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OpEditude: Ohio Tea Party's 2014 challenge: Break Kasich or be broken forever

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One leader of Ohio's Tea Party is expected to challenge Gov. John Kasich in the Republican gubernatorial primary on May 6. Doing so makes good on the threat from some conservatives in the state to challenge Gov. Kasich because of his push for Medicaid expansion among other policies they dislike.

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Ted Stevenot, 48, a past president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition and a business owner from the Cincinnati area, will make his announcement, including his pick for Lt. Governor running mate, Brenda Mack of Canfield, next week in Columbus. Tom Zawistowski, another prominent Tea Party leader who lost a bid last year to take over the leadership reigns at the Ohio Republican Party [ORP], pushed out a media release publicizing the launch of Stevenot’s long-shot campaign.

Breaking Kasich?

It's official: With the announcement of a primary challenge to Governor John Kasich next week, the Ohio Tea Party is making the break with the ORP. The name of the Tea Party challenger isn’t important as this is an insurgent campaign that will not win. But it will provide a measure of unrest within the Ohio GOP, while simultaneously strengthening the Tea Party movement.

Republican primary voters are going to identify their first allegiance: they are either ORP regulars or Tea Party purists.

Like any campaign, this will be a battle of narratives. The Tea Party’s current narrative that Gov. Kasich has deserted his conservative roots with the expansion of Medicaid through ObamaCare is true, but it's not the strongest possible case for GOP regulars to cast a vote against their party's governor, because the Kasich narrative is also true. A majority of Ohioans support this move and the Republicans will manage the program with more care and innovation than the Democrats would provide. This line of attack will actually kill the Tea Party as the election results will show them to be a marginalized faction within the Ohio Republican Party, with a message that has no relevance to the general election where both candidates will support the Medicaid expansion.

Because the Tea Party is engaged in an existential struggle, their best line of attack is to go for the jugular and use a narrative that cripples Kasich for the general election, which would give him no presumption of representing the majority.

This Kasich-killer issue is his insistence on replacing a universally accepted and tested party leader with a criminal as ORP Chairman.

It is not widely known by party regulars that Matt Borges was the mastermind of a scheme to put Ohio tax dollars in the hands of infamous thief Frank Gruttadauria in return for a large campaign contribution to Borges' boss at the time, Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters. Borges pleaded guilty to a public corruption charge for his plot to conceal the campaign contribution by directing the funds to the Hamilton County Republican Party, which laundered the money for Deters.

While Borges' record has been expunged, his character has not been cleansed by contrition. Within minutes of the guilty plea, Borges was complaining of being the victim of a prosecutorial witch hunt. This for activity sordid enough to bring the resignation of Deters, a constitutional officer who left the job also complaining of being a victim rather than accepting the violation of law and explaining what prompted an outright criminal to be given investing responsibility for billions of Ohio tax dollars.

The power of this narrative is that large numbers of Ohio Republican regulars do not want to be led by a criminal. In 2006 they deserted every Republican connected to Coingate, powering a Democratic landslide of every statewide office but one, auditor of state, which Kasich's Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor won by fewer than 50,000 votes statewide. The activity Borges downplays made Gruttadauria’s employer $890,000 in fees that they refunded to Ohio in a legal admission that the contract engineered by Borges was illegal because of the secret campaign contribution.

John Kasich has never been forced by Ohio's political media to answer for exiling the architect of the 2010 Republican sweep from his position as ORP chairman DeWine won every election that mattered. But what was his reward for decimating Democrats? Now governor after a slim win over the incumbent Democratic officeholder, Gov. Ted Strickland, Kasich not only replaced DeWine, he replaced him with a criminal. And no reporter, then or now, asked tough questions of the glib governor.

Gov. Kasich waxed forgiving at the time, saying everyone deserves a second chance. Kasich ignored a question from one reporter about why DeWine didn't likewise deserve a second chance.

The Tea Party itself, with a challenge to Borges' election as ORP chief, made more of an issue of his tax trouble than it did of his criminal conviction for an activity that cost Ohio taxpayers $150 million in underperformance by Gruttadauria-managed funds, as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In short, the Tea Party is in a fight for its survival as a major political force in Ohio, but it’s showing the instincts of an amateur. Many people have tax troubles but few of them are outright criminals. By putting billions of dollars in the hands of a major crook, bypassing thousands of qualified money managers in the process, who also took campaign contributions so obviously connected to the selection that they had to be illegally concealed, most Republican voters would revolt against that sullied leadership.

Should this narrative become the major message of the Tea Party announcement on Tuesday, when the national media will trumpet the story as it appears on the Associated Press wire, John Kasich will have many sleepless nights ahead of him. This is a message that can both expand the protest vote associated with the Ohio Tea Party and cause once solid Republican voters to go Libertarian or, dare it be said, even vote for the Democrat, Ed FitzGerald, in November.

Why is the Ohio Tea Party reaping major coverage by national and state media? Because it can break John Kasich. But unless the Tea Party breaks John Kasich, it will break itself, which in turn means it and its leaders will no longer have a major impact on Ohio politics. It will become a footnote in history, forever ignored.

The narrative that goes right for the indefensible action of inserting Matt Borges is the message with the power to force Republican voters to actively and personally support following the lead of a convicted criminal. It says that the large percentages of voters John Kasich must win to win in November will not be willing to support his elevation of Borges, whose tax problems are no less embarrassing or significant than the federal and state tax liens that sent Ed FitzGerald's pick for Lt. Gov., State Senator Eric Kearney, home after three weeks of intense scrutiny by Ohio's so-called "hyena" reporters.

More importantly, this Tea Party narrative sets up the November narrative that Kasich's privatization of economic development, fueled by $1.5 billion in public liquor funds, is a way to keep the unquestioned and unchallenged cronyism and corruption bubbling in Columbus.

Frankly, this narrative taking root is the only path to victory for Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat from Cleveland who is little known outside Cuyahoga County and who tripped on the starting line late last year with his pick of Kearney.

A FitzGerald victory caused by the Tea Party break with establishment Kasich forces will result in the Ohio Republican party rebuilding itself around the insurgent’s agenda.

The post OpEditude: Ohio Tea Party's 2014 challenge: Break Kasich or be broken forever first appeared on Columbus Government Examiner.

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