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Longtime Warren County clerk challenged by Right to Life candidate

After two decades of running unopposed, Warren County Clerk of Courts Jim Spaeth is in a race with Michael Gilb, a former state lawmaker and former appointed judge in the common pleas court.
After two decades of running unopposed, Warren County Clerk of Courts Jim Spaeth is in a race with Michael Gilb, a former state lawmaker and former appointed judge in the common pleas court.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Ohio primary election was moved from March 17. The deadline to vote in the Ohio primary election is April 28. Voters must request an absentee ballot from their county’s board of election if they have not already voted. All absentee ballots mailed in must have a postmark of April 27 to be counted, and all ballots must be received by the boards by May 8 to be counted. Voters can drop off the ballots to board offices in person by 7:30 p.m. April 28. In-person voting will be offered on April 28, but will only occur at boards of elections early voting center and only be available for people with disabilities who require in-person voting and people who do not have a home mailing address. Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. State law allows ballots to be scanned but they cannot be tabulated until 7:30 p.m. April 28.

After two decades of running unopposed, Warren County Clerk of Courts Jim Spaeth is in a race with Michael Gilb, a former state lawmaker and former appointed judge in the common pleas court.

The race is the only contested race in Warren County.

“To me this position is more than a job. It is a sacred trust to promote conservative candidates and values,” Gilb, 60, said earlier this week.

“The office runs well. I think the position is more than that,” he added. “This is a campaign between conservative and moderate Republicans. How do we move forward as party?”

Spaeth said he was just as principled a conservative as Gilb and attributed the difference in the race to a split between the more mainstream GOP leadership and members to whom the abortion issue is central.

“That’s how a lot of candidates play these days,” Spaeth, 71, said. “You either walk in lockstep with the fringes or you’re left out.”

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Spaeth, a former four-term Deerfield Twp. trustee, has held the Clerk of Court’s office since 1996.

The son of Les Spaeth, former county auditor and long-time Warren County Republican Party chief, Spaeth won a three-way primary race in the March 7, 1996 primary and was unopposed in that year’s November general election for the office left open by the retirement of Paul Harrison, a Republican.

Gilb, elected by 53 votes to the fourth and final seat open on the Mason City Council in the November 2017 election, is the first one to challenge Spaeth’s reelection as clerk.

Gilb said he was a supporter of term limits. He said six terms were one too many for the clerk of courts, who oversee title offices, as well as the clerk’s office in the county, probate, adult and juvenile common-pleas courts.

“I think new people should come with new ideas,” he said, suggesting Spaeth should take advantage of his retirement benefits.

The Warren County Clerk of Courts is to be paid $118,743 in 2021.

Unlike Gilb, Spaeth said he would continue to treat the elected office as a full-time job.

“I’m a full-time clerk. I’m not so sure a practicing attorney is going to do that,” Spaeth said.

Gilb said he planned to continue practicing law.

“I certainly would put in the time and effort needed to make sure the office is working efficiently and effectively,” he added.

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If elected, Gilb promised to complete modernization of the court system that has been ongoing for more than decade.

“We should already be there,” the challenger said.

Spaeth said modernization of the court systems was nearly complete, including on-line filing for lawyers.

“The last piece has been going slower than I wanted,” he said, predicting the work would be completed “before a new term for a clerk starts.”

While slow on the modernization, Spaeth he had been working for decades to reduce “red tape” and bureaucracy in the office.

Spaeth said he was endorsed by every countywide elected officials, except Commissioner Tom Grossmann. He also counted Sen. Rob Portman as a supporter.

Gilb identified no specific supporters, only Right to Life members, “conservatives and conservative organizations.”

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If reelected, Spaeth pledged to continue to to oversee efficient operations.

“I think we do a good job in this office,” he said. “I’m happy to put my name out there again.”

The race was down to two candidates after the withdrawal of Lauren Clouse, a lawyer from the Franklin area.

Party leaders indicated Clouse and Gilb could have split the Right to Life vote, possibly throwing the race to Spaeth.

ExploreWarren County Republican Party division in primary race
ExploreMultiple unopposed candidates again in Warren County

EARLY VOTING

Voters who want to get their ballots in before primary Election Day on March 17 can vote absentee by mail or in person at their county board of elections offices.

The deadline to request absentee mail ballots is three days before the election, or March 14. Absentee ballots must be signed. Absentee ballots that are mailed must be postmarked by the day before the election to be counted, or they can be returned in-person at the county board of elections before polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. (Do not take the ballot to a polling place.)

Early voting hours are the same in all counties:

‒ 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14

‒ 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15

‒ 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, March 16