Lucas County, no less than the state or the nation, needs a truly competitive two-party political system that responds to all voters. But the Democratic sweep of county offices in this month’s election suggests that imperative is receding, rather than moving closer to reality.
That should trouble every voter — Republican, Democrat, and otherwise. It also raises questions about the performance of the county GOP leadership.
This month, voters rehired two county commissioners and elected or re-elected seven row officeholders, all Democrats. Republicans didn’t even contest four of the row races. When the GOP did field candidates, they were almost all no-names, with no money, no organization, and no strong platform behind them.
That is a prescription for failure. Not surprisingly, the contested (at least on paper) county races weren’t close. That might cause some entrenched incumbent Democrats to conclude that they deserve a lock on their offices because voters obviously think they’re doing a fine job, when those voters weren’t given a meaningful alternative.
The notion that Toledo is too much of a union — and Democratic — town to allow Republicans to compete in Lucas County is a canard. Republican candidates have carried the city and county in the not so distant past. There’s enough GOP support in the city, and especially in its western suburbs, that the party ought to be doing better than it is.
County GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook has focused on maintaining control of the party’s central committee, after the Tom Noe debacle. State and national party officials say Mr. Stainbrook contributed usefully to the ultimately unsuccessful Republican campaigns in Ohio for president and U.S. Senate.
But the county party and its chairman have been far less successful at providing a genuine challenge to local Democrats. At some point, the GOP needs to elevate its local sights beyond recruiting precinct captains and planting yard signs.
It must build a strong bench of credible, well-known candidates in Toledo and the suburbs — people who are worth supporting and capable of winning. Stark County in northeast Ohio offers an example of a Republican Party in an urban area that for decades has nominated candidates who won not only local but also statewide offices. It could happen here with strong, effective leadership.
The best way to diversify Lucas County’s political system, not just along party lines but also geographically and demographically, remains comprehensive reform of the county’s obsolete government structure: a home rule charter, a county council elected by districts, the replacement of invisible row officeholders by professional administrators, and an elected, nonpartisan county executive.
Proponents of county reform haven’t been able to get their proposal on the ballot, although they need to keep trying. If they succeed, county voters will need to treat reform with something other than eye-glazed dismissal.
In the meantime, whether or not Toledo Mayor Mike Bell seeks re-election next year, Republicans need to start now to recruit credible candidates for the mayor’s office and City Council. The county party has a central role in that effort; how it plays that role will largely define whether its leaders deserve to keep their jobs.
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