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Cutrona wins appointment to Senate

State Rep. Al Cutrona will be sworn in June 26 as the state senator from the 33rd District and be the Republican candidate on the Nov. 5 ballot for the seat after a 4-2 vote in an internal GOP political struggle.

The Republican Party chairs and secretaries in Mahoning and Carroll counties voted Thursday for Cutrona, R-Canfield, while the Republican chair and secretary in Columbiana County backed state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana.

The other candidate was Tim Ginter, a former Ohio House speaker pro tempore who is running in November for a Columbiana County commissioner seat. Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck dropped out of the running for the nomination.

“All three candidates were impressive and compelling,” said Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe. “It was a hard decision. We had a lot of discussion. We couldn’t have gone wrong no matter who we picked.”

Under state law, the Republican chairs and secretaries of the three counties in the district got to vote on the replacement of Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who resigned as a state senator Wednesday, the day after he won a special election for the vacant 6th Congressional District seat.

Rulli said he is starting his term June 25 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus agreed to appoint whoever was selected by the officials in the three counties to be on that ballot to replace Rulli for the rest of this year.

The caucus will swear in Cutrona as Rulli’s successor June 26, said John Fortney, the caucus’ spokesman.

Cutrona said: “I am very excited to have the opportunity to represent the Senate’s 33rd District and continue the work I have done in the House. I’m looking forward to carrying on with my agenda in the House, but with a larger regional approach and continuing to focus on increasing business development and economic development for the district.”

Cutrona complimented Robb Blasdel and Ginter, saying they were strong candidates.

The chairs and secretaries “chose someone who is battle-tested,” Cutrona said. “My experience in the House has helped me make the leap to the Senate.”

In addition to his ability to win elections, Cutrona gives Republicans the best chance to retain the seat and has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, McCabe said.

Robb Blasdel said she “will continue to be a champion for my district and that’s all I can do. I’m looking forward to working with Al Cutrona, and I’ll continue to represent the 79th” House District.

Asked if she was disappointed with the outcome, Robb Blasdel said, “It’s OK. We’ll move forward. There’s more work I can do in the House and that’s OK.”

Columbiana County GOP Chairman Dave Johnson didn’t respond to requests Wednesday or Thursday to comment.

Carroll County Chairwoman Patty Oyer wrote in a statement: “Much agonizing thought and consideration went into selecting the replacement for Sen. Rulli. Everyone desiring to have the position are great public servants and we considered ourselves fortunate to get to take part in this process. However, only one can be chosen, which made this decision a very difficult one.”

Oyer and Kathleen Huffman, Carroll County Republican Party secretary, faced a tremendous amount of pressure regarding their choice.

More than 30 Carroll County business owners and government officials signed a Wednesday letter to Oyer, Huffman and others insisting Robb Blasdel — whose House district includes Carroll County — be appointed to succeed Rull.

“The future political, economic and business growth of our district will be determined specifically by your vote. We strongly believe Monica is our best choice for the Ohio Senate,” the letter read.

Bryan Shaw, CEO and founder of Efficient Energy Group in Carrollton and the letter’s lead signer, attached a separate email, writing: “If the voting committee members ultimately choose anyone other than Monica, we would expect an immediate, in-person meeting to hear the explanation as to WHY. A vote and decision of this magnitude, one would expect the voting members would have the data and reasons as to why they voted as they did and be able to articulate that to their constituents. I have heard from numerous business owners that if the support is anyone other than Monica, their future support and membership in the Carroll County Republican Party will hinge on that explanation.”

McCabe said Wednesday of Shaw’s email: “It’s political terrorism when you get a letter like that threatening you.”

Asked Thursday about the votes by Oyer and Huffman for Cutrona, McCabe said, “It was a tough decision to make. They didn’t take it lightly. I don’t know why there would be repercussions because they took the decision very seriously. Carroll County went above and beyond what they needed to do. All three candidates came to Carroll County about two weeks ago and committee members and the public came in. They put a lot of thought into it.”

Cutrona said of the votes by Oyer and Huffman, “The position they took was because they believe in me and what I’ll do as a state senator for all areas of the district, including Carroll County. They looked at my history in the House. They’re not going to lose Monica, they’re going to gain Al Cutrona.”

Reached Thursday for comment, Shaw said: “It didn’t go how me and other business people in the area wanted. But they are in the position of authority in the party. I will support their decision. No hard feelings. Only time will tell if they’re right or not. I pray to God they made the right decision. Monica Robb Blasdel is our representative, and we thought that it made more sense to have her represent us in the Senate.”

Shaw said he and others still want Oyer and Huffman to explain their decision.

“They’re both smart ladies, and they’ll explain their decision — at least I hope so,” he said.

Democrats in the 33rd District have until July 1 to apply to seek the appointment to get on the Nov. 5 ballot for the final two years of Rulli’s term in the state Senate.

HOUSE VACANCY

Cutrona was appointed May 28, 2020, to the Ohio House to succeed Republican Don Manning, who died two months prior.

Cutrona was elected to a two-year term in November 2020 and reelected two years later.

He was running for reelection in the Nov. 5 election. The Republican chairs and secretaries in Mahoning and Columbiana counties will decide shortly who will replace Cutrona on the Nov. 5 ballot for the 59th Ohio House District seat.

The Ohio House Republican Caucus will select someone to fill out the rest of Cutrona’s term. Cutrona currently represents the 58th District, which is seeing some of its communities change through redistricting for the 2024 election.

McCabe said he expects the House caucus — like the Senate caucus did — to appoint whoever the chairs and secretaries choose for the ballot.

“The Democrats have their candidate,” he said. “We’ll have to find the strongest candidate as possible. We’ll take applications immediately. I’ll form a committee with executive committee members, donors and volunteers.”

The district Cutrona currently represents in the House is considered a toss-up based on partisan statewide voting results for the past decade. Because of redistricting, it now favors Republicans by more than 12% on those same voting results.

Laura Schaeffer, a Beloit councilwoman, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for the state House seat.

“Laura Schaeffer is an outstanding candidate who is running an incredible race,” said Mahoning County Democratic Chairman Chris Anderson. “Cutrona is going to have to turn around and ask Mahoning County to elect him to a position after he walked away from his current job. Who knows what job he’s going to take next? We’re not only excited we’ll flip a Senate seat, but we’re going to flip a House seat.”

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.

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