On April 13, the Ohio Republican Party will conduct the equivalent of a collective polygraph test on the members of its central committee. The members won seats on the committee in the primary election. Now they must settle an argument raging between supporters of the incumbent party chairman, Kevin DeWine, and friends of John Kasich, determined to oust the chairman and see the governor gain full control of the party apparatus.
Each side has declared that it has the votes. Thus, the approaching moment of truth.
The fascinating thing has been the intensity of the battle waged by the Kasich allies. They insist it makes sense for a governor to lead the party via a chosen chairman. Yet DeWine hardly has a poor record, Republicans now in charge of practically everything at the Statehouse.
DeWine recently proposed that he would not seek another two-year term in January. Not good enough, declared the governor’s crowd. Resign immediately, was the counteroffer.
That response reflected an emerging pattern of ruthlessness. Andrew Manning, the chairman of the Portage County Republican Party, revealed the squeeze put on him in an affidavit sent to relevant authorities. He told about Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County Republican Party chief, and his sidekick, Bryan Williams, dangling the prospect of becoming the “governor’s guy” regarding appointments and other things in Portage — if he abandoned DeWine.
The episode seems almost quaint in comparison to other tales of threats and intimidation, one committee member, for instance, relaying how she refused to buckle and then lost her job.
What explains the aggressive pursuit, especially when the James Rhodes years highlight the problems after a governor takes over the party? Consider the leading role of Douglas Preisse, part of the Kasich inner circle, chairman of the Franklin County party, newly arrived superlobbyist and man at the forefront of the Dump DeWine movement. He surely smells the consulting contracts and the big dollars.
Preisse peddles influence, as the guy close to the guy, posing as indispensable to interests. So does Arshinkoff. Include Donald Thibaut, a close Kasich pal and sudden superlobbyist. He shared with the governor the need to whack the budget of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. The deed was done. How fortunate when American Electric Power, a Thibaut client, looked to have its way with the Public Utilities Commission, the noisy counsel now understaffed.
Just pols being pols? The trouble for the governor is, he promised something different, or nothing of the political kind. “We just looked at problems honestly,” he boasted in his State of the State address. Like the war over the party’s leadership?
— MICHAEL DOUGLAS
Editorial page editor