Shortly after the November elections, the Senate Republican caucus held an organizing meeting to elect the leadership for the next General Assembly. They elected Athens Republican Jimmy Stewart to be their Majority Floor Leader. Stewart was eligible to run for another term in what could otherwise be a potential district pickup for the ragtag band of rebels known as the Senate Democratic Caucus. He was expected to run for re-election. Regardless, one does not run for, nor get elected, Senate Majority Floor Leader if one doesn’t even expect to serve more than seven months into the next General Assembly.
But then SB 5 happened. And because Bill Seitz and Tim Grendell suddenly threw the political calculus out the window, Senate President Tom Niehaus found he had no room of error left to release Jimmy Stewart from voting for SB 5, and thus, likely ruining any chance Stewart had for re-election. When Stewart, who many initially assumed would have been a “no” vote on SB 5, voted “yes,” the Statehouse Columbus speculation market was on when, not if, Stewart would announce he would not run for re-election and where he’d wind up.
Today, the Columbus Dispatch reports that Jimmy Stewart will resign come July to “pursue an opportunity in the private sector.” I’m surprised he’s not doing it to “spend more time with his family.” Regardless, Stewart is the first GOP incumbent who is cashing out instead of facing the voters in 2012 for his support of John Kasich’s radical anti-middle class agenda. He won’t be the last.
The resignation helps the Senate Republicans in a way because Stewart’s move allows them to seat his replacement in August, giving the replacement nearly a year of the advantages of incumbency without the disadvantages of being an incumbent in this General Assembly by having to take a position on SB 5 or the Kasich job-killing budget.
Stewart is going to work for the Ohio Gas Association, which required Niehaus to quickly replace Stewart on the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee before it voted on HB 95, a bill that specifically benefits the industry by easing the regulations of the industry.
So he gets his silver ducats after lying to organized labor for years, leaves the Senate in a highly-paid lobbyists position where (after a year of sitting out a whole year before he can lobby his former colleagues) he never has to face the voters who elected him, never gives them an opportunity to hold him accountable. Jimmy Stewart is laughing all the way to the bank, but not after sticking around the Senate long enough to vote for the Kasich budget so his replacement doesn’t have to, giving the Republican an incumbent without a record of the most unpopular votes expected this General Assembly.
The Democrats, depending on redistricting, can potentially pick up this seat, and they’ve got multiple candidates who can make this race very competitive. Former State Representative Jennifer Garrison still has a quarter of a million sitting in her campaign account from her thwarted Secretary of State bid in 2010. However, Garrison is currently seeking the President position at Washington State Community College. If she continues to be considered a contender for that position, that precludes her from running for the State Senate next year.
Another top-tier potential candidate has to be House Assistant Minority Whip Debbie Phillips, but who is also busy helping Armond Budish try to recapture the Speaker’s Chair next election.
Either one of these candidates have the experience, ability to raise money, and name recognition that probably gives them an edge over any potential GOP challenger. Phillips has the benefit of representing three of the eight counties currently in Stewart’s district, including the populous and Democratic-vote rich Athens County.
Two House Republicans currently represent areas that comprise of Stewarts’ Senate district, but both have their liabilities. State Rep. Troy Balderson represents parts of Coschocton and Muskingum counties, which are part of the district, but the least populous parts of the district for this second-term State Representative. By far, State Representative Andy Thompson has
the most of the Senate district in his district, holding five of the eight counties (he splits Muskingum with Balderson) that make up Stewart’s district. However, Thompson is in his first-term, taking the seat in the open seat election when Jennifer Garrison decided not to run for re-election. Thompson didn’t carry Monroe County, and won with less than 3,000 votes in a high-tide GOP election year.
Also, the Republicans Representatives can be attacked over SB 5 and the budget, so the GOP will likely look to appoint someone with a clean slate and go with a local or county politician, such as Athens County Jill Thompson, or any of the Republican County or city officials from Washington County.
Regardless of whom the GOP Senate Caucus chooses, if the Democratic Senate caucus can recruit a strong Democratic candidate to run—such as Garrison or Phillips—then this is a State Senate race to watch next year. After all, voters are so upset over SB 5 that they may still take out their anger over Jimmy Stewart on his Republican successor regardless.
In the end, SB 5 is so wildly popular that the Senate Majority Leader is resigning and becoming a lobbyist rather than face the voters back home over it. Good luck with those re-election campaigns next year, Republicans. Jimmy Stewart says “See ya; wouldn’t want to be ya!”