Who put the blade to Betras?

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras appears to have been bladed by Republicans and Democrats alike as he sought appointment to the county board of elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, refused to go along with the recommendation of the county Democratic Party’s executive committee for the chairman to fill the seat vacated by Michael Morley, a former party chairman.

Husted contended that Betras, a lawyer, was “not competent” to serve on the board because he had been the treasurer for Attorney General-elect Marc Dann’s transition team. Dann resigned in shame after 16 months as attorney general. He was convicted of an ethics violation. Even though Betras was not implicated in any way and was not a target of any investigation, Husted suggested he was required by state law to determine Betras’ competency to serve on the elections board.

But the decision was not made in isolation. The Democratic Party chairman was also targeted by Republicans and others in the Valley who resent his vocal opposition to Ohio’s new collective bargaining law that Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly rammed through. The law would take away many of the rights public employees in Ohio have enjoyed for almost three decades.

State Issue 2

Ohio voters will decide Nov. 8 whether the law should take effect. It will appear on the ballot as state Issue 2.

Betras launched a public attack on Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber Chief Executive Officer Tom Humphries, who endorsed the new collective bargaining law, and urged members of the chamber to quit the organization.

The battle made statewide headlines.

Humphries is an ally of Gov. Kasich’s, and while there is nothing that points to the chamber chief having anything to do with Betras’ rejection, Republicans in state government are well aware of what has transpired. Being a leading critic of the collective bargaining law — Senate Bill 5 — makes one an enemy of the Ohio GOP.

There is talk that leading Republicans in Mahoning County stuck a blade in Betras when he was being vetted by the secretary of state.

As for the Democrats who participated in the public embarrassment of the party chairman, a package of information about his role in the Dann campaign for attorney general was sent to the secretary of state’s office. Why? Because there’s a faction within the party that did not want the criminal lawyer to become chairman and now does not want him to serve on the board of elections.

Betras has angered old-line Democrats who view public employment as a political right. He has made it clear that qualifications and experience are just as important as political affiliation in filling some government jobs.

Indeed, in explaining why he is seeking a seat on the board of elections, Betras has said he wants to establish job descriptions for the full-time positions in the office and wants to ensure that individuals serving in important positions are qualified to do so.

That would be a major departure from the traditional role of boards of elections around the state: a dumping ground for political hacks. Both, Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this, but they offer no apologies because that’s how it has always been.

The board of elections is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, with the representatives of each party taking turns filling jobs in the office.

Betras wants to upset that apple cart in Mahoning County, a move that would have little support even among members of his own party.

Big-ticket items

The chairman also wants to look into the various contracts for big-ticket items entered into by the four-member board because more often than not the vote is 4-0.

Boards of elections are supposed to work on a system of checks and balances, with the members of each party looking over the shoulders of the other.

Although Betras has publicly expressed his disagreement with the secretary of state over his being denied appointment to the elections board, he has been measured in his response hoping he will fare better in February when the full term on the board is available.

Given his list of detractors, it may be easier for him to join the Republican Party.

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