a third six-year term.
“Republican voters don’t want establishment candidates crammed down their throats,” he said. “They’re done with that.”
Paduchik responded he has the power to approve campaign donations as well as significant in-kind use of ORP staff and resources through “tradition” and “chairman’s discretion” even though the GOP bylaws strongly suggest all payments and other support get sent to the central committee’s financial review committee.
The first indications of discontent within the 66-member central committee emerged in late July when The Star published emails between a few members about alleged poor financial recordkeeping and practices and the need to expand the scope of the first formal audit of the Ohio GOP books in at least 16 years beyond the contracted 2020 and 2019.
David Johnson, the powerful ORP treasurer and veteran central committee member from District 3 in Columbiana County, defended Paduchik’s handling of the audit issue, dismissing central committee members Mark Bainbridge and Denise Verdi who sit on the fiscal review panel and Laura Rosenberger of the committee’s audit panel “malcontents.” for seeking to expand the audit to 2018 and 2017.
Paduchik, in a letter to members of the State Central Committee, himself defended pre-endorsement finan
Tricia McLaughlin, the communications director for the ORP, said neither Johnson nor Paduchik would comment “at this time.”
Verdi declined to comment. Neither Bainbridge nor Rosenberger could be reached for comment.
The pro forma agenda released to the central committee last week does not include any of the reform agenda items. But the agenda is subject to change through a vote of members.
The central committee will consider uncontested endorsements for two Ohio Supreme Court justices seeking re-election and a current GOP justice seeking the endorsement for the chief justice post which will open up in late 2022.
The meeting also includes selecting those vying for three open central committee seats, with at least two of those vacant seat as contested.
JoAnn Campbell, a central committee member from Medina who represents District 44, said she is not quite sure what to expect regarding the more controversial issues at the meeting. She supports reformers’ calls for central committee members to become more active in directing the management of the Ohio GOP’s affairs.
“We’re kind of a committee in name only,” she told The Star. “We rubber stamp most things and there’s not much input from the committees” to the management.
Campbell hopes to gain support for the calling of a state convention in early 2022 to consider changes to the party bylaws as a necessary step toward reform through changing the bylaws.
GOP grassroots activist Jon Morrow, policy director for the Committee for a Better Ohio, said predictions of “fireworks” may be premature.
“I don’t think (management) will ask for endorsements at this meeting,” Morrow said. “We believe we’ve been able to get enough support that will stop any DeWine endorsement for now.”
Putika said he expects many grassroots activists and voters from across the state to attend the 10 a.m. public meeting at the Nationwide Conference Center off Powell Road at Route 23 in Lewis Center, Ohio just north of Columbus.
“People are coming from all corners of the state,” he said in the telephone interview. “They’re taking the party back.”
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