Old Guard GOP May Hand Ohio to Obama

As brutal election results reflected, the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) was a scandal-plagued outfit circa 2006. I don’t relish the current ORP leadership fight, but if we don’t want second terms for President Obama and Senator Sherrod Brown we must avoid repeating our mistakes. Party chairman Kevin DeWine’s old-guard ways – combined with his public betrayal of Governor Kasich – make it hard to believe ORP can be effective with DeWine in charge.

Quick hits: this fall, a consultant with ties to Chairman DeWine produced $179,000 in advertising for one of the Big Labor fronts smearing Kasich’s union reform bill. A glance at last year’s ORP campaign expenditures reveals –

  • $753,680 spent in the incredibly close Kasich-Strickland race
  • $1.3 million spent in the secretary of state race, for DeWine ally Jon Husted – including $375,245 in the GOP primary
  • $1.5 million spent in the attorney general race, for Kevin DeWine’s cousin Mike DeWine

If those figures don’t raise your eyebrows, there’s more. In the early aughts, Brett Buerck was a recognized name in Ohio Republican circles. Then, suddenly, he was known more widely… and not for a good reason.

Brett Buerck (BYOO-rik) is president of Florida-based Majority Strategies. In 2004, he was fired as an aide to former House Speaker Larry Householder after a federal grand jury began subpoenaing records on Householder’s fundraising practices. The U.S. Justice Department later declined to prosecute Buerck.

“Team Householder,” renowned/reviled as brass-knuckle politicos, became synonymous with “corruption” in 2004. Buerck joined Rep. Bob Ney, Governor Bob Taft, and Tom Noe on the list of Ohio GOP persona non grata (or at least persona not-terribly-grata) and by all assumptions that was the end of that.

Though Buerck was never prosecuted, seeing money funneled from ORP to his Florida firm – $1.8 million in 2008, $1.7 million in 2010 – sets off alarm bells. Couldn’t ORP find a vendor with a less clouded history? Maybe the party could even spend its money in Ohio, if DeWine contracted with people not banished from the state!

I volunteered briefly for Ken Blackwell’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, so there are familiar tones in the current fight with Governor Kasich:

“The speaker talks to me through his lawyers,” said [Secretary of State] Blackwell, the darling of anti-tax conservatives and the state’s highest ranking black elected official.

“We now stand in a Statehouse awash in scandal, a scandal that was born under loose rules and grew under blind eyes,” Blackwell said recently.

Householder calls Blackwell a “Rodney Dangerfield of Ohio politics” trying unsuccessfully to get respect.

It seems clear that Brett Buerck’s ORP money stream would run dry without DeWine & Co. manning the pumps. After all, it’s a simple task to pull the gory Cleveland Plain Dealer and Toledo Blade coverage from Team Householder’s heyday, and the Ohio Democratic Party’s affinity for ORP leadership will last only as long as DeWine is arguing with the governor.

DeWine’s public complaints of victimhood, in addition to feeding the leftist narrative about Mean King Kasich, are downright ironic in light of his relationship with Buerck. Ken Blackwell had the right idea in 2004, per this Washington Post account:

Ohioans have been treated to regular servings of leaked strategy memos and e-mails written by Buerck, Sisk and others in Householder’s camp. With a swaggering tone, the documents suggest an approach to politics that borrows equally from H.R. Haldeman and Barney Fife.


“People have gotten caught up in having power for power’s sake,” said J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state, who has clashed bitterly with Householder and is investigating the consultants’ dealings. “When people don’t feel passionate that Republicans can and will make a difference, that makes the president’s job that much more difficult.”

Without a break from the people and practices who helped sink Republicans here in 2006, 2012 could be ugly for conservatives in Ohio and across the nation. The question now is whether Kevin DeWine wants the upcoming election to be about him.

Cross-posted at RedState and Big Government.

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