Saying he can’t wait for a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Thursday appointed Republicans Mark Wagoner, Sr., and Peter Handwork and Democrat Brenda Hill to vacancies on the Lucas County Board of Elections.
Mr. Wagoner, 71, of Ottawa Hills is a lawyer, who served until this year as an elected member of the Republican state central committee, and is the father of former state Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills). Mr. Handwork, 72, of Sylvania Township is a retired judge from the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals. Ms. Hill, 66, of Toledo is a retired teacher and former member of the Toledo Board of Education. She also was treasurer of the Lucas County Democratic Party but said she resigned effective with her appointment to the elections board by Mr. Husted.
Mr. Husted pointed to the need for a board to be in place to run the upcoming special election on Aug. 5, when a Springfield Local Schools levy is on the ballot. The elections board already is accepting early votes at its Government Center office downtown.
Mr. Husted acted despite a pending petition in front of the Ohio Supreme Court seeking an order to force him to appoint the nominees of the Lucas County Republican Party executive committee.
“It had been my hope that these issues could be settled locally; however, that solution remains elusive. With litigation pending, it is my hope that we will reach resolution sooner rather than later. As I have in all other litigation, I will abide by the court’s order, but until the matter is resolved, I am charged with ensuring that the board of elections remains operational, and it cannot do so without this action today,” Mr. Husted said in his letter announcing the appointments.
He said he approved Ms. Hill’s nomination by the Lucas County Democratic Party because she has no connection with the dysfunction from the past.
Mr. Wagoner and Mr. Handwork said they were told there would be a training session next week. It was not immediately known when the new members would be sworn in.
All three said they were honored by the appointments.
“It’s an honor to be appointed and I will do everything I possibly can to make sure every voter has a vote that counts,” Ms. Hill said. “People have worked and struggled for the right to vote. It’s our job on the board of elections to protect and to make sure that everyone’s vote counts.”
Mr. Wagoner said of his appointment, “hopefully we can get this group cohesive again.”
Mr. Handwork said he felt flattered by the appointment and looks forward to making a difference.
“I know there’s a possibility [of reversal by the Ohio Supreme Court] but things need to be done now, and I’m willing to work within those parameters,” Mr. Handwork said.
Mr. Husted removed three board members — Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio and Democrat Ron Rothenbuhler — on June 5, following an investigation by an appointed “transparency committee,” because of what the secretary of state said was a culture of dysfunction and for failure to carry out some duties of the board.
A fourth board member, Democrat John Irish, was retained on the board but had been suspended until the three appointments were made. Mr. Husted said Thursday he was removing Mr. Irish from suspension.
The Lucas County GOP’s executive committee nominated two different replacements last month, but they were rejected by Mr. Husted as connected with the problems of the past.
The local party last week filed a petition with the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus alleging that Mr. Husted overstepped his authority in state law by rejecting the nominations of Kelly Bensman and Ben Roberts and to compel him to make those appointments.
The petition contends that Ms. Bensman and Mr. Roberts are fully qualified to serve on the board, and both have been falsely accused of contributing to problems on the local elections board.
Mr. Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said he called and congratulated both Republican appointees, even though he disagreed with Mr. Husted’s actions.
“I can work with both of them. I like both of them,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
He blasted the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, for allowing Mr. Irish to remain on the board, saying Mr. Irish was just as responsible as he, Mr. DeGidio, and Mr. Rothenbuhler for alleged misdeeds for which they were removed.
The secretary of state’s office has said Mr. Irish shared in some of the board’s failures, but was retained because he was the only member who supported a motion to implement a 2013 reform recommended by Mr. Husted, and because he was the newest member of the board.
“Husted is furthering the political partisanship at the board because he’s putting two Democratic Party recommendations on the board while ignoring the Republican Party picks,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “If Jon Husted really wants to clean up the board of elections he has to completely clean it out.”
Mr. Husted’s letter carried a reminder to Mr. Irish to get with the new program.
“Mr. Irish is well aware of the problems and should know that I expect him to be part of the solution now that he is reinstated,” Mr. Husted wrote.
Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Steven Steel said Ms. Hill’s appointment justified the party’s choice.
“She’s been validated by the highest elections officer in the state. He said he was not going to appoint anyone connected with the problems of the past and the letter states that she has no connection with those problems and is obviously fully competent,” Mr. Steel said.
Mr. Irish said he never felt he was responsible for the board’s dysfunction, which he blamed on Mr. Stainbrook.
“I felt I tried to work to make the board better and was constantly blocked by Mr. Stainbrook,” Mr. Irish said.