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Rift In Ohio GOP Continues To Grow
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The rift among Republicans over the Ohio GOP’s stance on major issues and its support of Gov. John Kasich is starting to look like a serious split.
And some Republicans say they’re ready to run away.
Nowhere was the split among the stateâ€™s politically active conservatives more obvious than when outgoing Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett announced whoâ€™d won the vote to succeed him last month.
â€œTom Zawistowski received 7 votes. Matt Borges received 48 votes.”
Borges is a longtime statewide GOP operative. Zawistowski is the leader of a Tea Party group in Portage County, and just days before the vote had announced he was challenging Borges, who had the support of elected officials and party leaders.
The issue for Zawistowski was two-fold: He was concerned about tax problems and a misdemeanor conviction in Borgesâ€™ past, but Zawistowski and other Tea Partiers said they were perhaps more concerned about the direction the party was taking on fiscal issues such as state spending and Medicaid expansion, but also on social agenda items such as same-sex marriage.
So now that Borges is in charge at the Ohio GOP, those who sided with Zawistowski and identify with the Tea Party are trying to decide what to do next.
â€œThis was never about one individual chairman,” says Seth Morgan, a former Republican state representative and conservative activist.
Morgan says conservatives have never been into the political power â€“ they care about the policy, he says, and they saw the Republican Party as a natural ally. But Morgan says, not anymore.
â€œWe donâ€™t feel that we can trust many in the current leadership to advance that ball,” Morgan says. “We feel like we find ourselves playing defense against the very party that traditionally weâ€™ve been a part of that big tent of.â€
So Morgan says he and conservatives like him are seeking out other options. One of those doing some party shopping is Zawistowski.
â€œThe Republican Party is not a party. Itâ€™s an election machine,â€ Zawistowski says.
Zawistowski says he met this past weekend with the Ohio Constitution Party and is talking with others about where he and other conservatives could find a new political home.
And he says he knows what some Republicans are saying.
â€œWell, if you donâ€™t get your way, youâ€™re going to take your ball and go home.
“Well, I got news for you. We never had the ball. The Republican Party â€“ itâ€™s their ball. Theyâ€™ve never let us touch it. They wonâ€™t let us play in their game, and now theyâ€™ve locked the gym and said, â€˜You canâ€™t play with us.â€™ So if thatâ€™s the way itâ€™s going to be, we need to go find our own ball and find our own court and start our own game.â€
Zawistowski says some polls show two-thirds of Republicans also identify as Tea Party members, so he says theyâ€™re the force of the party.
And Morgan says their views are not extreme but are mainstream â€“ and the Republican Party ignores him and other Tea Partiers at their peril.
â€œThis isnâ€™t some sort of tug of war over who gets to win the argument for these people, for me. I didnâ€™t go into politics because I wanted power. This is about a belief in an American values system that we believe best presents America to our kids,” Morgan says.
Borges said after the GOP chair vote that the party is trying to reach out to those who feel that theyâ€™re not being heard, with the stance that its members agree with Tea Partiers 90 percent of the time.
â€œI wake up every morning knowing that Iâ€™ve got a tremendous amount of work in front of me. And I get to work and put forward the effort that I think is required.
“Itâ€™s not out of fear, itâ€™s out of necessity. I think thatâ€™s just the way that whoever it was that was elected chairman today had to take on this new responsibility and Iâ€™m looking forward to that role.â€
Zawistowski says he doesnâ€™t fear that this split is making conservatives look scattered and divided going into next yearâ€™s important statewide campaigns â€“ because he says many people in the Ohio Republican Party arenâ€™t conservatives at all.