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Tea Party leaders threaten GOP over recent moves

A group of dozens of Tea Party leaders and other conservative advocates issued an open letter Thursday that broadly rejects recent moves by top Ohio Republicans and promises to stop supporting them.

Among their grievances: Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s recent announcement that he now supports gay marriage, as well as key elements of Republican Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan, which proposes expanding Medicaid, hiking taxes on oil and gas drillers, and swapping the new taxing of previously untaxed services with state income tax cuts.

“There are a lot of Ohioans looking at this, and we’re frustrated,” said Seth Morgan, a former Republican state representative from Huber Heights whom the group identifies as its leader. Morgan has remained active in conservative politics since he left the house in 2010 for a failed bid for state auditor.

“I think this statement is merely just a statement that we haven’t moved, we don’t intend to move and we’re not accepting this new direction,” he said.

Along with Morgan, more than 80 people, including Warren County Right to Life vice president Lori Viars and Dayton Tea Party President Don Birdsall, signed the letter.

Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, said the group’s concerns about Kasich’s budget have guided him and other Republican legislators toward what likely will end up being big changes to Kasich’s proposal.

“I would simply say that obviously the people in our caucus have great empathy with those folks, and equally obvious we have a heck of a lot to get done here,” Batchelder said. “Which I think the result will be at least acceptable to them, even if it doesn’t cause wild enthusiasm.”

Morgan said the expectation that the expected selection of Matt Borges as the next Ohio Republican Party’s chairman was the tipping point that led to the letter. The group takes issue with Borges’ work as a lobbyist in 2011 for gay-rights group Equality Ohio and his 2004 misdemeanor ethics conviction that was later expunged.

Rob Scott, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said he thinks the letter is premature — Borges has not yet been selected to lead the state party.

“They’re entitled to their opinion, but I think one, (the letter) jumped the gun and secondly, it really has painted a broad brush on the Ohio Republican Party that is not deserved.”

Scott has strong ties to members of the coalition — he helped found the Dayton Tea Party and helped run Morgan’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign for state auditor.

Scott said despite Portman’s shift, the Republican Party as a whole does not support gay marriage and remains a conservative party, even if it contains members who don’t always see eye to eye.

“I know them, and they’re very principled people. They see this as a direction that the party is moving. And they’re making their concerns made very publicly,” Scott said. “I think the Ohio Republican Party is definitely going to take notice and they’re going to address those concerns.”

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