We're set new lows in the battle for control of Summit County's GOP; now we may see more hardball as both sides ramp up for the March central committee elections.
When's the last time you saw THAT in a lead?
I spoke with State Senator Kevin Coughlin, who called to ask me about a conversation with long-time county chairman Alex Arshinkoff. I reported last August on a Saturday morning call when I asked about some of the charges Coughlin and the New Summit Republicans leveled at the current GOP leadership. Of particular interest was Alex's comment on why he didn't field a candidate to challenge Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, then-running against fellow Democrat Joe Finley with clear sailing ahead in the general election.
I thought Alex's point was well-taken, that he didn't push a Republican challenge because Akron would benefit with Plusquellic in a position of influence with Columbus statehouse executive offices under Democrat control and a strong likelihood the White House would see a change in power as well. That bit of honesty may cost Arshinkoff, however.
Coughlin wanted to let me know the report -- in addition to similar comments made to others -- could form a basis of a challenge to remove Arshinkoff from the county executive committee.
Here's how it would work: the anti-Alex camp believes he violated the county party's by-laws, as filed with the Secretary of State's office, over language that calls for members to get the boot for supporting candidates who don't have the party's official stamp. That would certainly be Plusquellic, and in an ironic twist they say it's exactly the same strategy used by Alex years ago to have former Fairlawn Mayor Pete Kostoff removed (for supporting Wayne Jones' bid to unseat Republican incumbent Don Robart in the hotly-contested Cuyahoga Falls Mayor's race) from the GOP Executive Committee.
Following along? In a nutshell the charge is that by giving Plusquellic a free pass -- and even telling me the reason shows support -- should be enough to remove Arshinkoff from office.
The New Summit Republicans lawyers will huddle over the weekend to decide strategy; they may ask Arshinkoff to step down for violating his own rules, something Alex would certainly reject. The next step would be to take the case in front of a judge (after all, the by-laws are mandated by state law) or even ask Ohio's top elections official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, to order Arshinkoff removed.
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All of this hasn't even risen to boil level yet; the undercurrent of story commenting on the Akron Beacon Journal (through Topix) has been particularly personal and vile, aided no doubt by the ability to log-in and post anonymously or even using someone else's name. Eric Mansfield reports on a particularly graphic and nasty YouTube video making the rounds that drags up sexual orientation, martial fidelity and other mud (I agree with one commenter on YouTube: this one looks like it came out of Democrat quarters...) and both sides are already flying with charges and counter-charges of dirty tricks, fake mailings, vicious personal email attacks under false names and far worse.
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The circus-like atmosphere of this challenge to Arshinkoff's authority -- coming from Coughlin -- is just scratching the surface. What may be lost in this is an honest discussion the party should be having: what's the definition of success for the GOP in Summit County, at what cost and with what face? Arshinkoff is a powerful force in local and state politics aided by his longevity, his amazing fundraising ability and his take-no-prisoners strategy in past races. But he's had some episodes of Nero-like excess, such as threatening those who dare question his leadership; that includes blasting local judge, the United Way (was Mother Theresa busy that weekend?), this week's public shouting match with fellow Board of Elections member Jones and other bizarre personal incidents that lead even his supporters to shake their heads. Coughlin has been one of the region's more consistent GOP names and performers despite the tag he's a little too ambitious; he's managed to put together his own faction within the local GOP that can ignore the bluster from the Arshinkoff wing and win without their help.
A dangerous thing, such independence from the county machine. Sheriff Drew Alexander is unusual in that he stands above that fray, seemingly immune to the entreaties and barbs from either side, the truly non-partisan public official. Coughlin could have taken that route, let Alex play in his own sandbox, but he tells me he can't stand what's happened to the local party and it needs to change to grow, prosper, and win.
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The New Summit Republicans appear, on paper at least, to fall short of their goal but expect them to go head-to-head with Arshinkoff loyalists on filings for the central committee. A real key to this fight will be whether Alex is confident enough in his own game to allow the committee members an honest shot at deciding this contest, without manipulating meetings and the process, with a secret ballot in voting for the executive committee (and, by proxy, the chairman's job). Not surprisingly, his critics say that's the one thing he should be most afraid of because without the power to identify and punish he won't survive an honest accounting. That power play will come after the March primary vote with those hundreds of committee positions on the line.