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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

Ohio GOP keeps control of legislature despite worst November in 34 years

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Democrats realized their biggest legislative gains in 34 years on Tuesday, but Republicans still retained control of the Ohio General Assembly.

Republicans also strengthened their hold on the judicial branch of government by capturing the last Ohio Supreme Court seat held by a Democrat.

Democrats gained seven seats in the House and one in the Senate, according to unofficial election results. The Senate gain marked the first for Democrats in that chamber in 14 years.

The GOP now outnumbers Democrats 53-46, putting a GOP-only override of a Gov. Ted Strickland veto out of reach. Republicans still outnumber Democrats 21-12 in the Senate.

Democrats accomplished their gains by wresting away eight Republican seats, upsetting four incumbents in the process, while successfully defending all but one of their own.

Among the incumbents tossed out were Rep. Dan White (R., Norwalk) in the 58th District straddling Huron, eastern Seneca, and southwestern Lorain counties.

Mr. White was appointed earlier this year to replace Kathleen Walcher in this traditionally strong Republican district.

In his second attempt in two years, Matthew Barrett, an Amherst attorney, won with 51.2 percent of the vote.

The district makes up one-third of the 13th Senate district where Senate Democrats made their sole pickup.

Sen. Jeffry Armbruster (R., North Ridgeville) is term-limited, which left the door open to Democrat Susan Morano, a Lorain nurse.

In the House, Reps. Geoffery Smith in the suburban Columbus 24th District, Earl Martin in Lorain County's 57th District, and Randy Law in Trumbull County's 64th District were sent packing.

Democrats also picked up four open seats in the Cleveland, Akron, and Columbus suburbs, and Columbiana County.

Rep. Tim Cassell (D., Madison) had the dubious distinction of being the only Democrat ousted by Republicans, thanks in part to a drunken driving arrest.

"There were seven other seats where there was just a 2,000-vote margin," said House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D., Columbus).

"In that group we've got some more Matt Barretts."

But House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said Democrats shouldn't plot for 2008 just yet.

"This was the worst Republican year in the history of politics in Ohio," he said. "If you couldn't beat a Republican this year, you're not going to beat 'em. That's just a fact."

He said he was surprised the damage wasn't worse. Internal caucus polls had shown Republicans leading in only 49 districts.

Defying statewide trends, voters re-elected Justice Terrence O'Donnell of Rocky River, and added Lima-based appellate Judge Robert Cupp to the state Supreme Court, handing Republicans total control of the high court.

Part of the reason may have been the fact that judicial races do not carry partisan labels on the ballot.

"Judges are elected on a non-partisan ballot, and that's how we serve," said Judge Cupp. "That's how I would serve. We don't make decisions based on party affiliation."

Justice O'Donnell garnered 58.9 percent of the vote to defeat Warren-based appellate Judge William O'Neill, a Democrat. Judge Cupp garnered 53.9 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat attorney Ben Espy of Columbus.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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