Local Dem Party Chair Betras steps up assault on state party

Members of the Mahoning County Democratic Party got together a couple of weeks ago to endorse candidates in the party’s May primary for seats in Youngstown and Struthers.

But those in attendance got much more.

That’s because Chairman David Betras had a microphone in his hands and wasn’t afraid to use it.

I was the only reporter at the meeting and Betras was somewhat playing to me.

Betras immediately started criticizing Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper and his staff for the results of last November’s election.

Republicans swept the statewide executive office races in that election.

Betras has been an outspoken critic of the party since the losses. He criticizes party officials in public and on social media. It’s gotten so bad that the party has decided to simply ignore Betras even though he shows no signs of going away.

At the meeting, Betras said there’s “no good reason on this Earth that Mike DeWine is the governor other than sheer political malfeasance and negligence of the leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party.”

Betras also complained about the Democratic Party’s failure in the 2016 presidential election in Ohio with Republican Donald Trump’s solid victory in the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“If anyone in this room thinks the election in 2020 will be different than 2018 or 2016, you’re mistaken,” Betras said. “We’re going to lose Ohio again in 2020.”

Pepper has repeatedly said it’s foolish to write off Ohio in the 2020 presidential election and that the state is very much in play.

Betras said Pepper “and his team need to resign. There needs to be a whole housecleaning at the ODP.”

He looked at me and asked that I quote him on this: “We want to go with winners, not habitual losers.”

Pepper has said he has no plans to resign. Also, there’s no legitimate effort to remove him as chairman. He can only be replaced by a vote of the 66-member state central committee or by resignation.

Normally, one county chairman complaining about his party isn’t going to garner much attention.

But Betras has shown an ability to attract the national media both after the 2016 and the 2018 elections. He’s been quoted more often than nearly every other county chairman in Ohio.

The escalating tension between Betras and the state party leadership isn’t going to help Democrats next year.

Also at the meeting, Betras asked that the local party back the Drive It Home Ohio campaign that’s attempting to convince General Motors to give the idled Lordstown plant a new vehicle.

Betras sounded less than enthusiastic about the effort saying the resolution needed to be approved “so we can kiss General Motors’ a-- to give us another product.”

As for the actual endorsements, the biggest surprise was that the party so strongly endorsed Youngstown Law Director Jeff Limbian over Martin Hume, a former city law director, for the municipal court judicial seat.

Limbian received 31 votes to 11 for Hume. I wasn’t surprised Limbian won, but the margin of victory was.

How important the party’s endorsements are in Youngstown and Struthers races is debatable.

Every endorsed Democrat in Youngstown lost two years ago – and those were citywide races – while nearly all of those in Struthers endorsed by the party were defeated.

In 2015, the party endorsed winners in five of the seven Youngstown council seats. Those are unpredictable as there are so few people in each ward who vote on the endorsements.

For example, there were only four people voting two weeks ago in Youngstown’s 1st Ward with a 2-2 tie between incumbent Julius T. Oliver and challenger Bryant Youngblood Jr.

One final note: about a year ago, Betras vowed he would work to defeat Youngstown Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, because she supported Sean McKinney, an unsuccessful independent candidate for mayor who filed a lawsuit – and then withdrew it a day before trial – against the board of elections. McKinney claimed his election was mishandled by that body. Betras is the board’s vice chairman.

“I can assure you’ll have an opponent, and I’m sure you won’t be elected,” Betras told Adamczak at a Jan. 31, 2018, press conference at the elections board.

But Adamczak is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, and was among those endorsed two weeks ago.

When I asked Betras the other day about this, he said his anger “was in the heat of the moment. The lawsuit was a joke. I was upset so I said some things I didn’t mean. I’m human.”