Thursday, January 8, 2004

Jolivette, Combs may swap

Job change would avert tough primary in GOP

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Hoping to avoid divisive and expensive primary fights, Republicans are trying to work things out so that Butler County Commissioner Courtney Combs and state Rep. Greg Jolivette would switch jobs.

"I don't know anything that's cut and dried yet, but they're trying to put something together," Combs said Wednesday.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett met with Butler County party members here Sunday - two days after the filing deadline - to head off a couple of heated primary battles shaping up for March 2. Besides dividing local Republicans, the primary races could siphon funds from President Bush's re-election campaign.

Currently, Jolivette is challenging incumbent Michael A. Fox for county commission in March, while Combs is campaigning against former party executive Joe Statzer for Jolivette's 54th Ohio House seat. Jolivette must surrender the seat to term limits in 2006.

In one scenario, Jolivette would withdraw from the commission race and resign his seat before the primary. Combs would be appointed to the Legislature, Jolivette would become commissioner, and Statzer would stay as chief assistant to Prosecutor Robin Piper.

Or Statzer would pull out of the House race, guaranteeing a Combs victory because no Democrats filed for the seat. Then Jolivette would withdraw from the commission race with a promise to fill the final two years of Combs' commission term after November.

Jolivette and Joe Schwarz, Butler County Republican chairman, could not be reached for comment.

Statzer confirmed that party officials have talked about avoiding a bitter primary, but he refused to be specific.

"There has always been ongoing discussions to bring about party unity, because we have a greater cause - the re-election of George W. Bush," says Statzer, a Fairfield resident. "He needs Ohio to win the election. And if we get divisive, that may not happen."

Combs says party officials may want him to assume the last year of Jolivette's two-year term, indicating that a job swap could be imminent.

"I've been asked: If there was a vacancy, would I be willing to fill that vacancy?" says Combs.

In the past, party leaders have rejected Combs' attempts to go to the legislature. A Jolivette-Combs swap last summer was rejected by the party. In November, the party endorsed Rep. Gary Cates over Combs to fill Scott Nein's 4th Senate seat.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer .com

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