Stow Municipal Judge Kim Hoover has been a longtime Republican but he’s never had to run for judicial office with an “R” after his name.
In Hoover’s first three elections, adding up to an 18-year career on the bench, northern Summit County judgeships were nonpartisan events held in November.
But a change in state law a couple of years ago started requiring courts in Stow and elsewhere to hold partisan primaries in the spring — and Summit County’s Republican leadership sees it as their chance to get rid of Hoover, a friend turned foe of GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff.
They hoped to unseat Hoover by pitting him in the primary against Kandi O’Connor, a judicial attorney and magistrate for Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones.
While Hoover has the advantage of being the incumbent, here’s the risk for him: Most of the 16 voting communities under the Stow court’s jurisdiction will have only court races on the May 7 ballot.
With limited voter turnout expected, a concerted Republican effort might turn out enough diehard party members to upset him.
He acknowledged as much: “In most of my communities, there’s no reason to go to the polls unless you have a burning desire to vote for judge or clerk.”
Only voters in Macedonia, Reminderville, Cuyahoga Falls and Twinsburg have the additional draw of a tax issue.
So on Wednesday, Hoover revealed a rarely used tactic in an effort to win a fourth term — skipping party politics and even the “independent” label and running under a “nonpartisan” status that would send him directly to the Nov. 5 ballot.
Because Ohio judges run without a party affiliation in the general election, he presumedly would appear on the ballot on equal footing with uncontested primary candidates O’Connor and Democrat Linda Malek, sister of Akron Municipal Judge Joy Oldfield.
Although Hoover said case law supports his strategy, he fully expects the Summit County Board of Elections, of which Arshinkoff is a member, to balk.
“It’s dangerous for me,” Hoover admitted after filing his petitions on the same day that party candidates were required to file.
Nonpartisans aren’t required to file until May but Hoover didn’t want voters to think he wasn’t running at all when his name didn’t show up on the elections board’s primary rolls Wednesday.
Arshinkoff acknowledged that the party planned to challenge Hoover in the primary.
He said Hoover needed to answer for how he supported Wayne Jones, chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party and a member of the elections board, in 1997 when he ran against Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart, a Republican. He claims this was a violation of election law, though no complaint was filed regarding it.
Hoover was also outspoken against Arshinkoff in 2008 during a campaign to unseat Arshinkoff as party chairman. Hoover’s daughter, Corinne Hoover Six, led a second unsuccessful attempt to oust Arshinkoff in 2010.
“We won. They lost,” said Arshinkoff of the fight, pointing out that he held onto his chairman’s seat with an overwhelming show of support by party members.
As Hoover predicted, Arshinkoff said the judge can’t do what he’s planning. He pointed to how former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner ruled in 2007 that Edna Boyle couldn’t run as an independent for Barberton law director because of her strong ties to the Republican Party.
“It’s clear that someone who voted in a Republican primary can’t be running as an independent,” Arshinkoff said. “This is typical Kim Hoover. It’s in his mind.”
But Hoover is not running as an “independent” where candidates are required to show they have distanced themselves from any party affiliation.
2007 court ruling
The “nonpartisan” status Hoover is seeking was addressed in a 2007 Ohio Supreme Court case. The high court sided with a Republican judge in Warren County who filed not as an independent, but as a “nonpartisan,” sending him straight to the general election ballot without a requirement that he “disaffiliate” himself from his party.
Hoover said he asked the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office last month for an opinion as to whether the 2007 Allen v. Warren County Board of Elections case was still “good law.”
“We were told by the secretary of state that it was,” Hoover said.
Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jon Husted, said the office would not comment about a law as it relates to a specific candidate.
Hoover hasn’t been active in Republican Party events in years, he said. Although he continues to support a mostly Republican local, state and national ticket, he said he has on occasion supported and given money to a Democratic candidate.
But that never stopped him from keeping his office because he never had to run as a Republican, and that’s the way it should be, he said.
When it comes to judgeships, “I’m offended by ringing partisan politics,” Hoover said.
During his first three terms for the northern court (located in Cuyahoga Falls until three years ago) primaries were not held for municipal judges. A couple of years ago, changes in state law required several municipal courts, including Stow, to start running partisan primaries.
Ohio is the only state in the country where municipal judges must run in a partisan primary, and then run without party affiliation in the general election.
Board to decide
It’s unclear when the issue of whether Hoover can run as a nonpartisan candidate will be hashed out by the elections board.
Arshinkoff expects it to be addressed at the next board meeting on Feb. 15 when the board will vote on certifying the petitions of the candidates who filed to run Wednesday.
But Tim Gorbach, the Democratic chairman of the elections board, said the discussion may need to wait until after the deadline for nonpartisan candidates, which is May 6, the day before the primary.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Wednesday’s filing deadline was only for a handful of municipal races in Stow, Barberton and Lakemore and for school and other tax issues that will be on the May ballot. Most other local candidates have a filing deadline in June and a primary in September.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.