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Cleveland to take on Columbus

The Democrats have been the minority party at the Supreme Court of Ohio for the better part of two decades. Now the Democratic leadership in Columbus wants to extend that dry spell by engineering an unnecessary primary. They have orchestrated a divisive primary between Columbus and Cleveland and once again demonstrated they have no idea how to run a Supreme Court race. Let me explain.

There are two highly qualified Democratic Judges running for an open seat which could readily change the balance on the Court from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat. The stakes could not be higher. And the competence and leadership of the Ohio Democratic Party could not be lower. Last week, ODP chose Judge Lisa Forbes over Judge Terri Jamison for their endorsement for the Supreme Court. The first rule of winning a statewide race is party unity. This action does just the opposite: it pits Franklin County against Cuyahoga County in a battle that will not heal in time to win in November. But this is not the first time the party has shown their incompetence.

I hope Judge Forbes gets the million dollars I left on the table. She is going to need it.

In 2006 I was in this exact scenario. I had carried 40% of the statewide vote two years earlier and was preparing for a rematch with my friend Justice Terry O’Donnell when I got a call from Judge A.J. Wagner in Dayton. He was noticeably upset and asked if I was running again this year. I told him “yes” and he immediately said he was going to drop out.

“They recruited me and promised me one million dollars in the primary” he lamented. “But now that I know you are running, I will drop out.”

I told the Judge that staying in and having a contested primary was good for both of us…and when I beat you I will have momentum in November. “What is in it for me?” he asked, and I told him. (1) I was running on “no money from nobody” and I needed a win to demonstrate my idea was valid, and (2). If you beat me you will be the dragon slayer and everyone will love you. He agreed to stay and I beat him soundly. The party never came up with ten cents of the million promised. We remain friends today.

Six years later I was at a social gathering at ODP making plans to run for Supreme Court once again. I was approached by a traffic court Judge from Cincinnati who extended his hand and said “Good evening Mr. O’Neill, I have wanted to meet you.” I corrected him and indicated my name was Judge O’Neill since I had retired after ten years on the Court of Appeals and asked his name. “Well, you are not a Judge and I have been recruited by the Ohio Democratic Party to run against you in the primary,” he said.

On inquiry, I learned they had promised him an endorsement and one million dollars. The same million dollars they had promised Judge Wagner must have still been on the table. I beat that youngster in 87 out of 88 counties and went on to win the election over incumbent Justice Bob Cupp with 60% of the statewide vote.

Here’s the bottom line. Judge Jamison ran in 2022, made a lot of friends, raised nearly a million dollars and got more than 1.7 million votes. She came close to beating an incumbent Justice. This year I have seen the voicemail to ODP where she indicated she was interested in running. It takes a statewide loss to win in Ohio. Everyone knows that. But rather than accepting that fact, the ODP went out and recruited Judge Forbes, a nice lady and a good new Judge….with three years on the bench with no trial court experience…compared to more than a decade as a Judge including at the trial court level for Judge Jamison. There is no question that Judge Jamison has the best chance of winning in November. None.

The Ohio Democratic Party has a history of missing opportunities in Supreme Court races. Too many to mention.

The winner of this Democratic primary is going to beat the Franklin County Republican Common Pleas Court Judge and change the balance on the Court. Judge Jamison has won three times in Franklin County, including twice against an incumbent. Cleveland is about to take on Columbus. And it should not have to.

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