A flow chart would help in tracking Kevin Coughlin’s challenge of the unanimous decision of the Summit County Board of Elections to boot him off the Nov. 5 ballot as a nonpartisan candidate for clerk of the Stow Municipal Court. Let’s start with another unanimous vote — to hire Jennifer Brunner, a former secretary of state, to battle Coughlin, who has filed a lawsuit against the board at the Ohio Supreme Court.
Brunner, a Democrat, once bounced Alex Arshinkoff, the county Republican chairman, from the elections board. Now, Arshinkoff likes her expertise. It gets better. Coughlin once led a charge to oust Arshinkoff as the party chairman. Coughlin’s attorney, Don Varian, was appointed by Brunner to replace Arshinkoff (temporarily, it turned out) on the elections board, and ended up running against Arshinkoff for county party chairman.
Coughlin, meanwhile, was encouraged to run for clerk of the Stow court by one of the court’s judges, Kim Hoover, who also played a leading role in challenging Arshinkoff’s party leadership and who successfully filed as a nonpartisan candidate for re-election to avoid, like Coughlin, the possibility of losing this year in a partisan primary.
“Politics is a funny business,” Arshinkoff said. Indeed. The unanimous votes by the bipartisan elections board underscore the desire of both parties to keep Coughlin, a former state senator, off the fall ballot. Each party has its own candidate for clerk. Their choices have less ballot exposure, making the parties nervous about the prospects for capturing a position with much patronage.
Coughlin points confidently to a state law he authored in 2006, while in the state Senate, that says clerks of court in Stow are to be elected “in the manner that is provided for the nomination and election of judges.” He cites the same case law as Hoover did to defend his filing. Republicans and Democrats on the elections board argue that the legal situation is murky because of Coughlin’s history as a partisan candidate and legal differences between the offices of clerk and judge.
It’s a good thing that state law calls for the Supreme Court to resolve such election disputes quickly. The justices must merely interpret the law — not the curious twists and conflicting agendas of political life in Summit County.