Message to Ohio gun owners: Telling the "embarrassing" truth about a Republican could cost you

"I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!" - Warren G. Harding

For the volunteer leaders at Buckeye Firearms Association, 2010 was one of the more interesting election years in this political action committee's history.

While BFA is now and always has been a non-partisan, single-issue PAC, the many volunteers and supporters who make up the organization are by no means apolitical. Nor are most (any?) one-issue voters. As in any such endeavor (a single-issue group made up of partisan individuals), there is going to be temptation to let other non-related issues influence the actions of the PAC. This year, more than ever before, this PAC (and other pro-gun organizations that have influence in the Buckeye State) were faced with the challenges of putting our "non-partisan" words into action.

It is common knowledge among the more regular readers at that a number of BFA leaders have been in the past, or are now, also involved politically in other areas. Some volunteer for other political PACs or causes, some are involved in various ways in party politics, etc. etc. Several BFA leaders, myself included, have served or continue to serve in elected positions, including several on various county Republican central committees.

Historically, volunteering for a pro-gun PAC and being involved with the Republican party hasn't been all that strange of a match. It is generally accepted that the Republican party supports gun rights. In fact, the 2008 Republican party platform states that "Gun ownership is responsible citizenship, enabling Americans to defend themselves, their property, and communities. We recognize that gun control only affects and penalizes law-abiding citizens, and that such proposals are ineffective at reducing violent crime."

On occasion, however, wearing two hats presents challenges for people who choose to be involved in this non-partisan PAC and also in party politics. In the run-up to the 2010 election season, pro-gun activists who were also involved in the Republican party were faced with an unfortunate choice. Behind-the-scenes party maneuvering had cleared the way for Mike DeWine, who has a 100% anti-gun record, and John Kasich, who has at best a 50-50 record on guns, to achieve the GOP nominations for attorney general and governor. Meanwhile, Democrats nominated two incumbents with pro-gun records.

In the case of DeWine, there really wasn't much for pro-gun Republicans to do. But many pro-gun Republicans, buoyed by a few comments the former Congressman had made while employed as a commentator at FOX News, believed that there was time to reform Kasich's image with gun owners.

Very early on in the campaign (in 2009, before Kasich even had the nomination), several pro-gun Republicans, including some who also serve as BFA leaders, made repeated overtures to the Kasich campaign, offering their advice and personal time to help in the effort to help Kasich regain the trust of gun owners. In all but a couple of instances, the ideas that were sent to Kasich's team were rebuffed. The general line of thinking seemed to be that guns were not yet an an issue in the campaign, and that having Kasich pro-actively speaking about the subject would succeed only in drawing attention to his shaky record. No matter how many times they were warned that the Strickland campaign was eventually going to make gun rights an issue, they were still generally unwilling to deal with it.

And so, having so little to go on beyond Kasich's weak voting history, and after the unsuccessful attempts to aid Kasich in doing the things he needed to in order to help gun owners feel more comfortable supporting him, the time came for gun groups to make their endorsements. By mid-summer 2010, the National Rifle Association, Buckeye Firearms Association, and Ohioans for Concealed Carry had all endorsed Ted Strickland, the pro-gun incumbent.

By late summer, Strickland began hitting Kasich hard on his anti-gun voting record, via mailers, radio and television advertising. The polls, which had been showing Kasich with a rather large lead all spring and summer, began to narrow significantly. And two weeks before the election, in a year where the perfect political storm should have made it an easy race for the Republican, several polls showed that the race had closed to within the margin of error. Then, and only then, did the Kasich team decide to address the gun issue directly, and they did so, essentially, by asserting that pro-gun groups were lying about Kasich's record, and lying about Strickland's record as well.

BFA responded, as we have in the past on occasions where our endorsed candidates were attacked regarding our single issue - in 2008 it was a Republican, and in 2004 it was a Democrat. Our 2010 response included a commentary written by BFA Legislative Chair Ken Hanson. And that response is what was recently used by Republicans as a weapon against Hanson in his bid to win appointment to the job of Delaware County prosecutor.

From The Delaware Gazette, in an article entitled "Anti-Kasich blog could influence prosecutor race" -

Should the use of a crude phrase to describe Governor John Kasich's stance on gun control disqualify a Republican party member from being appointed to office in Delaware County?

Ken Hanson doesn't think so, but thinks that's happening. He wrote the phrase "Fast forward to late October, when the race is in a statistical dead heat, and all of a sudden Kasich is finding religion like a nervous whore in church on Sunday," to criticize what he sees as Kasich's record on gun issues. The phrase was part of an Oct. 28 blog post Hanson wrote for the Buckeye Firearms Association, where Hanson holds an official position.

Hanson is among three local attorneys who have applied to replace former Republican Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost, who was elected Auditor of State. The Delaware County GOP is set to appoint a new prosecutor next Wednesday.

The post in question referred to Kasich's campaign for governor. In it, Hanson accuses Kasich of avoiding discussion on his views on Second Amendment issues until the race was nearly over.

Hanson said Republican State Representative Andrew Brenner called him Thursday to say that Kasich is upset with the post.

Now, Hanson believes Kasich and his associates are trying to pressure him out of the race for appointment as county prosecutor.

One would hope that the kind of impartiality it took for Hanson to write about a fellow Republican's flaws would be the exact kind of quality that would be something to be desired in a county prosecutor. But for a majority on the Republican screening committee, it was a non-starter. Indeed, Hanson had in fact earned the recommendation of the county Republican party's screening committee, but the committee reversed course after his article on Kasich was distributed at the last minute.

The post, along with a second article also critical of Kasich, are mentioned in the county GOP screening committee report on Hanson. The committee provides recommendations for appointment to county offices. Because of the post, the committee revoked its recommendation of Hanson’s bid for office.

"We believe these articles could, and in fact were, construed by at least some members of the Screening Committee to be embarrassing," the committee wrote in its report, a copy of which was obtained by the Gazette.

Got that? The articles weren't in any way factually inaccurate. They were simply "embarrassing."

And as Hanson has correctly observed, "when 100% accurate, concise criticism is leveled against a Republican for straying so far from a core plank of the party platform, it is the candidate's voting record, not the criticism or the critic, that is embarrassing the party."

But it isn't certain candidates' records of support for gun control that embarrasses these Republicans. Witness Delaware County GOP Chair Bob Mann's comments to The Gazette:

"I guess all I can say is, when you oppose and write derogatory things about John Kasich, (Republican Ohio Attorney General) Mike DeWine, (Ohio Republican Party Chair) Kevin DeWine and the state party itself, you put yourself in a difficult decision when you come to the county Republican Party and say, I want the county Republican Party to appoint me to a position."

Opposing a Republican didn't seem to cause problems for the many GOP legislators, led by then-Speaker Jon Husted, in the vote to override Governor Bob Taft's veto of HB347 in 2006. Nor did the party get embarrassed when Dave Yost made a derogatory joke about a fellow Republican:

"Somebody told me, they were talking about Bob Taft, and I was kind of surprised, because they told me that they had called in one of these radio call-in shows you know where you can dedicate a song to somebody. I said 'why did you call in and dedicate a song to Bob Taft?' and he said 'well I miss him.' And I said, 'well what song did you dedicate?' He said, 'well, it's a country song. I still miss you, but my aim is getting better." (laughter)
- Dave Yost, July 11, 2009, YouTube (Yost begins telling the joke at 0:50)

But when it comes to pro-gun activists, however, the rules are different. Hanson told The Gazette that as soon as word got out that the screening committee had decided to recommend him, "state level officials began calling everyone I've worked with for the last seven or eight years and saying, 'don't you dare support Ken Hanson.'"

Gerard Valentino, a freelance writer for the Buckeye Firearms Association, said Kasich is aware the gun groups criticize him.

In a meeting earlier this week with two Republican state legislators, Valentino said it was made clear to him that Kasich is "holding a grudge" and won't take any calls from the NRA or the BFA.

One legislator said during the meeting: "The governor will sign these bills, but isn't interested in meeting either you, or the Buckeye Firearms Association because of what you said," Valentino said.

Rob Nichols, Kasich's press secretary, did not comment when asked about the Buckeye Firearms Association and Hanson.

For his part, despite the committee having been for him before they were against him, Hanson told the newspaper he stands by his criticism.

"I have offered an apology for those three words, but the balance of the article is 100 percent accurate, and I'm not apologizing for that," Hanson said.

Adam White, a member of the Republican screening committee, said a draft of a screening report recommending Hanson was about to be sent out when someone delivered Hanson's critical posts to the committee at the 11th hour.

White, an outspoken party member, said people in "state offices" contacted him to pressure him to change his vote recommending Hanson. He said he is also upset that party leadership disqualified Delaware attorney Robert Owens due to the fact that Owens ran under the Constitution Party banner for Ohio attorney general the past two general elections.

"We don't have anybody to choose from now," White said. "We're getting bullied around by the party, and it's not right. It's business as usual," White said.

Ctiticsm like White's was echoed by many during the 2010 primary season, when Ohio GOP chair Kevin DeWine and Dave Yost orchestrated an unopposed primary for the anti-gun Mike DeWine, and again when the Ohio Republican state central committee members decided to spend money to advertise their endorsements for...themselves...for reelection.

And so the Delaware County GOP has appointed current assistant prosecutor Carol O'Brien to the position, which was vacated by Yost when he won his bid to become state auditor.

For Ken Hanson and other pro-gun activists who are volunteers for the NRA, BFA or other pro-gun groups, and who might also to lend their personal treasure, time and efforts to the Republican party in Ohio, an important lesson has been learned:

When it comes to the officials who were involved in this mess, it's party over principle. So if you decide to tell the "embarrasing" truth about an anti-gun Republican, watch your back.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman, and a former member of the Fulton Co., OH Republican Central Committee.

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