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Rulli replacement decision sparks threat

The decision today as to who will be appointed to succeed Republican Michael Rulli in the state Senate will be made by the GOP chairwoman and secretary in tiny Carroll County — and both are facing tremendous pressure regarding their choice.

The Republican chairs and secretaries of Mahoning and Columbiana counties have made their decisions.

Mahoning is backing state Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, and Columbiana is behind state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana.

Under state law, the Republican chairs and secretaries of counties in the 33rd Ohio Senate District — which includes Mahoning, Columbiana and Carroll counties — get to vote on who will replace Rulli, R-Salem, who won a Tuesday election for the vacant 6th Congressional District seat.

All six have an equal vote even though Mahoning’s population of about 225,000 is almost 100,000 more than Columbiana at 100,000 and Carroll at 26,000 combined.

The person selected will be on the Nov. 5 ballot for the final two years of Rulli’s term.

The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus plans to appoint Rulli’s successor later today to serve through the end of the year.

The Senate caucus will appoint whoever the six district officials vote to put on the ballot, said Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe.

Carroll County Republican Party Chairwoman Patty Oyer said Wednesday that she hasn’t made a decision, and she and Kathy Huffman, the party’s secretary, will vote after hearing today from the four candidates seeking the appointment.

“There will be interviews and my secretary and I will make a decision after that,” she said. “We have very good applicants, and I’ll take everything into consideration and make a good decision.”

Oyer said she has received “a lot of calls” from donors and party committee members.

“I appreciate the fact there are concerns and interest,” she said.

More than 30 Carroll County business owners and government officials signed a Wednesday letter, obtained by The Vindicator, to Oyer, Huffman and others insisting that Robb Blasdel — whose district includes that county — be appointed to succeed Rulli.

The letter reads, “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.”

It adds: “It is without question that your vote will play the pivotal role in deciding Carroll County and the rest of our district’s future. We wholeheartedly encourage you to vote for the citizens, businesses and Republicans of our county and support Monica Robb Blasdel.”

In an attached email to Oyer, Huffman and others, Bryan Shaw, CEO and founder of Efficient Energy Group in Carrollton, the letter’s lead signer, was more blunt.

Shaw wrote: “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.”

Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe said of Shaw’s email, “It’s political terrorism when you get a letter like that threatening you. It’s strong-arm tactics. Patty is torn. At the end of the day, we’ll have a good candidate.”

McCabe added of Oyer: “She’s a duly elected chairperson. You can weigh in with your opinion, but when you basically say, ‘There will be hell to pay,’ that’s different. I feel bad for Patty. I truly believe she is undecided and will make up her mind” today.

Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson couldn’t be reached Tuesday to comment.

While Robb Blasdel and Cutrona are the favorites, also seeking the state Senate appointment are Tim Ginter, a former state House speaker pro tempore who is running in November for Columbiana County commissioner, and Columbiana County Commissioner Michael Halleck, McCabe said. Austintown Trustee Robert Santos, who was considering seeking the appointment, has withdrawn, McCabe said.

Cutrona is facing criticism — which the Carroll County letter addresses — for a $20,000 payment his campaign committee made to a political campaign consulting firm run by his fiancee, Logan Church, and her father.

The information about the $20,000 payment was published by The Vindicator on June 6. Cutrona said the fee was a “friends and family discount. I am lucky to have her by my side.”

Cutrona said it is part of a “smear campaign” against him by those who don’t want him to get the appointment and that there is nothing illegal about the contribution to Church’s firm.

Bobby Ina, a political consultant from Strongsville, said he was the one who “investigated the tip” because Cutrona voted to not expel Larry Householder as speaker of the state House and was appointed to his current position when Householder was in power. Householder, a Republican, was sentenced last year to 20 years in federal prison for leading a racketeering conspiracy into the largest public corruption scandal in Ohio’s history.

Democrats in the 33rd District have given those interested in seeking that party’s nomination until July 1 to apply.

Martin Hume of Youngstown, a Mahoning County assistant prosecutor and former Youngstown law director, said he’s interested in the appointment.

Youngstown Councilman Mike Ray of the 4th Ward had said in March that he was interested in the nomination. But he said Wednesday he won’t seek it as “it isn’t the right time for me.”

Also, county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said he won’t seek the nomination. Traficanti would have had to withdraw from his reelection bid to seek the state Senate seat.

The district favors Republicans by about 9.5% based on partisan statewide voting results during the past decade.

RULLI

Rulli beat Democrat Michael L. Kripchak 54.7% to 45.3% in a Tuesday special election for the 6th Congressional District in a race that was closer than expected.

The district has an 18% advantage for Republicans based on voting results in partisan statewide elections over the past decade. Republican Donald Trump won the district in the 2020 presidential race by 29% over Democrat Joe Biden.

Rulli won the March 19 Republican primary because he garnered 78.6% of the vote in Mahoning, which is, by far, the district’s most-populous county. Without that resounding victory in Mahoning, Rulli would have lost to state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, R-Paris Township, by more than 9,000 votes.

In Tuesday’s election, Kripchak of Youngstown is leading Rulli by 14 votes in Mahoning County, according to unofficial results.

The results will be certified June 27.

Rulli won nine of the other 10 counties in the district, losing Tuscarawas.

Kripchak said the results “have not diminished our spirit. Though historically a red district, our campaign outperformed expectations, proving the doubters wrong. We were able to achieve so much within so little time. I cannot wait to see what we can accomplish when we have more time.”

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was 11.23% with Mahoning having the highest percentage at 14.5%.

Rulli resigned Wednesday from the state Senate and plans to be sworn in June 25 to his congressional seat.

Rulli is filling the rest of Republican Bill Johnson’s unexpired term.

Johnson resigned Jan. 21 after 13 years in Congress to become Youngstown State University president.

Rulli and Kripchak will face each other again Nov. 5 for the full two-year House term that starts in January 2025.

During Rulli’s last day in the General Assembly, the state Senate passed a bill he sponsored to require that school doors are annually inspected to check that they are working properly and are code-compliant to ensure the safety and security of students and staff.

“Our kids deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment,” he said.

The bill heads to the Ohio House.

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

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