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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Do Republicans Have A Shot At Hamilton County Offices Next Year?

Enric Teller
Flickr Creative Commons
For the longest time now, the Hamilton County GOP has been like Gloria Swanson in 'Sunset Boulevard': an aging, delusional film star constantly yearning for a comeback that will never come.

Two major county offices may be up for grabs next year, but the Hamilton County GOP may be powerless to win them.

Poor Hamilton County Republicans.

For nearly six years now, they have been mourning the loss of the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts office to Democrat Aftab Pureval, who did the near-impossible in 2016 by up-ending a Republican named Winkler (Tracy in this case) in a head-to-head contest.

When it comes to the Hamilton County Auditor's office, the mourning has been going on seemingly forever.

It started in 1990, when a conservative Democrat, Dusty Rhodes, former disc jockey and 21-year Delhi Township trustee, won that office in the wake of an ugly scandal involving former auditor Joseph L. DeCourcy, who had been giving his pals property tax breaks by having FOJ – "Friend of Joe" – scribbled on their property value appeals – a signal that those folks privileged enough to be FOJs were to be given tax breaks.

Not that Rhodes ever fit in with the Democratic Party, which has, in the intervening years, become the dominant political party in Hamilton County. He's a Donald Trump fan who has a visceral hatred of the Black Lives Matter movement and never hesitates to tweet about it.

But still, when he has run for re-election every four years since 2000, there has been a "D" next to his name on the ballot, and that makes Republican Party leaders crazy.

"People say to me all the time that we already have a Republican county auditor; he just happens to be a Democrat,'' said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

But, when 2022 rolls around, the Republican Party will have a chance to run one of its own for the auditor's job and win back the office which, in the pre-Dusty world, they had seemingly held since the universe was created by the Big Bang. Or whatever it was. You get what I mean.

For the longest time now, the Hamilton County GOP has been like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard: an aging, delusional film star constantly yearning for a comeback that will never come.

But wait! Lo and behold, there may be – maybe – another opportunity for the Hamilton County Republican Party to recapture some of its faded glory.

Rhodes has said he won't run for re-election next year, so that office will be up for grabs.

And Pureval, the current clerk of courts, is a candidate this year for mayor of Cincinnati. He's running head to head in November against a fellow Democrat, David Mann, who has the edge on Pureval in City Hall experience but not in campaign fundraising.

If Pureval wins and takes over the mayor's office in December, he will, of course, have to resign as clerk of courts – not quite a year into his second four-year term.

That means the Hamilton County Democratic Party could appoint a replacement for Pureval; and that appointee would have to run in the November 2022 general election to serve out the remainder of Pureval's clerk of courts term, which runs through 2024.

There has been buzz about Thaddeus Hoffmeister, the University of Dayton law professor and Democratic mayor of the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, as a potential appointee should Pureval move on to 801 Plum Street.

I asked Hoffmeister if he would be interested in the appointment. His response was an enthusiastic and emphatic yes.

"Most definitely, I would be interested and I would be glad to accept that appointment, if the party offers it,'' said Hoffmeister, who has already said he is not running for re-election as Wyoming mayor this year.

"And, if appointed, I would most certainly run for the remainder of Aftab's term,'' Hoffmeister said. "No doubt about it. And, if I am elected, I would run for a full term in 2024."

Well, so much for potential candidates being coy about their ambitions. Not this fellow.

Nothing wrong with that. Kind of refreshing, in a way.

The GOP will no doubt have a candidate if the clerk of courts job is up for election in 2022. It's an open question who it will be.

The speculation I have heard centers around Kristie Dukes Davis, who worked for the clerk of courts office for 16 years and is now a Springfield Township trustee.

Davis was elected trustee in 2019 to replace Gwen McFarlin, who left to become chairwoman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. McFarlin was the first Black person to be elected in Springfield Township; Davis is the second.

In addition to being a Springfield Township trustee, Davis works as chief of mediation services in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court.

When asked about if she would be interested in the clerk of courts office, Davis scored a little higher on the coy meter.

"I know there are things that have been floating around out there about me and the clerk's office, but I am 100 percent happy now doing what I am doing as a Springfield Township trustee,'' Davis said.

"I don't rule anything out; I don’t know what the future may bring,'' Davis said. "I enjoyed my time in the clerk of courts office. I can see why people would think that I might want to go back. And you never know what is going to happen.

"But I can say that my plan is to run for re-election as trustee in 2023."

Make of that response what you will.

There may be more of a crowd forming on the Republican side of potential candidates for Dusty Rhodes' job.

A few GOP names keep popping up – Delhi Township trustee Cheryl Sieve, Anderson Township trustee Joshua Gerth, State Rep. Tom Brinkman, and the former clerk of courts, Tracy Winkler.

None of them have committed to the race. And none of them need to commit just yet. The filing deadline for the May 2022 primary isn't until February.

But one or more of them probably needs to start putting together a campaign very soon.

The Democrats already have a candidate – one who is highly regarded, well-respected and very capable. Her name is Brigid Kelly; she is from Norwood and represents the 31st District, which cuts a wide swath through the heart of Hamilton County.

Any Democrat who would take her on in a primary would be a longshot. He or she would have a steep hill to climb.

And, frankly, so would any Republican running against Kelly in the general election.

Between Kelly's personal popularity and the blue hue of Hamilton County these days, the Democrats have the advantage in the auditor's race. And in the clerk of courts race as well.

The Hamilton County Republican Party may soon get the chance to pick up two very important county offices. But they may also find that their time is past. They are the minority party now; and probably always will be.

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