The lead story in today's Akron Beacon Journal and on last night's News Night Akron is State Kevin Coughlin either launching or joining a campaign to oust Alex Arshinkoff as GOPper di tutti GOPper in Summit County. There are actually two stories available from the Beacon -- the one posted on Ohio.com yesterday and today's lead, fleshed out with some interviews and response from Arshinkoff himself.
Coughlin announced the campaign by sending a letter to party leaders that outlines his complaints against Arshinkoff. Whatever Coughlin writes in his letters, the bottom line is there can be only one king of the mountain and right now Coughlin isn’t it. The blimp hanger isn”t big enough to simultaneously hold the egos and outsized ambitions of these two men. Still, the letter is instructive. Here's Coughlin's main theme.
- Chairman Alex Arshinkoff’s classic bunker-mentality style of leadership is the root cause of this decline. In short, he is too paranoid, too vindictive, too manipulative, too untrustworthy, and too erratic to continue leading our party.
Coughlin’s 95 theses touch on the essence of Arshinkoff, but don’t delve into the particular’s. Alex’s exercises dominion over his fiefdom by controlling money and political jobs. His most embarrassing recent public feuds – the fishing expedition at Oriana House, the Who’s Your Daddy obstruction of expanding the county judiciary – have aimed and either expanding or protecting his power base. And when he locks horns with a widely popular official like Judge Mary Spicer, well, it’s just Alex being Alex.
But then, the fortunes of the Republican Party turned. The strike at Alex brings to mind the end of Bobby Knight’s tenure at Indiana. While he was winning, the school would tolerate pretty much any level of abuse from Coach Knight. But when the team started bowing out in the first round of the Tourney to the likes of Pepperdine, he was no longer worth the price.
So it has been for Arshinkoff. People put up with him because he won, period. Now that he’s not winning it's not surprising that people are questioning whether he's worth keeping around.
An honest assessment of the reversal of fortune would acknowledge the myriad forces beyond Arshinkoff’s control: The scandal-ridden state party, the bloody mess in Iraq, a statewide economy in shambles coupled with a local economy doing comparatively well under Democratic rule. Alex acknowledges the challenges in today's ABJ story. I would add to that a resurgent county Democratic Party which had finally moved beyond the shock of losing much of the union base.
Alas, no. In Coughlin fashion, in the end it’s the fault of the Democrats:
- More and more, Alex appears to be the dancing bear on a chain held firmly by the local Democratic Party. He’s endorsed a Don Plusquellic-led effort to hike the income tax. He’s refused to run a candidate against Plusquellic in this year’s mayoral election. He has cut deals with Democratic Party leaders to allow vulnerable Democrats to run unopposed, and is rumored to be making a similar
deal for 2008.
Alex’s response to this on AkronNewsNow is surrealistic spin:
- He defended working with local Democrats, in particular not fielding a GOP challenger to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic at this time, citing the need to have an influential player in City Hall at this time to lead efforts to keep Goodyear in the city and preserve local jobs. Arshinkoff noted that with Democrats holding virtually all state executive positions in Columbus (the lone exception is State Auditor Mary Taylor), and the uncertainty of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election where Democrats may take back the White House while holding both houses of Congress, it was more important for Summit County to have powerful voices with a local agenda that could be heard in both Columbus and Washington.
I don’t know why Alex supported the income tax hike, but I can guess. Alex’s power comes from fundraising, especially from business people. The income tax hike was going in large part toward “economic development” projects, the sorts of projects that many of those business contributors would stand to benefit from. It’s a theory.
As for not running a candidate against Plusquellec, the Republicans aren’t running because they would lose. Alex fired everything he had at Plusquellec in 2003 and hardly made a dent. He had a name candidate in term-limited Representative Bryan Williams, worked the primary to make sure there was lots of money and ran hard. Plusquellec responded by calling out Arshinkoff in his announcement speech and running both on his own record and against Arshinkoff Republicans, to the extent he had to run at all. The net result was a 70%-30% shellacking. If Coughlin were serious about carefully spending resources, he too would leave that one be.
With regard to the other deals with Democrats Coughlin cites, the most high-profile one was the agreement not to run against Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh in exchange for the Dems not running against Sheriff Drew Alexander in 2004. The scuttlebutt was that Arshinkoff wanted to spend money on the national race, as opposed to defending one office and take on a reasonably strong incumbent in another. In the end Alex got the better end of the deal. Alexander had no opponent, but Republican David Drew ran against Walsh as an independent. And it certainly doesn’t look like Drew suffered for breaking the deal – he was able to run for an at-large seat on County Council – that race appears on Coughlin’s list of Arhinkoff losses.
It’s a well-worn political trick to paint an interparty rival as too close to the other guys. But don’t buy it. Arshinkoff is a partisan and self-motivated and devious as ever.
Meanwhile, this has the makings of an all-out interparty war, with lots of interesting collateral damage. Stay tuned.