A top Republican official says the new challenge will not change the party's focus.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The new challenger to Mahoning Republican Chairman Clarence Smith says a change is needed at the top of the party, because he cannot tell the difference between the local Republican and Democratic parties.
"Both parties sound alike in Mahoning County," said Richard Duffett of Austintown, who plans to seek the Republican chairmanship. "There is no one who speaks for the average person who wants smaller government and less taxes. We need to build a party that represents the small-business owner and the working man alike."
Duffett, a political newcomer who works as a special education teacher in Mineral Ridge, is being backed by the Republicans for Real Reform, an organization created by Mark A. Hanni, who had planned to run for GOP chairman.
But after the party changed its bylaws to make Hanni ineligible to seek the position, he opted to throw his support behind Duffett.
Smith supporter reacts
Mark Munroe, chairman of the county elections board and a member of the Republican executive committee, said the move by Hanni did not surprise him.
"He continues to be the puppeteer holding the strings," Munroe said of Hanni. Munroe is a Smith supporter and employee of Compco Industries, which Smith owns.
"Our focus is not going to change. We'll see to it that Clarence Smith is re-elected chairman," Munroe said.
Duffett said that Smith has been an effective chairman in some ways but that he has failed to provide competition for Democrats running for office.
At precinct level
The Republicans for Real Reform also created a controlling committee that is working to ensure the election of its precinct committee candidates. The committee includes Boardman Trustee Kathy Miller as well as business owners and a labor representative.
The established Republican Party and the Republicans for Real Reform have candidates running in most of the 312 Republican precinct committee races. Those elected during the May 7 primary will vote for party chairman.