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Commentary: Dusty Rhodes On 'Ideological Purity,' Trump And Running For A 9th Term

dusty rhodes
WVXU file

You could make a pretty good argument that both the Ohio Republican Party and the Hamilton County Democratic Party are more interested in booting people out then letting people in.

First, there was the Ohio Republican Party's executive committee, which held a Zoom meeting for the purpose of "censuring" Anthony Gonzalez, the GOP congressman from the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, for the unpardonable sin of being one of 10 U.S. House members to vote to impeach Donald Trump as he was leaving office.

Then, last Saturday, the Hamilton County Democratic Party's executive committee, as if they were in some kind of competition with the Ohio GOP for the dumbest act of the year, held its own Zoom meeting. And on the agenda was a motion to put the party on record as saying that Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, who has held that office for nearly 32 years, is "not in good standing" with the Democratic Party.

Why? Because he tweets at a rate only slightly behind Donald Trump as president and almost all of it is conservative, right-wing stuff that does not sit well with the "progressives" of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

Rhodes was not on Zoom for the meeting and has been thumbing his nose at the party ever since.

I talked to him Tuesday for the first time in a long time. Truth be told, he and I had some kind of Twitter fight a year or so ago and we stopped communicating. I don't even remember what it was about.

The one thing I learned right off the bat in talking to Rhodes was that he is completely unapologetic about anything he has said or done to upset the Democratic party's progressive wing.

"They are demanding ideological purity and they are not going to get it from me,'' said Rhodes.

"I was always swimming against the tide; I was elected auditor when the Republicans ran everything in Hamilton County government,'' Rhodes said. "I opened up the door for Democrats in county government. Now they want to say I am 'not in good standing.' Fine."

Rhodes has done a lot of things that infuriate the party leadership, from tweets praising Donald Trump to endorsing Republican Bruce Hoffbauer for sheriff last year over Charmaine McGuffey (Hofffbauer lost).

Then, last summer, there was this tweet from Rhodes, which really sent the party leadership over the edge. It came after "Black Lives Matter" was painted by activists on Elm Street in front of City Hall:

"Just wondering when they are going to paint 'Black Lives Matter' on Auburn Avenue, you know, if front of that building where they terminate black lives and white ones, too, almost every day of the week."

Rhodes, a pro-life Catholic, was talking about the Planned Parenthood clinic on Auburn Avenue.

He has a low opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement in general and doesn't keep it a secret.

"It's an obvious con by a bunch of Marxist grifters,'' Rhodes told me. "I'm not going to sit still and go along with it."

Trump, he said, was "mistreated by the media. They baited him; he baited them. But he never sat there like a bump on a log doing nothing."

"I'm not a Trump lover, but I do like a lot of things that he has done,'' Rhodes said.

Not every day you hear a Democrat saying things like that, eh?  

Look, the truth is it would take a humongous tent for the Democrats to allow in somebody with those opinions.

It does help a bit to understand the world from which Dusty Rhodes came.

He grew up in Syracuse, New York, in a family who had been Democratic for decades. But being a Democrat in upstate New York in Rhodes' youth bears little resemblance to the Democrat of the 21st century. It was a more conservative, blue collar type of Democratic Party – made up of people like his father, a milk man and a proud union member, a Harry Truman Democrat.

Dusty Rhodes got into the radio business as a young man and ended up in Cincinnati as a disc jockey for WSAI, then the highest-rated Top 40 station in the city.

Within a few years, he was a household name in Cincinnati, one of the WSAI "Good Guys" who, in 1964, brought The Beatles to Cincinnati.

Before he was elected county auditor, he spent 21 years as a Delhi Township trustee, a conservative Democrat elected in a township that was quickly turning Republican.

In 1990, he became the first Democrat to be elected to a county office in two decades and has been elected to eight four-year terms. In 2002 and 2006, the Hamilton County Republican Party didn't even bother to run anyone against him. There was no point.

Next year, the office is up for election again.

Clearly, the Hamilton County Democratic Party is in no mood to run Rhodes again.

Rhodes said he hasn't made up his mind on whether he will run for a ninth term – this time as an Independent. He said he doesn't see himself as a Republican candidate.

"The Republicans have never even talked to me about switching parties,'' Rhodes said.

Inside the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the buzz is that State Rep. Brigid Kelly of Norwood is the likely choice for county auditor.

And Rhodes has nothing but good things to say about Kelly.

"She is as honest as the day is long,'' Rhodes told me. "I think she would do a fine job as auditor.

"That is, if I'm not running. We'll see."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.