Sunday, September 19, 2004

One-party rule makes for ballot unevenness

County offices: Some unopposed, others run as write-ins

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Southwest Ohio voters will be filling some of the most important county jobs in November's elections.

But they often won't have a choice.

The traditional Republican dominance of county-level politics discourages Democrats from running because they usually lose.

For example: There is no competition in any of the 10 judicial races in Hamilton County, guaranteeing a Republican sweep

In Clermont County, there are free rides for the incumbent sheriff, prosecutor, recorder, treasurer, engineer and coroner.

Butler County prosecutor Robin Piper is unopposed, as are the clerk of courts, recorder, treasurer, engineer and coroner.

In Warren County, there isn't a Democrat on the ballot.

What's left?

Hamilton County

The Democratic Party's priority is the re-election of Commissioner Todd Portune - one of just two Democrats holding county elected office. Portune was elected in 2000 when he defeated Bob Bedinghaus, in a race defined by Bedinghaus' promotion of a new stadium for the Bengals.

Running against Portune this year is David Grossmann, a retired juvenile court judge, who won a Republican primary in March.

"I think this is very doable for Grossmann," county GOP Vice Chairman Bruce Taylor said. "He's an articulate and cerebral campaigner."

Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine is running for the other commissioner's seat that's up for election. DeWine bumped off incumbent Commissioner John Dowlin, a fellow Republican, in the March primary and now faces Democrat Eve Bolton.

The Democrats also have candidates challenging GOP incumbents for recorder, clerk of courts, treasurer and coroner.

The coroner's race could be particularly interesting. Dr. O'dell Owens is challenging Dr. Carl Parrott, an incumbent who has been plagued by controversy and litigation over photos an artist took of posed bodies at the morgue.

The most unusual race in Hamilton County will be the contest to replace Republican prosecutor Mike Allen.

Since a sex scandal prompted Allen to withdraw from the ballot Monday, all candidates will be write-ins.

Write-in candidates are officially non-partisan, but the Republican Party is keen on Ohio treasurer Joe Deters, who moved back to Hamilton County to be a candidate for a job he held in the 1990s. Melissa Powers and James Rueger, both Republicans, also filed as write-ins. The Democratic Party is likely to endorse lawyer Fanon Rucker today. Recent revelations about Allen's extramarital affair with an employee may improve Democrats' chances in all county elections, Democratic Chairman Tim Burke said.

"I think we finally have a chance to get the voters of Hamilton County to focus on the problems that occur when you have one-party rule in the courthouse and frankly the arrogance that comes with that," he said.

Butler County

In Butler County, where Republicans control all countywide elected offices, voters have the rare chance to elect three county commissioners.

Former state legislator Greg Jolivette, whose term as commissioner expires in 2006, will be on the ballot because he was appointed to the seat in January, in a job swap with fellow Republican Courtney Combs.

Jolivette faces attorney Rusty Thomas, the Butler County Democratic Party political director.

Commissioner Chuck Furmon is being challenged by James Lubbers of Hamilton.

Facing the toughest race is incumbent Michael A. Fox, who was not endorsed by the Republican Party. He has two opponents - West Chester Township Trustee Catherine Stoker, a Democrat, and J. Michael Best of Fairfield, a Republican running as an independent.

Dan Gattermeyer, Butler County Democratic Party chairman, said the neck-and-neck presidential race, and lingering resentment over the "job swap deal," will bring many people out to vote in November.

"We're in this situation because of one reason: We have one-party rule here," he said, echoing his Hamilton County counterpart.

Butler County also will elect a new sheriff, with the retirement of Harold Don Gabbard. Chief Deputy Rick Jones is running against Dale Richter, a Springboro police officer who lives in Trenton.

Warren County

For the first time in more than 10 years, Warren County voters will elect a non-incumbent as county commissioner.

Commissioner Larry Crisenbery, who was first elected in 1992, decided not to run this year, opening the door to a four-way Republican primary. The winner, Deerfield Township businessman Dave Young, faces competition from a write-in candidate, Jack Chrisman of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Richard Heath Kilburn is challenging longtime Sheriff Tom Ariss, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary. Kilburn is the Morrow police chief and cousin of Commissioner Mike Kilburn.

At the courthouse, attorneys Donald Oda of Springboro and Jay Revelson of Maineville are both vying for the County Court judgeship that James Heath is vacating. Heath is becoming a Common Pleas judge.

Even though it's not contested, the race for Warren County treasurer is noteworthy. A current employee of the treasurer's office, Jim Aumann, is running unopposed. Current Treasurer Jim LeFevers filed paperwork on Aumann's behalf just before candidates' filing deadline.

Clermont County

In Clermont County, two are running for a newly formed county position: the clerk of courts of common pleas.

Republican Barb Wiedenbein, who was recently appointed Union Township trustee, will face off against Democrat Chris King for the new clerk job.

Clermont County used to have a "dual-duty" clerk, who served as both municipal and common pleas clerk, but county officials voted in 2003 to split the position in two because of the heavy caseloads.

The term of the current clerk, David Caudill, ends in January.

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