Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Deal avoids primary battle


Combs and Jolivette will switch jobs

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - Political rivals Greg Jolivette and Michael A. Fox say they won't have any problems working side-by-side as Butler County commissioners after a GOP primary battle was averted. The deal was announced Monday.

"We're not going to agree on everything," said Jolivette, the 54th District Ohio House representative. He will swap jobs next week with Commissioner Courtney Combs. "But I expect him to disagree in a professional manner."

Fox had made enough foes, including in his own party, during his six years as county commissioner that Jolivette had decided to leave Columbus and oppose him in the March 2 primary. However, some Republican leaders worried that an expected hard-hitting fight between two of the county's best-known officeholders would divide the party and undermine fund raising and support for President Bush's re-election battle.

All that ended Monday when Jolivette withdrew from the primary race and announced he was resigning his legislative seat on Friday.

Combs, who is now running unopposed for that seat in November, also will resign his commission seat Friday. He will be appointed to the job next week - and Jolivette will fill the three years remaining on Combs' commission seat.

The deal was brokered by Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, who came to Butler County a week ago.

"He (Bennett) was the catalyst," said Jolivette, a former Hamilton mayor who replaced Fox as Hamilton's state legislator in 1997. "He made a very good state and national argument for not having a primary fight... He proved to me why he's the state party chairman."

Also as part of the arrangement, Joe Statzer withdrew from the Ohio 54th primary race with Combs. Statzer, a former county party executive director, remains as chief administrator for Prosecutor Robin Piper.

The two primary contests could have cost a combined $700,000 to $1 million, Fox says. He and Jolivette were expecting to spend a minimum of $300,000, while Combs and Statzer were looking at spending at least $150,000, Fox says.

"Avoiding the primary is in the best interest of the people of Butler County," said Joe Schwarz, county party chairman.

Schwarz bristled when a reporter referred to Monday's announcement at county GOP headquarters here as a "backroom deal" that deprived voters from making a decision.

"It's really not a backroom deal. It's being done in accordance with the laws of the state of Ohio," Schwarz said. Technically, the Ohio House speaker will fill Jolivette's vacancy, and commissioners will fill Combs' seat.

Because three years remain on Combs' commission term, Jolivette must face re-election on the November ballot - along with Fox and Commissioner Charles Furmon.

"In terms of voter choice, the voters will have an unprecedented opportunity to vote on the whole commission," Fox said.

Democrat Catherine Stoker, the West Chester Township trustee running against Fox in November, says Republicans wanted to avoid "airing a lot of dirty laundry about Mike Fox" in the primary.

The Jolivette-Combs swap also saves Republican donors a lot of money - while both men remained on public payrolls, she said. "They want to use taxpayers' money instead of having to use up their own money in a primary shoot-out," Stoker said.

---

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
Bronson: Kids, council need to do the right thing
Blackwell pushes for end to secret political accounts
Car buffs donate $50K to hospital

TOP LOCAL HEADLINES
Ohio wins new uranium plant
Dowlin refuses DeWine debate
Deal avoids primary battle
Lawyer asks out of church lawsuit
Public library doing more with less
Arrest led to deputy
Biographer to speak on 'soul' of pope
District loses commandments court battle
Man killed at bar's door
Builder's racketeering conviction upheld
Drug arrests follow probe of Cheviot bar

EDUCATION HEADLINES
Fantasy reading makes TV disappear
Principal wins slander suit
NKU foresees rise in tuition
Police say couple took sex photos of students
Sports commentator to speak at Moeller

NEIGHBORHOOD HEADLINES
Blighted area reawakens
Visits by 'Apple Lady' bear fruit for patients
Lakeside Park agrees to study merger with Crestview Hills
Loveland debate canceled
Mall tops list of Crestview Hills mayor's goals
Indian Hill relaxes cell-phone tower rule
Water compromise pondered
Computer training available in city

LIVES REMEMBERED
John Iden, ballet pianist