Hagan interested in Ohio Dem chairmanship

By David Skolnick



Outgoing state Rep. Robert F. Hagan, one of the state’s most prominent liberals, says he’s interested in being the next chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

“I’m serious about this,” said Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th. “It’s important we move the party in a different direction. It’s time we focus on what we are as Democrats and fight for working people. We’ve ignored that for way too long.”

Hagan, elected Nov. 4 to a seat on the Ohio Board of Education, joins a crowded field of contenders looking to replace state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern who said after his party’s statewide candidates failed to win a single race in the Nov. 4 election that he would resign soon.

“I don’t see [getting elected Democratic chairman] as an uphill battle,” Hagan said. “The people in the Democratic Party recognize the path we have taken is filled with potholes and too many restrictions. The [next] chairman has to re-energize Democrats and independents to come out and vote.”

Hagan said his term in the Ohio House is done Jan. 1 and he’s retiring as a locomotive engineer the day before that.

Also, Hagan said Saturday he will not seek the Democratic nomination in 2016 for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman.

“It’s not in my house of cards,” he said. “We have to rebuild the party.”

Hagan first said in April 2013 that he would challenge Portman and that he planned to be a “hair shirt” to the Republican, explaining he would make “him itch” and make “him uncomfortable.”

Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Betras, who Redfern said he’d like to see succeed him, said he is not interested in the job.

If Hagan runs, Betras said, “He’s always supported me. He’s a local guy and a good progressive. Of course, I’d support him, and ask others I know to support him. In my mind, parochial trumps everything else. I’d support someone from the Mahoning Valley.”

As for others interested in the chairmanship, Betras said he’s been contacted by Geauga County Democratic Chairwoman Janet Carson; David Pepper, who lost the attorney general’s race earlier this month and the state auditor’s race four years ago; and Sharen Neuhardt, the party’s failed lieutenant-governor candidate who was Ed FitzGerald’s running mate. FitzGerald’s defeat was the second worst for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the state’s history.

The Northeast Ohio Media Group reported Friday that others interested in the seat include state Sen. Nina Turner, the party’s failed secretary of state candidate in the last election; Sarah Benzing, who’s been involved in numerous high-profile congressional campaigns including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s in 2012; and Melissa Klide Hedden, FitzGerald’s finance chairwoman.

Redfern said no date has been set for the transition to occur.

The party’s executive and central committees, consisting of about 140 members, would vote on Redfern’s successor, said Betras, an executive committee member.

Hagan’s 28 years in the state Legislature ends Jan. 1 because of term limits. He is being replaced in the Ohio House by his wife, Michele Lepore Hagan.

Though Hagan enjoyed success in winning election to the Legislature, he lost the 2000 Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat to James A. Traficant Jr., and the 2005 general election for Youngstown mayor to Jay Williams.