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Local election season is in full swing and it seems like wherever you go in Central Ohio, alternative political candidates are shaking things up. Here in Columbus, the insurgent progressive group Yes We Can is challenging the unstoppable Franklin County Democratic machine, while down in Athens County, Democratic Socialist candidates are making local power players worried as well. Not to be outdone, a few Libertarian candidates are also running in Franklin County and just like their progressive counterparts, they’re causing quite the ruckus for local political establishments.

One such candidate is Rob Bender, a Libertarian candidate running for the Ward 3 city council seatin Reynoldsburg. Bender submitted his candidacy declaration back in February 2019 and at the time, election officials determined he had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. However, by June, another Reynoldsburg resident had challenged some of Bender’s signatures, prompting the Franklin County Board of Elections to compare the submitted signatures to those on the record and subsequently removed Bender from the general election ballot.

Naturally, the Libertarian Party of Ohio’s lawyers got on the case and challenged the ruling right away, losing at first in Franklin County before taking it to the Ohio Supreme Court. Sure enough, the court issued an unusually swift verdict that returned Bender to the ballot, due to the fact that the ruling came well after the Ohio primary and because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the resident challenging Bender’s signatures was a member of the Libertarian Party (Ohio law requires challenges to a candidate’s signatures to come from within the party with which that candidate is running.)

Thus Bender’s court victory not only gives Ward 3 residents in Reynoldsburg an alternative option in November, but because Bender is actually on the ballot as a certified Libertarian, it gives the LPO more legal ammo to keep the party on the ballot in 2020, despite the fact that their gubernatorial candidate (full disclosure, it was me!) did not receive the arbitrary 3 percent of the vote to maintain ballot access for the next four years. All this being said, the obvious question is: what made Bender a target of the signature challenge in the first place and why did the Franklin County Board of Elections follow suit? Clearly Bender’s candidacy was causing some powerful people to worry. Fortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court (which now has two additional Democrats after 2018) didn’t take the bait.

A similar pattern of problems seems to be following other Libertarian candidates in Franklin County as well. In Prairie Township, trustee candidate Jennifer Flowerhas been working hard to challenge the status quo, all to the chagrin of the local establishment. Flower, a longtime Libertarian running against a 16-year incumbent in a non-partisan race, saw her signatures almost challenged by some of the incumbent’s supporters and even had a potential complaint nearly filed against her for having “campaign signs out too early.” In a recent meeting, one of the township trustees even had the gall to call Flower a “keyboard warrior” on the public record while Flower was in attendance, for no other reason than to do so. Flower’s main sin? Challenging the incumbents and running on a platform to ensure more fiscal responsibility and transparency. Even in Prairie Township, the establishment protects its own.

Meanwhile in Gahanna, city attorney candidate Tricia Sprankle was originally destined to be on the November ballot unopposed because the current city attorney wasn’t seeking another term. However, Sprankle’s long history of activism with the Libertarian Party became more widely known and she gained a formidable opponent in the race with Gahanna’s City Prosecutor Raymond Mularski. While the city attorney is someone who should never be partisan, it was apparent that the local power players in Gahanna didn’t want Sprankle to slide into the position too easily. But why? Speculation can only deduce the obvious – that some kind of more favorable opponent to a political outsider like Sprankle was necessary. The city has been in some serious troubleover the last year with a tax lawsuit that exposed how taxpayers were overcharged by millions of dollars, and while the lawsuit was settled in May, Gahanna’s next city attorney will be in a position to have some serious sway on how this plays out and eventually gets cleaned up.

Yes, as Tip O’Neill said, “all politics is local” and this certainly includes the nation’s most important swing state. Even in local election years, power players across Ohio want to stop any outsiders who challenge the status quo. This is why it’s important to support libertarian and progressive candidates across the board in all local elections and donate and volunteer when you can. Only then will we have more watchful populist eyes on our government at every level.

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