Butler County Republican voters will decide in the May primary if an incumbent or new candidate will get a shot to be on the Butler County Commission.
That choice for GOP voters is either keeping incumbent County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter on the ticket or giving West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong — who won re-election to a fourth term in November — a shot at the job, which will work alongside commissioners T.C. Rogers and Don Dixon.
It’s also pitting two of the GOP’s hardest-working campaigners — both have reputations for knocking on thousands of doors and investing scores of hours while campaigning — who have not lost an election.
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The winner of the May GOP primary will face former Middletown vice mayor Dora Bronston, the lone Democrat seeking the office, in November.
Carpenter is seeking her third term on the County Commission because “Butler County’s been in the best position than it’s been in recent history.” Also, in the next few years, the County Commission will be “handling two historical changes in Butler County.”
The first will be the growth of the Interstate 75 corridor, which includes medical, education and residential growth, she said. Carpenter said the commission would be heavily involved in deciding how to handle the growth — which is mostly in West Chester, Fairfield Liberty townships — that will serve Butler County’s greater good.
“Then the other end we’re handling is the drug crisis,” she said. “We’re still looking at generational poverty. The drug crisis hits us when people come through the jail, when it comes into the court, when it goes into juvenile court and children’s services.”
Carpenter was first elected to the Butler County Commission in 2010, beating several GOP challengers — including then-incumbent Greg Jolivette and a then-political upstart Wes Retherford, who is now Ohio’s 51st House District representative in Columbus. In November 2010, she won election against the late Butch Hubble.
Four years later, she beat out three opponents in May 2014, including Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic, and that November she defeated Democrat Brenda Williams.
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Wong said he’s running even though he was just re-elected four months earlier to a fourth term because he’s recently retired as a probation officer for Butler County and he feels he’s ready.
“I have enough experience to do it for the larger office,” said Wong, who said he could not enter partisan politics when working for the county.
And if elected to County Commission, that would be the highest office he'd aspire to, though he did seek the 52nd Ohio House District appointment this past September that went to former West Chester Twp. Trustee George Lang.
“I want to stay local,” he said. “This is more effective than being one of 99 up in Columbus. This is where I feel I would serve best.”
Wong first won election in 2005 as West Chester Twp. Trustee, finishing second in a field of eight candidates. He finished as the top vote-getter in 2009 when there were 10 candidates running for two seats, as well as in 2013 and 2017, when he was one of four candidates running for the two seats.
Wong said the primary concern for voters he’s met with — between door-to-door campaigning and visiting the senior center in West Chester Twp. — are property taxes.
“The property tax is too high,” he said recently during door-to-door campaigning in Liberty Twp. “This area, they pay over $10,000 (a year). We have to control some of these levies. There’s too much.”
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Wong said West Chester Twp. stretches its levy dollars, operating five-year levies for as many as 10 years.
“You’ve got to stretch it,” he said.
There are eight countywide levies property owners pay for, but Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds said most of the property taxes are due to local levies. Since 2008, there have been 45 new levies passed, but only two new countywide levies — mental health and elderly services.
“It’s these local levies that account for the tax bill being what it is,” Reynolds said.
While Carpenter said every four years she receives a performance evaluation by voters, she ha never lost a countywide election, winning four times for Butler County Clerk of Courts and twice for Butler County Commission.
“I like the job,” Carpenter said. “It’s a lot of work. This board is hands-on, and you’ve seen the results of that.”