Shane Wilkin won’t formally announce his candidacy for state representative from the 91st District until sometime next week. But he took out petitions last week, and he’s in the race.
There was a time when Shane could have reasonably believed that Cliff Rosenberger, the current state rep from the 91st who is term limited and who happens to be the speaker of the Ohio House, would have been in his corner. Instead, Cliff has made his support of Clinton County’s Beth Ellis widely known, and was among those who urged the Clinton County Republican Party to formally endorse Beth.
That endorsement apparently came without interviewing any other interested candidates, including Shane, although his interest in the race has been no secret. So, in an example of tit for tat, the Highland County Republican Party formally endorsed Shane last week.
While others have also taken out petitions, it remains to be seen whether they will file them by the Feb. 7 deadline. One is another Republican from Clinton County, James Bowling, who could divide the GOP vote in that county. But most likely, the Republican primary race will come down to Beth versus Shane.
As I’ve written previously, Beth Ellis is a personable and intelligent individual. She and her husband are the parents of two children and the co-owners of Cherrybend Pheasant Farm. Beth 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. She worked at Clinton Memorial Hospital in radiology for over 16 years, and started “Operation Cherrybend,” an event designed to bring awareness to the struggles veterans face when returning home. She is also the sister-in-law of Bret Dixon, the former Clinton County economic development director and a close ally of Cliff’s.
When Beth announced her candidacy, her press release included a strong statement of support from Cliff, with the speaker saying, “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…” With an endorsement from the speaker, Beth likely stands to benefit from built-in donor support.
None of this is a negative reflection on Beth herself. Who wouldn’t welcome that support? It’s also not an indication that she wouldn’t do a fine job if elected.
But it is with those circumstances in place that Shane has been weighing the decision on whether to throw his hat into the ring. He knows fundraising will be challenging in comparison to an opponent who can drop the speaker’s name into her donor calls, mailings and digital fundraising efforts. But being positioned as the underdog can be used to Shane’s advantage. Already, when I interviewed him last week, Shane had a key talking point ready.
“I hope the voice of the people of the 91st District decides this race, not Columbus,” Shane said.
What Shane uniquely brings to the race is a decade of experience on the Highland County Board of Commissioners, where he cannot be accused of phoning it in. During most of those years, including the most recent ones, Shane – who, with wife Kristy, has two young and extremely photogenic daughters — has been one of the most active and engaged commissioners. He is routinely elected president of the board by his fellow commissioners.
He has been the point person on most economic development issues. When I was still working in politics for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, Shane was the local official who worked with Portman’s office, traveled to Columbus for various meetings, and worked directly with company officials to convince PAS Technologies to carry out expansion plans in Hillsboro rather than one of their other locations. He’s also been the lead local government representative on various other economic development initiatives, including the Corvac plant in Greenfield, and seeking industrial park certification in Greenfield and Leesburg.
Shane also brings experience as a small business owner. But most importantly, he has firsthand knowledge of how damaging it has been for the state to balance its budget on the backs of local government. As commissioner, one of his challenges has been to help Highland County survive in spite of draconian cuts by the state to the Local Government Fund and a “no new taxes” mentality among the local voting population.
Frankly, one of the reasons I tend to empathize with political figures like Donald Trump on the national level and Drew Hastings on the local level is that they are not part of the establishment, and they don’t want to be. They take on entrenched establishment figures and upset apple carts that often need upsetting. Sometime they are their own worst enemies, but it’s still refreshing to see people in high offices who don’t play by the unwritten rules that so often only benefit those who wrote them.
Shane Wilkin is not a chaos candidate or a disruptor. But his decision to throw his hat into a less than perfect ring – at least from a campaign perspective, with key political forces aligned against him — increases my admiration for him. He is, by circumstance, an unlikely anti-establishment candidate, with credentials that such candidates usually don’t have – effective experience in elective office.
Because of voter demographics, the winner of the Republican primary will almost certainly be the next state rep from the 91st District. This should be a fun primary campaign — unless you’re one of the candidates.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @AbernathyGary.