Iott mulls challenge to Sears for Statehouse

Support of expanding Ohio Medicaid at issue

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    Rich Iott is known as the past head of the Seaway Food Town chain and a former GOP congressional candidate.

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  • Rich Iott is known as the past head of the Seaway Food Town chain and a former GOP congressional candidate.
    Rich Iott is known as the past head of the Seaway Food Town chain and a former GOP congressional candidate.

    Rich Iott, the Republican congressional candidate in 2010 whose campaign foundered over disclosures that he played a Nazi SS soldier in World War II re-enactments, is said to be considering a challenge to Toledo-area state lawmaker Barbara Sears because of her support for expanding Medicaid eligibility.

    Barbara Sears
    Barbara Sears

    A local “Tea Party” organization, the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, said it conducted a poll last week that shows Mr. Iott would have support if he chose to run in the 2014 GOP primary for the 47th House District.

    “I think that the results were very good. It was very favorable to us,” said Linda Bowyer, chairman of the Tea Party coalition’s board and emeritus professor of finance at the University of Toledo.

    She said that the group strongly disagrees with Ms. Sears’ efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility as allowed under Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

    “The expansion of a federal program using federal dollars is not a conservative position. Expansion of Medicaid is part of Obamacare. That was a line in the sand,” Ms. Bowyer said.

    Mr. Iott, who lives in Monclova Township, participated in conducting the poll, but has not said whether he would run against Ms. Sears, Ms. Bowyer said. He was not available for comment Wednesday.

    In an emailed comment Wednesday, Mr. Iott said, “the mandate from the constituents, and the message I heard clearly in the last election cycle, is that the people of the 47th district want our Representative to ‘aggressively cut,’ not ‘conservatively expand’ the cost and size of government.”

    He said he lent his name to the poll to give respondents the name of a real “potential candidate who is known and whose positions are clear.” He said his comment was not an announcement of candidacy.

    Mr. Iott lost to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) in 2010 in a bruising campaign that drew national attention after photos were released documenting his participation in a group that re-enacted a Nazi Waffen SS unit. Mr. Iott protested that he was interested in history and did not sympathize with the Nazi cause.

    Mr. Iott formerly headed the Seaway Food Town grocery store chain and is now president of a movie production company.

    John McAvoy, a member of the Tea Party group’s board, said Mr. Iott would make a good candidate, despite the controversy from the Nazi re-enactment revelations.

    “He’s a living history book. That’s what re-enactors do. You’ve got to have both sides,” Mr. McAvoy said.

    Ms. Sears was the only member of the House Republican caucus to support Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility in the two-year budget that recently passed.

    Her district includes Lucas County west of Toledo, Springfield Township, and Maumee, and much of Fulton County.

    She said she is disappointed by the political pressure, but believes she would defeat Mr. Iott.

    “Honestly I feel comfortable coming out of that winning it. I like Rich. I helped him campaign against Marcy Kaptur. We shared campaign people,” Ms. Sears said.

    “Probably 99 percent of what I do is in line with [NWOCC’s] objectives. This one I happen to disagree with,” she said.

    She said she opposes other elements of health-care overhaul, including the medical reforms and the establishment of insurance “exchanges” with taxpayer subsidies. She said the Medicaid expansion is in the interest of lower-income Ohioans and is an chance to reform Medicaid.

    “This is a system that can actually deal with the uninsured for our poor and working poor that is actually meaningful,” she said.

    Meanwhile, Ms. Sears’ problems with local tea partiers hasn’t hurt her with the Republican leadership in Columbus. Ms. Sears, who is already No. 3 in the House GOP caucus, was named Wednesday to a health care and prescription drug study committee by House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina).

    Mr. Kasich’s plan would have expanded income eligibility for Medicaid to those earning up to 38 percent above the federal poverty line, likely to add 275,000 people during the two-year budget cycle. It would have made $13 billion in federal subsidies available to Ohio in the next seven years. The federal government has pledged to pick up 100 percent of the costs of the expansion for three years and then gradually reduce that to 90 percent.

    Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.