OPINION: Sorry, Mr. President, You Once Voted Democrat

Geauga Maple Leaf
Feb. 27, 2020
John Karlovec

Much has been made about Matt Rambo’s voting history and party affiliation in the race for Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court judge. Incumbent Judge Tim Grendell (and his surrogates and supporters) have gone on social media and elsewhere to demand that Rambo “correct his party affiliation,” “stop misrepresenting himself as a longtime Republican” and “be honest about his party affiliation record to Republican voters” in the March 17 Republican primary election.

Grendell went so far as to add a photograph of Rambo’s voting history from Franklin County on one of his Facebook posts. It shows Rambo’s party affiliation as “Democrat” beginning with the May 2010 primary through the May 2019 primary — 10 times he is listed as a Democrat.

I knew Rambo was the Democratic Party nominee to run against David Ondrey for a judicial seat in the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas in the November 2018 general election. What we didn’t know was that when Rambo decided to change his party status back to Republican and challenge Grendell in the March 17 GOP primary, he was “misrepresenting” his past voting history or party affiliation record. After all, if Grendell — a judge who punitively goes after those who impugn the integrity of his court — attached a voting history listing Rambo’s party affiliation as a Democrat in 10 elections, it must be true.

In Ohio, judicial candidates can be nominated by political parties and compete for seats in primaries. In the general election, however, there are no party designations on the ballot.

More important, the only time you can change your party affiliation is in a partisan primary election. Once your vote is cast, your party affiliation cannot be changed again on voter records until the next partisan primary election. In a general election, however, you can vote for any candidate you are comfortable with regardless of your party affiliation because there are no Republican or Democratic ballots to select.

I have covered this judge for years and know under that black robe is a career politician, a shrewd campaigner who knows how to pander to an audience. I know he is going to present Rambo to the voters the way he wants him to be portrayed, regardless of whether the narrative is mostly false.

To begin my quest for the truth, I contacted the board of election in Lucas County, where Rambo was born in 1979.

“Our voter records indicate that as of his time in Lucas County, Ohio (first registered in 1997), he voted in two partisan primaries, both times selecting Republican ballots,” Deputy Director Timothy Monaco said, circling in red the voting history he emailed me the May 5, 1998, and March 7, 2000, primaries in which Rambo voted.

“Mr. Rambo, at the time of registration here in Lucas County, was affiliated as a Republican,” Monaco said.

I then contacted Sara Ziemba, supervisor, voter services, at the board of elections in Franklin County, where Rambo graduated from The Ohio State University School of Law in 2005 and first worked as a magistrate in the Ohio Court of Claims. I shared with Ziemba the document Grendell attached to his Facebook post and asked if it was an accurate representation of Rambo’s voting history.

Ziemba said the only election Rambo voted as a Democrat was in the May 2010 primary. She explained every election after that Rambo was not eligible to vote in Franklin County because he had registered in another county, first Lake County and then Geauga County.

“The inclusion of Democrat with each election following the 5/4/2010 primary election does not mean that Mr. Rambo voted Democrat in any of the primary elections following 5/4/2010,” she said. “This is simply a carryover designation from the last known primary in which Mr. Rambo was eligible and did vote in Franklin County.”

Ziemba added, “It is NOT accurate to imply that Mr. Rambo voted a Democratic ballot in those elections following 5/4/2010 where his designation was NOT ELIGIBLE to vote that are included on the image you sent me in the email.” (Emphasis in original)

The only other voting record from Franklin County shows Rambo cast an “unaffiliated” issues-only ballot in the March 2008 primary. He voted in the 2008 and 2009 general elections.

According to the Lake County Board of Elections, Rambo affiliated with Republicans. He voted in the March 2012, May 2014 and March 2016 primaries — all three times selecting a Republican ballot. He did vote in the May 2017 primary, selecting a Democratic ballot.

If a bipartisan voting record and a change in party status are mortal sins as a hardline GOP voter, just don’t let Trump know you won’t be voting for him.

At the Feb. 17 Geauga GOP Candidates Night, Rambo told would-be voters he was born into a Republican household, was vice president of The Federalist Society in law school and was a lifelong Republican. He also admitted he voted a Democrat ballot in the 2010 and 2017 primary elections.

As Rambo later explained, at every election he tends to vote for the candidates he thinks are most qualified, and being a lawyer, that usually means he takes a careful look at judicial races. In May 2017, for example, he felt the most qualified candidate running for Willoughby Municipal Court judge was a Democrat.

So for those keeping score, it is fair and accurate to conclude Rambo has a bipartisan voting record, with changing political positions, just like the current president of the United States, Republican Donald J. Trump. It is also fair and accurate to conclude Rambo first registered as a Republican in 1997 and has affiliated with the Republican party in 75 percent of the partisan primaries in which he has voted.

If a bipartisan voting record and a change in party status are mortal sins as a hardline GOP voter, just don’t let Trump know you won’t be voting for him.

And, if being a loyal, hardline Republican is important, and honesty and integrity matter, how can you condone political maneuvering; fighting, bullying and intimidation of Republican elected officials; an escalating budget; or fudging someone’s historical voting record or party status?

Maybe it’s time to take another look at who you call a RINO.

Categories: Commentary

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