By Jackie Kucinich - 08/09/06 12:00 AM EDT
COLUMBUS, OHIO– While election officials are examining whether Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) hand-picked successor is eligible to run for his seat in the fall, some political insiders are noting that a somewhat similar effort by another Ohio candidate for Congress was rejected last month.
Charles Morrison, a former Republican, was barred in July by the Franklin County Board of Elections from running as an independent against Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy under the section of Ohio election law known as the “sore loser” provision.
This section states no individual who seeks a party nomination in the primary election by “declaration of candidacy or by declaration of intent to be a write in candidate” is permitted to run in the general election for any other office, other than a member of a board of education or a “township trustee.”
Ney’s pick to take his seat in the 18th District, Ohio state Sen. Joy Padgett (R), lost her bid for lieutenant governor in the Ohio primary in May 2006, which could bring her under the provision.
However, Padgett is confident that election officials will decide in her favor and that she will be able to run for Ney’s seat against Democrat Zack Space.
“The law is designed for someone who ran in a primary and then tries to run as an independent [in the general election],” Padgett said. “I was on a separate ballot in a completely different race.”
The Space campaign did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Morrison said, “She would come under the law directly – I think she should be allowed to run, but because of some court actions in the past … she should not be allowed.”
In response to Morrison’s move, the three GOP county chairmen filed a protest against his petition to run in the 2006 congressional race, citing his run for a Republican position in May 2006 as an indication he was not an independent.
In July, the Franklin County Board of Elections, composed of two Democrats and two Republicans, split on the decision as to whether Morrison could run as an independent against Pryce and Kilroy.
The two Democrats voted to allow Morrison to run as an independent while two Republicans on the board voted against Morrison, citing his run for a leadership post on the Republican Central Committee in May of this year as a sign he was not a true independent.
The office of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (R) cast the tie-breaking vote, barring Morrison.
John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party said, “At this point we are talking with our legal counsel and county elections officials about the law and the proper way to proceed.”
The Ohio Democratic Party expressed frustration at the decision of state Republicans to support Padgett.
“The fact that Ney tried to hand pick his successor [for] the people of that congressional district shows the arrogance [of the Republican Party],” said Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman or the Ohio Democratic Party.
No other Republican has entered the race for Ney’s seat, but it is clear that Padgett has the backing of senior Republican lawmakers and strategists.
Rothenberg said that whether Padgett will end up on the ballot depends on how the law is interpreted.
“We live in the world of Ken Blackwell,” Rothenberg said, indicating it will be up to the secretary of state how the law is applied in this case.
Daniel Tokaji, an assistant professor of law at the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, agreed that it would depend on how statute is interpreted.
He said that while the cases are different, the law could be read in a similar way.
“In both cases, there’s a question as to whether the sore-loser statute applies and as to whether, if it does apply, the statute is constitutional,” he said. “Beyond that, the cases are totally different as I see it — although the answer may well be the same.”
He said that it was unlikely that Padgett would be kept off the ballot since she was appointed to run by Ney but that Morrison could be kept off by statute because he has sought to run as an independent by petition.
On July 31, Morrison filed a motion in United States District Court “to compel the Franklin County Board of Election to certify” his petition to run.
“I am completely in compliance with the law,” Morrison said. “I collected more than 2,000 signatures as an independent.”
His case is scheduled to be heard at the end of this month.
According to Morrison, Ohio Republicans are worried that he would pull vital votes away from Pryce, who faces a tough challenge from Kilroy this fall.
Morrison has run unsuccessfully against Pryce in the 2002 and 2004 Ohio primaries.
Pryce spokesman George Rasley said the campaign wasn’t concerned about whether Morrison was on ballot.
“We are not party to the lawsuit, and, honestly, whether Morrison is in or out, we will have the most votes on Election Day,” he said.
Padgett told The Hill she had already spoken to House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and had received widespread encouragement to run.
On Monday, Ney abruptly announced he would not seek re-election citing his need to put his family first as legal bills mount and the Justice Department continues its probe into his involvement with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
James Lee, a spokesman for the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, said if Ney files the necessary paperwork to withdraw from the election within 80 days of Election Day, then a primary must be held for his replacement.
If he files within 76 days of the election, a replacement would be appointed by the chairman of the Tuscarawas County Republican Party and the secretaries of the county organization.
“The sore loser law does not specifically address [a situation] where the candidate is appointed,” Lee said.
Ney has not yet filed his official paperwork withdrawing from the race, according to spokeswoman Katie Harbath.
“No decision has been made,” Lee said and added that one cannot be made until Ney files his paperwork with the Tuscarawas board of elections.