Fending off last-minute questions about unpaid taxes and an insurgent Tea Party challenger, longtime Ohio political operative Matt Borges was easily elected Friday as chair of the Ohio Republican Party.
Borges received 48 votes from members of the state GOP’s central committee. Tom Zawistowski, a Tea Party activist from Portage County, received just seven votes.
Borges, 40, is the current executive director of the Ohio Republican Party and a close ally of Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He will begin his two-year term on June 1, the day after current party chair Bob Bennett will step down
Borges said he will now focus on preparing for statewide elections in 2014 and the presidential election in 2016.
“We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of outreach to do,” Borges said.
Zawistowski gained few votes, but brought with him vocal and at times raucous supporters. During an impassioned speech to committee members, he criticized Kasich for supporting Medicaid expansion and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for supporting gay marriage.
Afterward, Zawistowski said there is a “serious threat” that elements of the Tea Party may splinter off and form their own party.
Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Rob Scott, former president of the Dayton Tea Party, said he looks forward to working with Borges “in re-electing Governor Kasich, other state Republican leaders, as well as electing more Republicans in Montgomery County.”
In his own speech, Borges only indirectly referred to a six-figure bill for unpaid taxes first reported two weeks ago by our Columbus Bureau, news of which complicated his run for party chair. He declined to discuss the issue with reporters, but previously said he would before Friday either pay off or enter into a payment plan for his liens, which numbered at about $168,000 as of earlier this week.
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Matt McGrath issued a statement Friday panning the GOP’s selection, calling Borges a “tax cheat and admitted influence peddler.”
Friday’s vote is the latest chapter in Borges’ political comeback story.
Borges, then chief-of-staff to Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, pleaded guilty in 2004 to a misdemeanor ethics charge and was fined $1,000 for giving preferential treatment to certain brokers in the state treasurer’s office.
That charge, which Borges now maintains was the result of a political witch hunt, has since been expunged.
Most recently, Borges managed Kasich’s inaugural campaign and ran Auditor Dave Yost’s statewide campaign. He also worked for former Vice President Dick Cheney and helped with Republican presidential campaigns in Ohio in 2008 and 2012.