On Nov. 9, 1994, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, Harry Meshel, was handed a “While You Were Out” telephone message sent by an Ottawa County commissioner. Here’s what the message said:
“Ask you that you resign.”
Meshel, former long-time state legislator from Youngstown, was livid. To be sure, the Democratic Party had suffered a stunning defeat in the 1994 statewide elections, starting with the embarrassing loss of the Democratic nominee for governor, Rob Burch, to Republican incumbent, George V. Voinovich.
However, Meshel, who had served as president of the Ohio Senate, was stunned by the audacity of the political whippersnapper from Ottawa County, Chris Redfern.
Fast forward 16-plus years to Jan. 30, 2011.
A note to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern — yes, the same former commissioner — from Harry Meshel — the same former party chairman and legislator:
“Thought you might like a reminder of your ‘warmth’ toward me after I suffered the defeats of ’94.
“You had a great Governor, a full slate of Dem officeholders, a ton of money.
“I had none of these.
“You failed miserably!
“You have earned the requirement to ‘take the pipe!’
A copy of 1994 telephone message from Redfern to Meshel was superimposed on the note.
Redfern, chairman since December 2005, presided over the state Democratic Party’s shellacking in the November general election. Not only did Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland fail to win re-election, but Democrats lost control of the Ohio House of Representatives and lost all the statewide offices they had held since 2007.
If Redfern in 1994 wanted Harry Meshel to fall on the political sword, should he now do the same thing? The answer is a definite “yes.” Redfern’s mishandling of the statewide election was just as bad as Meshel’s. He must recognize that his political stock has plummeted.
It is instructive that the Republican Party, flush from a very successful national election, is already making moves for the 2012 presidential contest.
For the GOP, it’s all about the future, which is why the national party leaders decided to dump Chairman Michael Steele — this, after he had orchestrated the election of 63 new members to the U.S. House, which resulted in Democrats losing control; the election of 13 new senators, paving the way for a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2012; and the election of more than 690 new state legislators.
Likewise, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine has reportedly been told by Gov. John Kasich that a change in leadership may be in order. DeWine, who can take credit for the GOP’s sweeping victory last November, was re-elected chairman in January, but there are reports that Kasich wants his own man at the helm of the party.
Even though Kasich defeated Strickland by a very small margin, a win is a win. Meshel is right: Strickland should never have lost.
The problem is that the Democrats allowed the Republicans to define them and also failed to energize the party faithful. Thus, in Democratic strongholds like Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the turnout was no better than the state average. Had voters gone to the polls in greater numbers, Strickland would have won.
They either stayed home, or switched sides. That is a failure of the state party leadership.
There’s another reason why Redfern should step aside: The labor unions’ battle with Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly over the collective bargaining bill.
The bill, which is aimed at neutering public employees, will pass and be signed into law. The unions will undoubtedly push to have the law nullified by a statewide vote of the people.
The question is whether they will put the issue on this November’s ballot, or wait until November 2012 to coincide with the presidential election.
The chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party will have to do a lot of negotiating and persuading. Based on last November’s election, Redfern does not appear to have those skills.