Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Mutiny on the Butler County Republican Bounty

When Capt. Horatio Hornblower stood on the quarterdeck and exchanged broadsides yardarm to yardarm, a lucky shot could blow a cannon out of its gun port and turn it into a 10-ton brass rolling pin that flattened sailors like tar on a shoe. To keep the gun from plunging through the decks and sinking the ship, the crew had to throw ropes around it and lash it down - or shove it overboard.

Sort of like Mike Fox.

The only Butler County commissioner with his own highway has been unofficially designated a loose cannon by his own party.

The admirals of the HMS GOP will meet on Oct. 29 to determine their endorsement for the spring primary for Fox's commission seat. But Old Ironsides will rust to dust before Fox wins that vote.

"I don't think he's going to receive the endorsement," said former party Chairman Carlos Todd. "We have tried our very level best to be civil and work with Mike, and he has just not tried to work with us at all."

The party will probably endorse Ohio Rep. Greg Jolivette, and hope Fox backs down. "It's very rare that we have someone challenge the endorsement process," Todd said.

But Nelson didn't run from the French fleet, and Fox won't surrender. "Lord, no," he said.

And that means a "one of a kind" primary, Todd says.

Nobody likes to pitch a valuable cannon overboard. Least of all the Republican Party, which rules the seas of Butler County. When I asked Executive Chairman Joe Schwarz if there are any credible Democratic candidates in his county, he joked, "Are there anywhere?"

All county offices and General Assembly seats are held by Republicans. Democrats are as rare as white whales - and just as quickly harpooned.

But there's more to it than GOP maneuvering.

One factor is term limits. Lawmakers in Columbus groan and whine about term limits like a golfer in tight FootJoys - but the shoe fits. Voters are getting exactly what they wanted: new candidates and more choices.

In Butler County, the dominoes fall like this: Sen. Scott Nein is term limited, so Rep. Gary Cates, also term limited, is running for Nein's seat against county commissioner Courtney Combs. Three candidates are after Cates' seat; two are running for Jolivette's seat; four are running for Domestic Relations Court.

Most will drop out when the party endorses, but Fox will battle Jolivette, yardarm to yardarm.

Fox insists he has been betrayed by ex-Democrats in his own party, because he accused Republican judges of corruption and arrogance. In July, he said, party leaders told him, "We want you to shut up."

"It's like the perfect storm," he said. "All of these different interests have merged together with an agenda that benefits with my going away."

Todd and Schwarz both denied telling Fox to back off. Todd said Fox is disruptive. "It's more grandstanding than anything," he said.

Jolivette said Fox "has damaged relationships with his bombastic approach. He's more concerned with headlines than trying to find a solution."

There's no question Fox is his own Hornblower. Like the legendary captain, he lobs cannonballs at sensitive targets. This time, he's fighting his own navy - and it will be an epic battle.


E-mail or call 768-8301.

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