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Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, recalls meeting his newest party recruit through their shared interests, activities, and overlapping social circles.
Perhaps they were golfing buddies? Business partners? College fraternity brothers?
Definitely none of the above. The 46-year-old GOP boss and his enlistee, James Litten, 32, who is running for the party's central committee in precinct 19C of East Toledo, went skateboarding together in the mid-1990s, often venturing north to challenge the grittier urban landscape of central Detroit.
Breezy afternoons at the private club those trips were not, Mr. Stainbrook said. Yet their friendship endured, and sparked Mr. Litten's decision to become an active Republican of a decidedly unconventional mold.
"I'd like to help make some progress and some change around here," said Mr. Litten of 418 Euclid Ave., a self-em-ployed house painter and landscaper who is still a skateboarder.
On Tuesday, Mr. Litten will be one of 672 central committee candidates on the election ballot vying to become either a Republican or Democratic precinct captain. Lucas County has 397 precincts, and a hand count by The Blade found 121 contested precinct races on the Republican side.
Precinct captains are the de facto foot-soldiers of county political parties, volunteering for party causes from phone banks to petition circulation and lending their votes every two years to determine who will lead the party.
This year's GOP precinct captain races are particularly feisty. Mr. Stainbrook hopes to defend his incumbency against an insurgency of other Republicans, recently led by Jeff Simpson and Paul Hoag. Neither returned phone messages yesterday.
The stakes of Tuesday's races are high for both factions. Individuals who win their precinct captain race can vote at the GOP's reorganization meeting that is likely to occur in May or June. Mr. Stainbrook rose to chairman two years ago after persuading dozens of his allies to run for precinct captain and then vote for him at the reorganization, outnumbering the "old-guard" Republicans with whom the party activist clashed.
Some had little experience voting Republican, and others, with jobs in areas such as tattoo artistry or bartending, raised eyebrows among the party's stalwarts.
"These aren't country club Republicans," Mr. Stainbrook said yesterday while visiting Mr. Litten's house. "Nobody is really a cookie-cutter Republican. This is a big tent, and everyone is welcome in this tent as long as they espouse the same values we do."
Mr. Stainbrook said he admires Mr. Litten's conservative principles. Mr. Litten, who is unmarried, said he believes strongly in personal freedom, low taxes, and smaller government.
He hopes that getting more Republicans elected can help turn around the local economy, which would help to fill vacant storefronts in his East Toledo neighborhood.
Mr. Litten admitted in an interview that he has never voted and was mostly apathetic to local politics until an experience several months ago at a local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.
He recalled how a woman behind him in line shook her head in stern judgement when she overheard him tell a clerk that he wasn't a registered voter.
"So I thought, well, maybe I should register and play my part here," Mr. Litten said.
Shortly afterward he ran into Mr. Stainbrook at the East Toledo bar Frankie's Inner City, a popular rock music venue, and said he asked his longtime friend how he might get involved. Mr. Stainbrook approved of his core convictions and suggested that his old-time skateboarding pal make a run for central committee.
"I said, 'Awesome - you're into politics.'•" Mr. Stainbrook recalled. "We need a new generation that supports getting back to our core, constitutional values."
Not until later did Mr. Stainbrook learn that Mr. Litten's opponent in the precinct race is his own adversary, Joanne Wack, who has squabbled for years with Mr. Stainbrook publicly and privately over leadership matters.
To help out an old friend and new political ally, Mr. Stainbrook accompanied Mr. Litten as he went door-to-door this year, introducing himself to registered Republicans in the precinct.
They passed the time between front doors discussing politics and their shared love of music. Mr. Stainbrook was for years the frontman of a local punk band, and Mr. Litten can play either guitar, drums, or do vocals for his own band, The Ragged Company.
Mr. Litten's three bandmates are his housemates, who have all promised to vote for him. He has never met Wack but said he consider her friendly competition in his precinct race because they're both Republicans.
It's unclear how aware Wack is of him. She refused yesterday to talk to a reporter who knocked on her door, ordering him to "get out of my yard" before she "let my dogs out."
The reporter made a hasty retreat out the front gate, just as a large black shepherdlike dog darted outside and attempted to give chase. A yapping pug was quick on the bigger dog's heels.
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