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Tom Troy

Lucas County GOP is embroiled in political chaos

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    Mark Wagoner, left, and Jon Stainbrook, right, are embroiled in a contentious dispute over the future of the Lucas County GOP.

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Lucas County Republicans better hope that former state senator and representative Mark Wagoner succeeds in his effort to have the state Republican Party run the upcoming organization meeting because, right now, there is more drama than a middle school dance.

The current GOP chairman, Jon Stainbrook, and his pal Meghan Gallagher, the central committee chairman, won’t step down voluntarily, which would be the adult thing to do. Instead, there is going to be a parliamentary nightmare — or circus, if you enjoy the spectacle of political chaos — when the local Republican Party gets together to elect a chairman for the next two years.

Read more by Tom Troy

A postcard sent by Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher to their allies on the central committee suggests that there will be an attempt on their part to schedule the reorganization meeting of the central committee in such a way as to confuse newly elected Wagoner allies on the central committee.

Many or most of Mr. Stainbrook’s allies have been through this before. The vast majority of Mr. Wagoner’s will be new to the process.

Lambs going to the slaughter are better prepared.

Despite having lost by more than 2-1 in the central committee elections that were held May 8, and despite having personally lost both their races for county central committee and state central committee, Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher continue to cling to the far-fetched hope that somehow they can remain in charge of the Lucas County Republican Party for a sixth two-year term.

Mr. Wagoner said he phoned Mr. Stainbrook after the election results to discuss the upcoming party organization meeting at which the next chairman will be elected. He said Mr. Stainbrook accused him of election irregularities and hung up on him. Mr. Stainbrook has claimed that Mr. Wagoner asked him for the keys to the party headquarters. Mr. Wagoner said he made no such request.

In the past decade under Mr. Stainbrook, these party reorganizations have been more like a motorcycle gang meetings than what one usually expects from Republicans. They’ve all been tense, and at least one instance there was violence, with people getting shoved to the ground by beefy rent-a-cops in black t-shirts.

Because party rules require the Stainbrook contingent to schedule the meeting and then call it to order, a worried Mr. Wagoner has asked state GOP Chairman Jane Timken to oversee the process.

This would not be the first time the state GOP chairman had to run a Lucas County Republican Party under Mr. Stainbrook’s tenure. Then-chairman Kevin DeWine was here in 2010. That meeting was held in the former Erie Street Market.

Mr. Wagoner is trying to politely as possible to disengage Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher from leadership of the county Republican Party. It has the feel of someone trying to talk a deranged in-law into handing over the gun.

There are sticky parliamentary issues here. As the current central committee chairman, Ms. Gallagher gets to gavel the meeting to order. But since she lost her race for central committee she’ll have to turn the meeting over to a temporary chairman and then she and Mr. Stainbrook will have to join the spectators on the other side of the rope.

There will be deafening cheers and boos when that happens.

Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher have stayed atop the Lucas County Republican Party in many previous perilous instances, despite giving plenty of reasons to be thrown out.

As one example, in 2014, Ms. Gallagher, then director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, refused to close the office on a snow day in which Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp had declared a “Level 3” emergency, a day that happened to be election filing deadline.

Under a Level 3, only emergency and essential workers may be on the streets, which meant that people who intended to file to run for the party’s central committee against Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher would not be able to drive downtown to file their candidate petitions.

That’s the kind of political strategizing that has characterized the Lucas County Republican Party under Mr. Stainbrook.

EDITORIAL: Stainbrook era gets the hook

In that case, Democratic Elections Board Member John Irish stepped up to overrule Ms. Gallagher and declare that the filing deadline would be extended one day, just as the Ohio Secretary of State had allowed.

(Thanks to Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher, Mr. Irish’s reputation has been transformed from Democratic Party hack to elder political statesman.)

The seeds of Mr. Stainbrook’s rejection by Lucas County Republicans were planted in 2014 in a rowdy reorganization meeting in which Toledo tavern owner Bill Delaney first emerged as an opponent of Mr. Stainbrook.

Mr. Delaney lost that fight, but declared at the time that his side would continue to try to oust Mr. Stainbrook, or possibly create an alternative Lucas County Republican organization.

Eventually they did, setting up the group “Republicans for a New Lucas County,” and getting behind Mr. Wagoner, who was skilled in party organizing and fundraising.

The anti-Stainbrook group includes heavy representation from Republicans in Monclova Township, Maumee, Oregon, Waterville, and Sylvania.

“We have our own clubs that we will work on and blow them out of the water,” Mr. Delaney said in 2014. “When we start pulling money, we’ll push our own candidates, and then let’s see how they turn over.”

They turned over. In the May 8 election, central committee candidates allied with Mr. Wagoner elected more than 200 committee members. The Stainbrook slate came in with fewer than 100.

The responsible thing would be for Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Stainbrook to gracefully yield control.

Emailed notices from Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher to their own elected members show that they are planning a fight. One email says, “We appreciate your friendship and that you are a part of this.”

The letter also says that members will be notified of the date and place of the meeting, which hasn’t been set yet, “by email.” State law requires notice by mail and five days in advance.

Mr. Wagoner obtained the email and brought it up in an email to Ms. Gallagher. He called it “troubling.”

Party chairman is an unpaid position from which people step down when their effectiveness has been compromised. Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher enjoy the fight and may have to be voted — and escorted — out.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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