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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Elections panel to hear GOP dispute over petitions

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

A big stack of candidacy protests filed by a Republican seeking to unseat Lucas County GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook could be ruled invalid today, based on a recommendation from the county prosecutor's office.

Yesterday, both sides in the power struggle for leadership of the Lucas County GOP filed new write-in candidates, adding 91 more candidates to a bulging ballot for the Republican Party's central committee.

Protests against central committee candidates are scheduled to be heard at a meeting of the county Board of Elections at 3 p.m. today, after the board reorganizes with its new member, Ben Marsh, a Maumee lawyer who lives in South Toledo.

Steven Papadimos, chief of the civil division of the prosecutor's office and legal adviser to the elections board, said protests may be lodged either by people who live in the same precinct and are registered in the same political party as the candidate being challenged, or by the controlling political party in question.

He said the 137 protests lodged by Paul Hoag, central committee chairman for the faction of the county Republican Party supporting Jeff Simpson for party chairman, won't be valid because Mr. Hoag doesn't meet either of the criteria.

Seven protests that were lodged by Mr. Stainbrook's representative

will likely be denied for the same reason.

Mr. Papadimos noted that Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Doneghy ruled last month that neither Mr. Stainbrook nor Jeff Simpson, the chairman of Mr. Hoag's faction of the party, was elected in a valid organizational meeting.

As a result, neither faction is being recognized as the party in power.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner cited Judge Doneghy's ruling Monday when she denied both Mr. Stainbrook's and Mr. Simpson's nominees for a vacancy on the board of elections and named Mr. Marsh.

Mr. Stainbrook has appealed the ruling, while Mr. Simpson has not. Mr. Stainbrook was elected chairman in 2008. Mr. Simpson claims he was elected during a party meeting Dec. 21. The conflicting claims are to be decided by the state Republican Party.

The protests concern candidates who have been certified for the May 4 election ballot to run for the county Republican Party central committee. The little-known committee has a big job - to elect the chairman of the party.

Mr. Stainbrook and Mr. Simpson are vying to put the largest number of central committee candidates on the ballot in hopes of winning election when the central committee meets in late May or June.

As things stood yesterday, Mr. Stainbrook appeared to have the advantage.

With the addition of write-in candidates, Mr. Stainbrook said he has candidates filed in 247 precincts while Mr. Simpson has candidates in 175. In addition, Mr. Stainbrook said that about 160 of his precincts are uncontested, compared with only about 78 for Mr. Simpson.

Mr. Simpson said that if the board agrees with the technical and legal objections raised by Mr. Hoag, it can act on its own to disqualify the candidates.

Mr. Stainbrook said the prosecutor's advice to the elections board does not surprise him.

"It's crystal clear that Paul Hoag had no standing in bringing any of these protests," Mr. Stainbrook said. He called the massive filing of protests a failed "Hail Mary play" to gain an edge in the upcoming elections.

"They can't out-recruit us in terms of getting people on the ballot and we've proven that already," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Kelly Bensman, an ally of Mr. Stainbrook and a member of his executive committee, made the same argument in a letter to the board on Tuesday.

Ms. Bensman said Mr. Hoag should be prosecuted for making false statements, and she said each of the 137 protests contained a false statement.

Mr. Hoag, who is also treasurer of the Ohio Republican Party, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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