Political sparks fly over judgeship

On the side

Distinguished activities: California University of Pennsylvania’s alumni association honored Melanie Blumberg of Canfield, a political science professor and director of the school’s American Democracy Project, with an award for distinguished activities to the university and its students.

Blumberg, an expert on political parties and congressional elections and one of the nicest people I know, was named the C.B. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Award winner.

Blumberg, who previously taught at Mount Union and Kent State, received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Youngstown State University. She has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Akron, and a doctorate from Kent.

Congratulations Mel!

New location: The Columbiana County Board of Elections has moved to 7989 Dickey Drive, Suite 3, in Lisbon. The location is a new county government building. The board used to be at 41 N. Park Ave. in Lisbon. The office’s telephone number remains 330-424-1448.

The selection of the next Youngstown Municipal Court judge is almost being overshadowed by the failed efforts of prominent local Democrats to convince the governor to delay the appointment.

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras wrote Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, suggesting he wait to appoint a successor to Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr., a Democrat, to “allow the process of consolidation of the [county’s] lower courts to move forward.”

Betras, an attorney, wants a complete overhaul of the lower-court system, which would likely include reducing the number of Youngstown Municipal Court judges from three to two.

The Ohio Constitution requires Kasich appoint a replacement, and he will follow the law until the state Legislature votes to eliminate the seat, the governor’s spokesman said.

The county Republican Party received letters of interest from 10 candidates, including eight Democrats, to replace Judge Douglas.

A GOP screening committee will interview the candidates on June 18 and 19, and then recommend three finalists to Kasich.

Shortly after Betras’ letter, state Reps. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, and Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, made the same request.

County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe said what the Democrats are asking Kasich do is “violate the law. They failed as legislators to address this issue through the legislative process.”

Munroe’s comments to The Vindicator led Betras to send the Republican chairman an email Tuesday calling the comments about Hagan and Gerberry “a cheap shot” and “misleading.”

Betras said he, Hagan and Gerberry are asking the governor “to provide us some breathing room to enact legislation.” That legislation “must be preceded by negotiations that produce a consensus for change,” he wrote.

Betras added that the local GOP should be involved “if you are actually interested in affecting positive change rather than merely engaging in pathetic attempts to score political points.”

Betras also wrote that it’s “ironic” that Republican leaders, who support smaller government, don’t support the elimination of a judicial seat.

In response, Munroe told me: “In all of Youngstown, there is no one more guilty of scoring pathetic political points than Dave Betras.”

In a reply email to Betras, Munroe wrote that “an indefinite delay is the same as not making any appointment.”

Munroe wrote he “fully support[s] the consolidation effort,” but there needs to be consensus on the local level as well as a final plan.

If following the law “creates an impediment, our political system is in worse shape than I thought it was,” he wrote.

No consensus

Hagan said he’s tried to get consensus to eliminate a municipal court judge as far back as 20 years ago, but can’t get all the key local players to support it.

“Based on my experience, without a local consensus, it will go nowhere in the state Legislature,” he said. “It won’t even get into a committee because you’ll have people stop it before it’s introduced.”

It’s almost a given that a Democrat or two or three will be recommended by local Republicans to Kasich, and that a Democrat could get the appointment.

“Quite frankly, we’re giving the governor an out” to not appoint a Democrat, Hagan said.

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