New faces Smith, Sakalas now leading Warren County political parties

Warren County’s main political parties have changed leaders over the past several months, and new party chairs Breighton Smith and Kelly Sakalas aim to bring new enthusiasm and perspective as they work to guide their party faithful into the November general election cycle.

Both of the new party chairs are transplants who have lived in Warren County for the past four to five years and are close in age.

The county has a total of 174,278 registered voters. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats 41,977 to 10,805, leaving both parties the opportunity to convince 121,496 officially unaffiliated voters, according to the county Board of Elections records. Republicans currently hold a large majority of the elected positions across the county.

Sakalas leads Democrats

Last August, longtime county Democratic Party chair Bethe Goldenfield of Pleasant Plain stepped down from that position after 13 years and was succeeded by Kelly Sakalas of Mason.

After her election, Sakalas said, “Warren County is trending blue and poised to become a real battleground in 2024 and beyond, and together we can take our party to the next level.”

Sakalas and her family have lived in Warren County for the past five years since moving here from Summit County in northeast Ohio. She had been active in campaigns in the Akron area, and after moving to Mason, she attempted to run for a seat on Mason City Council in 2019.

She said Warren County is growing and that growth needs to be smart and inclusive.

“It’s easy to look prosperous — our growth to date has been driven by Montgomery and Hamilton counties — not from the decisions of the elected officials here,” Sakalas said.

Sakalas said, “It’s clear it’s new people are moving in and current residents identifying with our values that’s making Warren County bluer. I know it’s not apples to apples, but looking at 2023 in (state Rep.) Adam Matthews’ district (R-Lebanon) alone, we see how the extremist issue that the Warren County GOP has been campaigning on for years is out of touch with what voters want.”

She said her top priority as chairwoman is to build a bench of candidates who share values, are resilient, and connected to the community — and then train them how to run effective campaigns. Sakalas said training is key — that each credible campaign brings new volunteers and activists into the fold and helps move the needle toward their goal of a “Bluer” Warren County.

Sakalas said she is known for presenting a wide range of of unique solutions, both tried and true and outside the box and prides herself on forging alliances and creating buy-in.

Smith leads Republicans

In March, Warren County Republicans chose Breighton Smith of Lebanon to serve as their new party chair. He succeeds Julie Byrne, who stepped down from the position. She was the first woman selected as county GOP chair.

Smith, who was elected to a full four-year term last November as a member of Lebanon City Council, is poised to become the next Warren County Clerk of Courts, as he is running unopposed in the November 2024 general election. If elected, Smith will be the first African American to win a countywide office in Warren County. He is the first African American to be selected as the Warren County GOP chair.

Credit: Breighton And Basette Photograph

Credit: Breighton And Basette Photograph

“Our party is focused on the future and we want to attract new voters as well as honor our current voters,” he said. “I’m representative of a new generation of Republicans as we look to the future.”

Smith said this is an opportunity for a “fresh start” and an opportunity to break false stereotypes of Republicans of who they are and what they look like.

He said his election as chair is of the values the party has always had and cared about — character, principles and merit instead of immutable physical traits such as skin color.

“I believe Warren County is solidly Republican and that Republican values are the same as Warren County’s values,” Smith said. “People don’t realize how conservative and Republican they are because of years of the Democratic Party misleading what a Republican really is.”

Smith said he brings a fresh perspective to the table and has a special appreciation for Warren County after living in Butler and Hamilton counties. “I understand why Warren County is special,” he said. “And I will do everything I can to fight for this county.”

He said the local party has noticed some blue trends in the county and said the local GOP will have to work to appeal to new voters and be more effective on its messaging.

“All politics is local,” Smith said. “We’re focusing on all races up and down the ballot. Our eye is on the future and we’re looking forward.”

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