The 2020 primary election season in Ohio has been unlike anything we’ve seen before, for a number of reasons, but it’s finally wrapping up on Tuesday.
The election was first planned for March 17 but voting was extended due to COVID-19 health concerns. The legislature approved a vote-by-mail system, with the only stated exceptions for in-person voting being those with disabilities and those without access to the mail system.
Here are the top five local and statewide primary races we’ll be watching for on Tuesday.
5. U.S. Congress, 4th District (Democratic primary)
Three Democrats are vying to take on conservative firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) in November.
Shannon Freshour, of Marysville, is a graduate of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C. and earned a masters degree from Johns Hopkins University in American government. Freshour worked in the Washington, D.C. area for a number of years gaining access to federal government and its relationship to the states and local communities. She returned to Ohio for family reasons and currently works as a litigation paralegal.
Mike Larsen is a retired television writer who worked on popular shows like “The Drew Carey Show” and “Ellen.” He and his family now live in Plain City. While in college, Larsen interned for Supervisor Harvey Milk, America’s first openly-gay elected official, and Congressman Tom Lantos, the first holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. He followed that by working for progressive Democrats Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown, Anna Eshoo, Tom Bradley, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and served as Communications Director and senior adviser to Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Jeffrey Sites was born in Lima, OH where he attended the Lima Bath school district through his high school graduation in 1985. In 1987 he enlisted in the Army and served as a Military Police Officer. After an honorable discharge, Sites attended the Ohio Institute of Photography & Technology (OIPT) and earned an Associates Degree. Currently, Sites is employed as an assistant manager of shipping and receiving, leading a team of more than seventy associates in Findlay, Ohio. He says that in the past six-years with his company, he has witnessed the constant outsourcing of jobs overseas. He says he’s also taken notice of the divisive and hateful rhetoric that has infiltrated our political system.
Things have remained relatively calm between Freshour, Larsen, and Sites, with the candidates primarily distinguishing themselves on their political identities. Larsen proudly touts himself as the “progressive in the race,” while Sites has previously called himself the “Democrat-lite” candidate.
4. Seneca County Commissioner (Republican primary)
Two men are running for the Republican nomination to succeed Shayne Thomas (R) as the next Seneca County Commissioner.
Tyler Shuff grew up in Eden Township and Tiffin and is a graduate of Tiffin Columbian High School. At the age of 23, Shuff was elected onto Tiffin City Council and is currently in his 12th year of service. In addition to serving on City Council, Tyler owns Shuff Consulting, is the Director of Operation for the Tiffin Community Reinvestment Group and serves on multiple Seneca County boards and committees.
William “Bill” Frankart has been a grain farmer since 1989. An ’89 Clyde High School graduate, Frankart has served three terms as Adams Township trustee. He was previously a Seneca County Soil & Water Board member, and a member of the Seneca County Regional Planning Board.
The race between Shuff and Frankart has remained relatively calm, with the candidates avoiding public attacks or criticisms of one another.
No Democratic candidates filed to run for the seat, leaving Republican primary voters with the ultimate decision of who will serve as the county’s next commissioner.
3. Seneca County Sheriff (Republican primary)
The Republican primary race for the top job at the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office features Tiffin Police Chief Fred Stevens, Seneca County Sheriff’s Office Captain David Pahl, and former Seneca County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew Huffman.
Tensions have flared between the two leading candidates in the primary, Stevens and Pahl.
A man with connections to Pahl filed a complaint with the Seneca County Board of Elections against Stevens, claiming Stevens “hadn’t followed requirements laid out in the Ohio Revised Code for county sheriff candidates” by failing to submit required documentation on time. The complaint was tossed out by the Board of Elections by a unanimous vote after Stevens argued the delay was due to the “crunch of the holiday season.”
Current Seneca County Sheriff William Eckelberry decided not to run for re-election and has endorsed Pahl to succeed him.
Whoever wins the primary will, in all likelihood, become the next sheriff, as no Democratic candidates filed to run for the position.
2. State Representative, 88th District (Republican primary)
Shayne Thomas, Gary Click, and Ed Ollom are facing off in the Republican primary for the 88th district Ohio House seat, which is currently held by State Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin), who is running for state senate.
The 88th Ohio House district includes all of Sandusky County and the majority of Seneca County.
Shayne Thomas, of Clinton Township, currently serves as president of the Seneca County Board of Commissioners. Thomas graduated from Seneca East High School in 1986, from the University of Toledo with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1990 and from the University of Wisconsin’s Graduate Banking School in 2004. Thomas also studied graduate economics and finance at Bowling Green State University. Thomas spent time working for Fifth-Third, National City and First Bank of Ohio from 1990-1999. In 1999, Thomas was named the Vice President of Commercial Banking at Old Fort Bank. In 2007, he left the bank to become the Vice President of Business Development at MGQ Inc., where he stayed until 2013. He also was a co-founder of MGQ Terminal from 2009-2015.
Gary Click, of Vickery, is a former community theater actor and currently works as a pastor at Fremont Baptist Temple. Click, one of the first candidates for state office in the area without any private sector experience, currently serves on the Republican State Central Committee, representing the 26th Senate district. Click has come under fire after a video surfaced showing him berating a female GOP candidate for the Ohio Senate, Melissa Ackison, calling her “trash,” a “phony,” and other insults. Click is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Ackison over defamation, slander, and other accusations.
Ed Ollom, a Fremont resident, works as an environmental engineer at National Electric Carbon in Fostoria.
Tensions in the race have been primarily between Thomas and Click, who are seen as the leading candidates. After Shayne Thomas sent a mailer to local residents touting his “Trump credentials,” Click responded with a Facebook ad blasting Thomas for using Photoshop to include Trump in his mailer. “While his opponent photoshops a mailer, Gary is a 2020 Trump delegate,” the advertisement stated. Click then went on to brag that he is “the only candidate permitted to speak at Trump Victory events, is endorsed by the ORP and stood by the president at the Trump Rally in Columbus.”
Click was endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party, Gov. Mike DeWine, and several mayors and elected officials throughout the 88th district. Thomas touts his endorsement from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Click unsuccessfully ran for Sandusky County Commissioner in 2016, losing in a three-way Republican primary.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will go on to face the sole Democratic candidate, Fremont City Councilman Chris Liebold, in the November general election.
1. State Senator, 26th District (Republican primary)
Accusations of spying, collusion with Democrats, campaign finance violations, and more have led many politicos in the state to label the Republican primary race for the 26th district state senate seat as the “most contentious primary race” in Ohio state legislative history, and it’s no secret why.
The 26th state senate district includes Sandusky, Seneca, Morrow, Marion, Union, Wyandot, and Crawford counties.
State Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) is facing off against conservative activist and small business owner Melissa Ackison (R-Marysville), who describes herself as a “habitual line stepper.”
Shortly after jumping into the race, Ackison began attacking Reineke as a “RINO,” an acronym for “Republican in name only.” Reineke, who is considered a moderate candidate compared to Ackison, kept a relatively low profile during the first few months of the campaign. But then, things changed.
In late January, Reineke rolled out a package of website, video, and radio ads attacking Ackison as a “phony conservative” and someone who is “completely unqualified.”
Reineke’s campaign purchased a domain name, MelissaAckison.com, to host a website where they paint Ackison as a failed businesswoman, attacking her for fines and complaints her Marysville-based surveying company, Ackison Surveying LLC, has received over the years.
Ackison is a co-owner of Ackison Surveying, LLC, a Better Business Bureau-accredited company.
Reineke’s campaign said Ackison has a “disastrous industry record,” blasting her for being fined $4,000 by the Ohio State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors.
“A review of emails and minutes from the Ohio State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors reveals an extremely troubling record of illegal activity for Ackison’s company, with multiple violations of the Ohio Revised Code,” Reineke’s campaign manager, Caleb Stidham, said in a press release.
Reineke’s campaign pointed out that Ackison’s business license is currently on probation for two years as the company failed to pay the $4,000 fine, which stemmed from Ackison’s company “admitting to engaging in surveying without a proper license as required by law.”
Ackison admitted in a Facebook Live video shortly after Reineke’s press release was sent out that her company was indeed fined $4,000 and had its license suspended temporarily.
“Coincidentally, when I was running for federal senate, surprise surprise… Institutions of government started coming out of the woodwork, and my husband was pulled in for an investigation — an investigation that lasted for 9 months,” Ackison said in the video.
Reineke’s campaign also attacked Ackison for “hiring a convicted felon” to do work for her business.
“The Ackison Surveying company employed John Rutter, Jr. who has three past felony convictions involving drugs and weapons and was suspended by the Board from doing surveying work,” the press release from Reineke’s campaign states.
“Bill Reineke, Dollar Bill out-of-touch Reineke, you make fun of the fact that my husband and I support a second chance program. I have in the private sector, I was an executive in the private sector, always believed that we could work with non-violent offenders or even offenders that made a mistake as long as they weren’t violent, sexual crimes, to get folks up-and-running and back to work,” Ackison said. “Yes Bill, there are people who made mistakes, and yes Bill Reineke, there are people who have paid their debt to society who are now trying to do what they can to work.”
In addition, Reineke’s press release attacked Ackison over being fined for false advertising. According to Reineke’s campaign, Ackison was fined for false advertising “for promoting themselves as a licensed surveying company in compliance with all state and federal laws, when in fact their license was suspended at the time of such advertisements, which is illegal.”
Ackison says the fines against her business are the result of an “intrusive government” with regulations “on par with New York and California,” as well as “institutions of government” attempting to take her down.
“Unlike you, I wasn’t born as an heiress to an immense car dealership. I wasn’t born to be a tycoon. I came from the bottom and I had to work and claw my way up to the top despite the government breathing down the back of my neck every time I turn around to make a life for myself, to run my farm, to run my surveying company, to run our excavation company,” Ackison said. “You know what Bill Reineke, I still had time, as a private citizen, to go out and to activate myself and get legislative reforms for things that mean something to the people.”
“I know you’re scared, you’re scared to death. You’ve never had a candidate like me who’s coming up against you. You’ve never lost anything in your entire life, and you’ve been able to buy your way every place that you need to go, but it’s not going to happen for you this time,” Ackison said of Reineke. “You must have a tremendous amount of pressure having a middle class woman who lives on a farm, operates a small business, and is highly-respected in the conservative community breathing down the back of your neck right now.”
The 26th district Ohio Senate seat is currently held by Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville), who, along with the Ohio Republican Party, has endorsed Reineke for the seat.
Ackison has been endorsed by Ohio Value Voters, Wyandot County Sheriff Michael R. Hetzel, the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, Ohio Gun Owners, and the Bikers For Trump Ohio chapter.
Ackison previously ran in the 2018 Republican primary for U.S. Senate and came in third behind Jim Renacci and Mike Gibbons.
Voting in the primary
For those sending their ballots by mail, the postmark deadline is Monday, April 27. Ballots must be mailed to a voter’s respective county board of elections office. See a list of office addresses here.
Voters can also physically drop off their absentee ballot to the board of elections office through Tuesday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Each office will have a box available for ballots to be returned.
For more information on voting in the primary election, visit voteohio.gov.
Stay tuned to TiffinOhio.net, your local election headquarters, on Tuesday as the results roll in.