Johnson puts company's interest before self-interest
Columbiana County Republican Chairman Dave Johnson was on the short list of those considered legitimate successors to Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett when Bennett retires in 2009.
Johnson of Salem has the attributes to take over for Bennett.
Johnson has solid organizational skills and is not only a strong fundraiser, he's also a generous contributor. Johnson is a passionate Republican and a charismatic guy who is capable of recruiting qualified candidates for all levels of government.
Also you can't question his loyalty.
It's that loyalty that is keeping Johnson from seeking the chairmanship.
Johnson owns Summitville Tile, a company that had its financial struggles in the past, but is experiencing an upswing.
Johnson says his responsibilities at the company run for the past 96 years by his family are "simply too great and too all-absorbing for me to accept an outside responsibility as demanding as that of the state chairman's post."
Bennett wants his replacement to be a full-time chairman when he steps down. Bennett lives in Cuyahoga County, and serves on that county's board of elections, but spends a lot of time in Columbus as well as traveling around the state talking to Republican leaders, raising money and recruiting candidates.
Johnson initially envisioned spending a day or two a week in Columbus with the rest of the time in Columbiana County and traveling statewide as chairman. [With modern technology, there is little need for the next chairman to move to Columbus to do the job properly.]
But that's not what Bennett or other Republicans have in mind for the next chairman.
Johnson said he still wants to be state GOP chairman at some point.
"I'll take a look at it in a couple of years," he said.
While other candidates may come forward, the state chairman candidates at this point are Stark County Republican Chairman Curt Braden and Lake County GOP Chairman Dale Fellows.
The 66-member state Republican central committee, of which Johnson and the two state chairmen candidates are members, will meet in March to vote to create the position of deputy chairman, and then elect someone to that post a month later. The deputy chairman would be groomed by Bennett to take his place when his current term expires in January 2009. Bennett was re-elected earlier this month to his 10th and final two-year term as party chairman.
The deputy chairman would closely work with Bennett between this April and January 2009 with a particular focus on the 2008 presidential election. Bennett wants the deputy chairman to go with him to Republican National Committee meetings and be heavily involved in important decisions.
Johnson was elected Columbiana County Republican chairman last May, returning to a position he left almost six years earlier.
The return was a rough one.
In the November election, incumbent county Commissioner Gary L. Williams, a Republican, lost his seat to Democrat Daniel Bing. Democrat Linda Bolon, then the county treasurer, beat Republican Jim Hoppel, a county commissioner, for the open 1st Ohio House District seat, held for the previous six years by Republican Chuck Blasdel. Also, Blasdel lost the race for the open 6th Congressional District seat to Democrat Charlie Wilson.
During Johnson's previous term as chairman, between 1990 and 2001, Republicans made huge strides in Columbiana County.
In Johnson's defense, 2006 was an awful year for Republicans in Ohio and nationwide.
Reeling from various scandals, Republicans lost races in Ohio for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and a U.S. Senate seat. The party lost seats in the state Legislature, but still maintains majorities in the House and Senate.
Republicans on the national level did even worse, losing control of the U.S. House and Senate in the last election.
Bennett called last year's Election Day "one of the worst political storms in a generation." During his 18-plus years as state chairman, Republicans gained control of Ohio government from Democrats, and had a firm grip on it for several years until this past election.
Bennett's successor has obstacles to overcome to return the Republicans to prominence. Unfortunately for the party, Johnson won't be that person -- for now.