COLUMBUS — After a vocal but ultimately weak challenge from its conservative wing, the Ohio Republican Party’s newly elected leader on Friday vowed to work to unite the party going into next year’s critical state office elections.
“Electing Republicans matters, and we have to remind Ohioans of that,” said veteran political campaign operative Matt Borges, the party’s executive director. He won by a margin of 48-7 among the members of the party’s State Central and Executive Committee.
In turn, challenger Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party and former president of the closest thing to a statewide Tea Party organization, the Ohio Liberty Coalition, downplayed the idea of pushing for a third-party movement.
“We don’t think that’s the way to go, but we have people who are not satisfied with the results they get from the people they elect,” he said after the vote.
Mr. Zawistowski argued that Republicans lost three months of valuable time fighting a proposal from one of their own, Gov. John Kasich, to partner with the federal government to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health-care law when they should have been using that time to battle Democrats.
He argued that the party is too intent on getting candidates elected at the expense of sticking with the party’s core values, such as its official opposition to Mr. Obama’s health-care plan.
“We are under assault, and we are running out of time …,” he told the committee. “You’re not getting it. … The war is being fought today and every day in our cities, towns, and villages. There is a true, real, physical progressive movement.”
On June 1, Mr. Borges will replace longtime GOP leader Bob Bennett, who was brought back last year in the midst of a presidential election to right the party ship after an internal rebellion led then-party chairman Kevin DeWine to step down.
Kay Reynolds of Scioto County was elected the party’s vice chairman by a vote of 34-23.
Mr. Borges, who is in his early 40s and lives in Columbus, won despite questions about his 2004 plea to a misdemeanor charge of misuse of public office stemming from fund-raising related to the campaign of former state Treasurer Joe Deters.
The conviction was expunged.
He has also found himself having to answer for more than $500,000 in federal and state tax liens that he said were tied to a dispute over the sale of a home.
“The promotion of Kasich-loyalist Matt Borges to the post of Republican chairman means the governor’s political machine will be run by a tax cheat and admitted influence peddler,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Matt McGrath said.
Mr. Borges, accompanied by his wife and 2-year-old daughter, acknowledged the controversy before the committee and made the case that he has fought his way back, as will the party.
“I worked as hard as I know how to climb a very steep hill to come back from where I was, and, yes, there have been setbacks along the way,” he said. “But I knew then there would be people who would try to use these painful experiences to attack me personally and attack me politically. I also knew then I wasn’t the person they said I was, so I set out to prove it.”
Lucas County’s two committee members, local party Chairman Jon Stainbrook and local board of elections Director Meghan Gallagher, supported Mr. Borges.
“As Ronald Reagan said, we agree on 85 percent,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “We’ll work on the other 15 percent. That’s what I hope will happen after this. I believe Matt Borges as chairman of the state party and me personally will work with Tom Z [Zawistowski] and the group to make sure we come together and bond together to fight the real enemy, and that’s the Democrats.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.