A battle that had been brewing for months came to a head on April 26. Governor John Kasich, along with the Ohio Republican Party establishment, hand-selected Matt Borges as the new statewide Chairman of the GOP to replace the retiring Bob Bennett. The Republican State Central Committee supported the Governor’s choice and made it official.
Conservatives objected to this choice for several reasons. A liberal homosexual group, Equality Ohio, had Borges registered as their lobbyist or agent as recently as 2012. Equality Ohio was formed to counter the Ohio Marriage Amendment, which passed by nearly 62% of the vote in 2004. The Marriage Amendment, supported by numerous Christian and conservative groups, states that only a marriage between one man and one woman is valid in Ohio. In addition, the national platform of the Republican Party calls for protection of traditional marriage.
Borges defended his decision to represent Equality Ohio by saying he didn’t work for the organization for very long and didn’t spend a lot of time on their behalf. He claimed he only initiated “a few conversations” with state legislators to scout out how much of Equality Ohio’s agenda could reasonably be expected to make it through the Republican-controlled legislature.
If that weren’t enough, Borges has been involved in other controversies. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor for “misuse of office” in a “pay to play” bribery scandal a few years ago. That conviction has since been expunged, but his admission of guilt speaks for itself. Finally, the Dayton Daily News broke the story that Borges is thousands of dollars behind on his taxes. He has just recently begun to pay off his tax debt.
After 83 Ohio conservative leaders signed a letter rejecting the direction of the Ohio Republican Party, conservative businessman Tom Zawistowski courageously threw his hat into the ring. Tom Z, as he is affectionately known, is a Tea Party leader and chairman of the “We The People” Convention. This gave the Governor and the State Central Committee an alternate choice for party chairman. But it soon became clear Tom Z did not have the votes to win, so he used the race as an opportunity to promote the conservative message. “You’re not getting it,” Tom told the crowd of State Central Committee members in Columbus. “If [you] do not wake up, it’s going to be over!” He urged state party operatives to start welcoming social and fiscal conservatives who do much of the grassroots work, such as phone banking, door knocking, sign distribution, and GOTV projects. He warned that the GOP cannot win without the support of these voters.
Tom Z’s rousing speech drew hearty applause from the Republican rank and file, who were kept in a roped off area in the back of the room. But most of the State Central Committee members didn’t seem concerned about offending conservatives and proceeded with a vote by secret ballot. The final vote count was 48 for Borges, seven for Tom Z, and three abstentions. Three proxy votes were denied after passage of a motion made by liberal party operative Jo Ann Davidson. Conservatives are left scratching their heads, wondering why Governor Kasich would insist on a scandal-ridden party chairman who is offensive to the voters who worked so hard to put him in the Governor’s mansion.
The Borges debacle alone would be bad enough, but unfortunately Ohio Republican leaders have disappointed conservatives on several other issues in recent months.
It was Republicans—not Democrats—who killed the pro-life Heartbeat Bill in the Ohio Senate. The Senate President at the time, Tom Niehaus, was joined by Republican Senators Tom Patton, Scott Oelslager, Mark Wagoner, and Chris Widener in voting for a procedural move to kill the Heartbeat Bill. The bill could be reintroduced under the leadership of new Senate President Keith Faber who took the reins in January, but as of this writing, it has not moved.
Then, in March, U.S. Senator Rob Portman flip-flopped and announced his support of gay marriage. Liberal groups lauded Portman’s new position while many conservatives vowed never to vote for him again.
And Governor Kasich, who campaigned against ObamaCare, proposed an expansion of Medicaid which would promote one of the basic tenets of ObamaCare. He did so in spite of Ohioans’ overwhelming support of the Healthcare Freedom Amendment, which passed with over 65% of the vote in 2011.
Conservative Republicans across Ohio are now asking themselves, “What do we do?” Some suggest leaving the Republican Party in one mass exodus. Others think it’s best to remain in the GOP, but recruit primary challengers, and then if unsuccessful, “undervote” or vote for third party candidates in certain General Election races. One thing is certain: if Republican leaders keep kicking sand in the face of their conservative members, they will lose those votes, with only themselves to blame.
Lori Viars is a Christian conservative activist who serves as Vice President of Warren County Right To Life and Vice Chair of Warren County Republican Party. She has volunteered on well over 100 political campaigns, worked for a political action committee, and served on the petitioner’s committee for the 2004 Ohio Marriage Amendment. Lori lives with her husband, Mark, in Warren County. They have two grown children.