Some Portage County Republicans cited emergencies for missing candidate forum while others did not respond

Image of a large room full of people at multiple tables
The League of Women Voters of Kent held its Face 2 Face event Oct. 8, 2022, with about 100 people in attendance. Photo via LWV of Kent

This article is updated with additional comments from the Portage County Republican Party and the League of Women Voters of Kent.

Update Oct. 12, this article is updated with input from Robert Fulton.

No Republican candidates attended the Face 2 Face forum on Oct. 8, an event sponsored by a group of non-partisan civic organizations led by the League of Women Voters of Kent. 

Organizers said it was one of their best-attended meet-the-candidate forums, with about 100 voters gathering at the Kent United Methodist Church to ask the candidates questions in small groups.

You can find our coverage of the event here.

While several Democratic candidates appeared at the event and met with residents to answer their questions, not one Republican candidate attended, despite having been invited. 

The League of Women Voters is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to enhance democracy through increased voter participation. They organize events and register voters throughout the year, and in Portage County they have compiled and published a voter guide in 411 and in the Record-Courier

Face 2 Face is the local League’s banner event ahead of each election, and candidates of both parties have participated in the past. The Portager reached out to the Republican candidates to find out why they chose not to attend.

For some, it wasn’t a choice, as last-minute emergencies prevented them from coming, they said. Others didn’t respond to calls and emails. One accused The Portager of partisanship and refused to answer questions.

Kent LWV President Debbie Barber declined to comment about the lack of Republican candidates, saying the LWV is non-partisan. National LWV President Dr. Deborah Ann Turner is expected to issue an op-ed regarding what Barber termed as a “national trend” of Republican opt-outs.

The LWV’s Vote 411 Voters Guide is a national League effort, with members taking Republican and Democrat candidates’ input alike to write neutral questions, Barber said. The answers are not edited and are published verbatim.

Statewide and locally, multiple candidates have not yet responded to the LWV Voters Guide. These include:

  • Republican Mike DeWine, running for Governor
  • Republican Dave Yost, running for Attorney General
  • Republican Keith Faber, running for Auditor of State
  • Democrat Chelsea Clark, running for Secretary of State
  • Republican Frank LaRose, running for Secretary of State
  • Independent Terpsehore Maras, running for Secretary of State
  • Republican Robert Sprague, running for Treasurer of State
  • Democrat Tim Ryan, running U.S. Senator
  • Republican JD Vance, running for U.S. Senator
  • Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, running to represent Ohio’s 13th Congressional District
  • Republican Steve Demetriou, running for State Representative for Ohio’s 35th District
  • Republican Gail Pavliga, running for State Representative for Ohio’s 72nd District
  • Republican David Joyce, who is running to represent Ohio’s 14th Congressional District, only responded to one of the Voter Guide’s six questions

Statewide, judicial candidates logged a better showing, with both Republican and Democratic candidates for Ohio’s Supreme Court and the 11th District Court of Appeals providing answers to the LWV Voters Guide.

However, Portage County Common Pleas Court (general division) Judge Laurie Pittman has not yet responded, nor has Judge Paula Giulitto, who is unopposed in her bid to continue presiding over Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division.

Reached by phone, State Rep. Gail Pavliga did not address the question of why she didn’t attend and instead accused The Portager, without evidence, of being a politically motivated news source.

“You are partisan. I am not going to communicate directly with you,” said Pavliga, who is running to retain her seat as state rep for the 72nd district.

Advised that if any Republican candidates had attended the event, The Portager would have covered and quoted them as well, Pavliga said, “We’re not quite sure what those quotes would have been, are we?”

She ended the short conversation with an order that The Portager never again contact her directly, and to instead funnel all communications to her press secretary. A message left with the press secretary was not returned.

Pavliga has not yet responded to the LWV’s Voters Guide.

U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, running to retain his seat for the 14th congressional district, did not return requests for comment. Joyce responded to one of the six questions the LWV submitted to him for the Voters Guide.

Republican Mike Tinlin, who is running for county commissioner, had notified the LWV of his intention to attend Saturday’s event, but did not count on Hurricane Ian. Turns out Tinlin owns some property in hard-hit Ft. Myers, Florida, so he was out of state dealing with the damage. Flight delays destroyed any hope of returning in time, he said.

Tinlin did respond to the LWV Voters Guide.

Matt Kelly, who is running for county auditor, cited a last-minute family emergency for not attending the event. Kelly did provide responses to the LWV Voters Guide.

Robert Fulton and incumbent John Hagan, both registered Republicans, are running for state board of education, 9th district. Neither attended the LWV event, but both did respond to the LWV Voters Guide.

The 19-member State Board of Education consists of one elected representative from each of Ohio’s 11 districts and eight members who are appointed by the governor. The board is tasked with overseeing the Ohio Department of Education, creating policy and making recommendations for K-12 education in Ohio. The 11 elected seats are nonpartisan.

Hagan, a Stark County resident, said he did not recall receiving an invitation to the LWV event, then pointed to a Geauga LWV email indicating that statewide, local Leagues may not present state or regional races when only one candidate will be available. (Barber said that policy may apply to debate formats, but is not pertinent to Face 2 Face events, which Saturday’s event was.)

Fulton, a Streetsboro resident, is a member of the Streetsboro Board of Education. He said he did not attend the LWV event because of his health and family obligations.

Wesley Buchanan, running for Portage County Court of Common Pleas, general division, did not return requests for comment. Buchanan did provide responses to the LWV Voters Guide.

The chair of the Portage County Republican Party, after this article was first published, sent a statement to The Portager saying the League of Women Voters “failed to invite one of our state representative candidates, Steve Demetriou.”

“His district spreads around Portage Co, but was not invited,” Amanda Suffecool said. She added that The Portager did not mention Demetriou in its coverage of the event, deriding the publican as “unbiased” in quotation marks.

In a response, the League of Women Voters of Kent said it invited neither Demetriou nor his Democratic opponent, Lori O’Neill, to the Face 2 Face event.

“For the Oct. 8 candidate forum, we contacted candidates whose focus is Kent and its adjacent surrounding area. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic candidates for the 35th District, the eastern and southern boundaries of Portage County, were invited. There was limited space in the venue as we expected to be hosting twice as many candidates from the races of most interest to Kent and the adjacent areas,” said the statement.

In addition, “all invited candidates are treated the same: get the same invitations, same access to voters, same time to speak.”

The Portager reached out to Demetriou multiple times for an interview in its forthcoming election preview. Demetriou did not respond to those requests, though O’Neill did.

Suffecool did not offer further comment about the other Republican candidates who did not attend the event.

“Our Republican candidates look forward to sharing their ideas with non-partisan organizations,” she said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.