Local politicians pursue state Senate

Erica Crist

Portage County Commissioner seeks appointment

Gov. Ted Strickland appointed state Sen. Kimberly Zurz to head the Ohio Department of Commerce, and her replacement in the Senate will be selected from the Portage and Summit county Democratic parties.

The Portage County Democratic Party is having a central committee meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Italian American Club in Ravenna to discuss up to three recommendations to send to the Ohio Democratic Caucus, said Sandy Halem, second vice chairperson.

Zurz has represented the 28th District, which includes all of Portage County, part of Akron and part of Green, since 2003.

“Because that position decision overlaps two counties, what we will be doing is sending recommendations to Columbus, and so will Summit County,” Halem said.

For the past 20 years, the Senate seat has switched between Summit and Portage County residents.

“It went from (state Sen.) Leigh Herington from Portage, to Summit’s Kim Zurz – so there is an informal history of allowing each county to have the opportunity to have the Senate seat,” Halem said. “However, that is not in any way binding.”

If this unwritten agreement continues, the vacancy should rotate back to a Portage County resident, she said.

State Rep. Kathleen Chandler sought the position in 1994 against Herington, and Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper sought the position in 2003 against Zurz.

Chandler said she is planning to ask for the appointment.

“I’m very much involved in state government, and I believe it’s an important position,” she said. “I am qualified and would do a good job at it, and it would also be a challenge.”

Chandler’s service in local government began in Kent, where she was a councilwoman and mayor, followed by her position as Portage County Commissioner. She is now beginning her fifth year as state representative. She earned her master’s degree in public management from Kent State.

“I’ve had great success in working with constituents to improve services at the local level, and I want to continue that as senator,” she said.

Keiper said he too would ask for the appointment. He has served in local government for the past 13 years as Portage County Commissioner. He earned his master’s degree in business administration from Kent State.

“I’ve made my last decade and a half in this job, and I have mixed emotions,” Keiper said. “I’m excited for this opportunity, but working for Portage County has been a great job.”

Portage County commissioners Chris Smeiles and Maureen Frederick said as prominent Democrats they would like to see Keiper ask for the appointment.

“He would be eminently qualified, there’s no question,” Frederick said. “I don’t know what his thoughts are on leaving, but he definitely has the ability, drive and energy for the Senate.”

Smeiles and Frederick said he would be missed if he goes to Columbus, especially because he just won a new four-year term in November.

“He is an integral part of the board and what we’ve gotten accomplished,” Frederick said. “We are very close together and it’s a well-balanced board, so it would be a void if that does evolve.”

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Crist at [email protected].

Public affairs reporter Kurt Jakub contributed to this report.