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Tiff mars Cutrona appointment

Overcoming an internal Republican political dispute that included significant pressure placed on those casting the deciding votes, Al Cutrona emerged as the successor to Michael Rulli in the Ohio Senate.

It was a quick but not easy process that led to Cutrona, a Republican state representative from Canfield, getting the appointment to represent the 33rd Ohio Senate District on June 13 by a 4-2 vote among the Republican Party chairs and secretaries in the district. Cutrona got votes from those in Mahoning and Carroll counties while state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana, got the support from those in Columbiana County.

Cutrona will serve the rest of the year in the Senate and be the Republican nominee for the remaining two years on Rulli’s unexpired term on the Nov. 5 ballot. Democrats plan to have their nominee by mid-July.

The Mahoning Republicans made their support of Cutrona clear and the same for those from Columbiana in backing Robb Blasdel.

It came down to Carroll, which has about 10% of Mahoning’s population. Under state law, each county’s Republican Party chairs and secretaries in the Senate district got an equal vote.

Carroll County Republican Chairwoman Patty Oyer and Secretary Kathleen Huffman faced much pressure, particularly from donors and officeholders in their county, to back Robb Blasdel.

The day before the vote, the two received a letter from more than 30 county business owners and government officials insisting they vote for Robb Blasdel.

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.”

In an attached email to the letter, Bryan Shaw, CEO and founder of Efficient Energy Group in Carrollton, the letter’s lead signer, 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. … 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 called Shaw’s email “political terrorism.”

When I talked to Shaw after the vote, he was conciliatory, saying, “I will support their decision. No hard feelings.” But he also wanted an explanation.

In a prepared statement to me after the vote, Oyer wrote: “Only one can be chosen, which made this decision a very difficult one.”

She was still explaining it a day later in a letter to the Carroll County’s Republican central and executive committees.

Oyer wrote: “Kathy and I had a very difficult decision to make. A decision I wish could be left up to the voters as a whole in an actual election, but the party rules, and state laws say otherwise. I can tell you that Kathy and I didn’t make this decision lightly. I personally spent much time behind the scenes listening to many opinions, taking many phone calls and reading a lot of material shared with me.”

She added: “Of course, I realize that no public vote like this doesn’t come without controversy. I also am enough of an observationist to know that no public official doesn’t come without any criticism. Many voiced their opinion in private while others voiced theirs in public.”

Cutrona faced criticism for a $20,000 payment his campaign committee made to a political consulting firm run by his fiancee, Logan Church, and her father.

The information about the payment, which was incorrectly listed on Cutrona’s campaign report filed Jan. 31 and then amended about four weeks ago, was published in a June 6 article in The Vindicator.

Cutrona insisted the payment was legal and the amount was a “friends and family discount” from Church.

Cutrona accused Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson of being behind the information getting out. Johnson hasn’t commented on the accusations.

Political consultant Bobby Ina said he was the one who “investigated the tip” because Cutrona is tied to Larry Householder, the disgraced former Ohio House speaker serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for his involvement in the largest public corruption scandal in the state’s history.

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

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