May primary offers array of legislative contenders

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Primary candidates vying to be in the Ohio Legislature include former lawmakers, spouses and daughters of state representatives, and current state legislators looking to change chambers.

Democrats have 13 primary races on May 6 for seats in the House, while majority Republicans have almost twice as many. In the Senate, 10 of the 17 districts on the ballot are held by Republicans. Six GOP candidates have opponents.

Fifteen GOP incumbent representatives are defending their seats, including state Rep. Peter Beck, who faces felony charges. Beck, of Mason, is accused of misleading investors about a company's financial status and using their money for personal gain. He has denied the allegations.

Beck has two challengers for his southwest Ohio district: Mary Jo Kubicki, who is treasurer to state Rep. Ron Maag's campaign, and Paul Zeltwanger, who owns a real estate development company.

The House Republican caucus is helping Toledo-area Rep. Barbara Sears, who split with many in her party in publicly supporting an expansion of the Medicaid health program. Although Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed the idea, it wasn't popular within the GOP. Sears' opponent, Scott Allegrini, has used the issue in his campaign against her. Allegrini, of Sylvania, has tea-party support.

Democratic Reps. John Barnes and Bill Patmon of Cleveland have also taken heat in their primaries for breaking with their party on certain votes. The state Democratic Party has endorsed their challengers. Barnes faces Jill Zimon, a former city councilwoman in the Cleveland suburbs. Patmon is being challenged by Eugene Miller, a former Cleveland city councilman.

In other House races, candidates have family ties to those they are seeking to replace.

Howard Heard, husband to House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, is trying for her open seat in a race against Columbus councilman Hearcel Craig.

The daughters of two longtime lawmakers, Reps. Vernon Sykes of Akron and Barbara Boyd of Cleveland Heights, want to take their places. Both are term-limited.

Emilia Sykes, who works for Summit County, faces Frank Comunale, a Summit County councilman, for a seat either her father or mother Barbara has held for about 30 years. Janine Boyd, a Cleveland Heights councilwoman, is running against attorney Sean Malone.

One incumbent's wife is running as a write-in candidate for his seat after a paperwork error forced him off the ballot.

State Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont says his wife, Rhonda, will act as a placeholder for him. Should his wife win, Damschroder has said she would leave the contest so he could be appointed to be on the November ballot as the GOP candidate. Tiffin businessman William Reineke and Richard Geyer, a Ballville Township trustee, are also seeking the nomination.

Several Senate Republicans have drawn primary challengers amid frustration over a stalled strict abortion bill that would effectively ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat — as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

The measure met its demise in 2012 after the Senate's GOP leader, who has since retired, blocked it from a vote. The idea has gone nowhere since.

The group Faith2Action, which has lobbied for the bill, has targeted Republican senators, claiming in mailings to voters that they are "Republicans in name only." The group's president, Janet Folger Porter, has criticized senators such as state Sen. Cliff Hite of Findlay for not pushing for a vote on the bill this year.

"Cliff Hite has let us down," Folger Porter said. She has endorsed Corey Shankleton, a pastor. Milo Schaffner of Van Wert is also running in the three-way race.

Messages seeking comment from Hite were left with his office and a Senate Republican caucus spokesman.

Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, has defended his members, saying they passed anti-abortion measures in the state budget. He said courts have found the ban in heartbeat bill unconstitutional.

"The provisions that we've passed have been upheld, and we believe they are saving babies," Faber recently told reporters.

None of the four incumbent Democrats who are on the ballot have primary challengers.

Open Democratic seats in the GOP-dominated Senate have attracted multiple hopefuls, including one six-way race for term-limited Cincinnati Sen. Eric Kearney's seat. Some members of the Ohio House are seeking the open Senate slots, such as Reps. Dale Mallory of Cincinnati and Sandra Williams of Cleveland.