Secretary of State Husted owes public details on Betras ruling

Does Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted really intend to make competency the standard for service on a county board of elections? If he does, he’ll have a devil of a time finding qualified individuals to appoint. He’ll also find himself at odds with county Republican and Democratic parties.

While we would welcome a test of competence for filling public sector positions, including elective office, we are under no illusions that such a high standard will become the norm. After all, politics is based on the lowest common denominator.

But, by finding Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras “not competent” to serve on the county board of elections, Husted, who has been secretary of state since January, has broken new ground. After all, while Ohio’s chief elections officer has the statutory authority to make appointments to elections boards, the recommendation of the executive committee of each political party in a county has historically been respected.

Thus, when Husted sent a letter to Betras informing him that he would not be appointed because of his service as treasurer of now disgraced state Attorney General Marc Dann’s transition committee, we wondered what information he has that no one else seemed to have.

What’s missing

While Dann, during his tenure as attorney general, was investigated by the state inspector general, and the Ohio Ethics Commission, there is nothing in any reports that implicate Betras of wrongdoing. Even the Franklin County prosecutor in the ethics violations case against Dann — the former Liberty Township resident resigned in disgrace and was found guilty of an ethics misdemeanor charge — found nothing in Betras’ behavior that warranted a criminal investigation or charges.

The well-known criminal lawyer is incensed by the secretary of state’s contention that he did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility as transition committee treasurer. It seems that Husted expects the man who manages the transition account to challenge the spending by the officeholder-elect.

If that is his position, he owes it to the public to explain what Betras failed to do to prevent the one ethics violation for which Dann was found guilty,

Husted must also explain why he has concluded that if Betras is appointed to the board of elections he “will not be a competent member.” Competent to do what? The law establishes the four member board — two from each political party — to serve as a check and balance. Is Husted suggesting that Betras would be too willing to make deals with the Republicans? If he is, he certainly doesn’t know the Democratic Party chairman at all.

What’s next?

Betras met with the secretary of state on Friday, and while he refused to reconsider his decision not to appoint him to the unexpired term of Michael Morley, who stepped down, he did rescind his letter to the Democratic chairman. Does recession mean Husted does not believe the things he said about Betras?

The Republican secretary of state who ran on a platform of bipartisanship — he touted his tenure as speaker of the House of Representatives to show his willing to reach across the aisle — risks being accused of playing partisan political games with an individual who has been highly critical of some aspects of the Republican agenda in Columbus.

It’s time from some straight talk from the man who will be overseeing the crucial presidential election in Ohio next year.

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