Will Rosenberger’s replacement be from Clinton or Highland County?


By Gary Abernathy - Contributing columnist



Term limits are the most undemocratic things we have in state government, but Ohio voters have themselves to blame for passing them into existence for the state legislature back in 1992.

All they accomplish are preventing voters from keeping someone good and experienced in office for as long as they want, while empowering a bunch of unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists who are the only ones who can remain in place year after year, along with keeping many good candidates from running in the first place.

Nevertheless, because of term limits Cliff Rosenberger will be entering his final year in the Ohio House of Representatives next year and, of course, his final year as speaker of the House. Rosenberger represents the 91st House District, which includes all of Clinton, Highland and Pike counties, and a small portion of Ross County. The process of deciding who will replace Cliff has been well underway, and the prospects with the best chances of winning come from Clinton or Highland.

For those who have better things to do than focus on the complexities of politics – good for you – let’s make it clear that whoever replaces Cliff does not become speaker of the House. He or she just becomes the new state representative from the 91st District. The speaker is elected by the 99 House members.

Let’s make something else clear. The next state rep from the 91st District will be a Republican. That’s just the way it is, because any Republican candidate is going to handily defeat any Democratic candidate in the General Election in the 91st District. It’s a safe Republican seat because of voter demographics. So the Republican primary will essentially determine the next state rep.

So far, Republican Beth Ellis of Clinton County is the only declared candidate for the 91st District. Beth and her husband, Matt, the parents of two children, are farmers as well as co-owners of Cherrybend Pheasant Farm. Beth manages the day-to-day operations. She has no previous elective office experience, but she is vice-chair of the Clinton County Port Authority and serves on the board of directors for the Clinton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Beth worked at Clinton Memorial Hospital in Radiology for over 16 years, and started “Operation Cherrybend,” a week-long veteran event designed to bring awareness to the struggles veterans face when returning home. Beth is also the sister-in-law of Bret Dixon, the former Clinton County economic development director and a close friend and ally of Cliff.

Beth’s press release announcing her candidacy included a statement from Rosenberger, who said, “Beth Ellis is the ideal choice to continue the work I have done to move the 91st District forward. … Beth will be an outstanding advocate for my constituency and I have full confidence in her to work for the people of Highland, Clinton, Pike, and Ross Counties and be sure that their voices are heard in Columbus.”

If it seems like things are already wrapped up with a nice little bow, well, that’s not an accident. It’s good political strategy, if you’re from Clinton County. But it’s not necessarily reality. The filing deadline for the Republican primary isn’t until January.

It hasn’t been a state secret that Shane Wilkin, president of the Highland County Board of Commissioners, has been considering entering the race for state rep. In fact, once upon a time it was believed that Cliff was encouraging Shane to take the leap. So it’s safe to surmise that when Beth issued her press release, along with what amounted to Cliff’s full endorsement, you could have knocked over a lot of Highland County Republicans with a feather.

Shane has been a very good county commissioner. He’s on the job daily and personally involved in hands-on fashion. He has been the point person for just about every project involving state or federal assistance. He’s made good contacts in Columbus and Washington. He’s also a small business owner. He would be a good state representative.

Beth stopped in for a visit during the summer. She’s a nice lady, personable and intelligent. She would probably make a fine state rep. But Highland County voters might be interested in having the option of choosing someone from Highland County to represent us in Columbus for a few years.

The train is moving down the track, and Clinton County Republicans are in the driver’s seat right now. Last week, the Clinton County Republican Party Central Committee announced they had endorsed Beth Ellis for state rep. Northwest of Highland County, the grass is not growing under anyone’s feet.

One of Shane’s biggest concerns about running — and serving if he won — is the time it would take from his duties as husband and father. It’s an admirable reason for hesitation. But local Republican leaders have been deferring to Shane before deciding whether to recruit someone else from Highland County. The clock is ticking.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

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By Gary Abernathy

Contributing columnist