Democrats say they have ‘obligation’ to run candidate for county auditor

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Democrats say they were obligated to run a candidate for county auditor in case incumbent Auditor Roger Reynolds’ legal troubles enter the foray and possibly take the chief financial office out of voters’ hands.

The Board of Elections met Wednesday to certify write-in ballots for the May 3 primary and decide whether the Democratic candidate for Butler County commissioner, Latisha Hazell, could remain on the ballot, after an error was detected on her petitions.

David Spurrier was certified to run as the Democratic candidate for county auditor in the fall, against either incumbent Reynolds or West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones. He referred to Reynolds’ criminal indictments for bribery and other charges related to allegedly using his office to benefit his family in explaining why he agreed to run, “doing anything that is going to fill my own pocket, I don’t have pockets basically is what it boils down to.”

“The allegations that the current auditor is dealing with I think have been shown to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s going on in the county under one-party rule,” Spurrier said. “We need both parties to be there looking over each other’s shoulders to just be sure the work of citizens of Butler County is getting taken care of and not private projects.”

Reynolds pleaded not guilty Thursday to three felony and two misdemeanor counts of bribery and the visiting judge set a trial for Aug. 15. His candidacy was certified by the BOE Feb. 14 and he told the Journal-News “I have not changed my mind” about running for re-election.

“It’s unfortunate that a local zoning dispute has risen to this level,” Reynolds said previously. “I look forward to answering the accusations and continuing as auditor. My team and I are doing tremendous work in the office and we’re not going to be distracted by petty politics.”

Butler County Democratic Party Chairman Brian Hester said they felt an “obligation” to run a candidate for auditor so the top financial office “would not be decided through backroom deals or election maneuvering.”

“The thing I’m concerned about is Roger makes it through the primary and then when they decide things on the legal front don’t look good for him, the party can — if Roger would be agreeable to drop out of the race — the party would wind up being able to appoint a replacement,” Hester said. “If we didn’t have a candidate the voters would really have no say about who that candidate would ultimately be, because that person would win by default.”

County Republican Party Chairman Todd Hall said Reynolds should quit now.

“There are many avenues this process could take and there is no way to predict what might happen. The Butler County GOP will monitor this and follow all legal procedures as required by law,” Hall said. “The best thing now would be for Roger Reynolds to resign immediately to ensure public trust in the office of Auditor and allow the county to avoid months of investigations and legal maneuvering. If he does this remains to be seen.”

Jones said he believes he will be facing Spurrier in November.

“That’s called wishful thinking,” Jones said about presuming Reynolds will win the primary. “And they grossly underestimate the voters, voters are smart, they’ll do the smart thing and they’ll do the right thing.”

Hazell will remain on the ballot and will have an opponent, Johnny Hamilton who is a write-in candidate, but likely not for long. Hester said Hamilton was a back-up in case Hazell was tossed from the ballot and will likely withdraw. Hazell could not be reached for comment.

Deputy BOE Director Eric Corbin said Hazell put the wrong date on her petitions but the board agreed it was an oversight and not fatal to her candidacy. He said the date on the petitions was Feb. 2 but should have been Jan. 31 when they were circulated. He said witnesses and affidavits proved “no one signed a blank form.”

“All the people that signed that petition did see a complete filled out petition paper, that was the root issue, it’s just that that date was not technically correct...,” Corbin said. “I think we got to the right spot.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter is running for a fourth term and for the first time is unopposed in the primary.

Butler County is a Republican stronghold and Hester said they are fielding candidates “because there need to be some changes in this county and the only way those changes are going to come is by supporting our candidates, nothing is going to change if you keep voting for the same Party over and over again.”

“We believe it’s incumbent on us to put candidates forward because if we don’t, then voters really don’t have a choice in November,” Hester said. “We want to provide voters that choice because we think more and more voters are warming up to the choices we’re providing.”

While the county candidates are now set for May and November the state and federal seats are a huge unknown at this juncture, since legislative districts remain undecided. As such West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong has withdrawn his bid to unseat Ohio Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester Twp., who is seeking her second term in the Statehouse.

“Right now the district is not clear which district even and everything is up in the air. So when you don’t know what your target is, I don’t want to do it right now,” Wong said. “Right now the redistricting is a mess.”

He said once the redistricting “mess” is solved he may jump back into the race.

Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter to state legislators imploring them to move the primary date or take some other action on Tuesday, and it outlines the problem.

“A primary election will be held, and the Secretary of State will certify a ballot today without legislative candidates, because no certification is possible without maps. For each and every one of you, your voters will go to the polls on May 3 — and they will not see your name,” he wrote. “Indeed, none of you even know who your voters are. The Secretary of State will have fulfilled his statutory duties, but few would view this outcome as sufficient.”

Corbin said they might have to hold a special election in August to formalize the full November ballot.

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