COLUMBUS -- Tea Party and like-minded conservatives blasted the leaders of the Ohio Republican Party Thursday, rejecting the group's likely new chairman and stances on issues taken by Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman and vowing to support other candidates in coming election cycles.
The coalition issued a statement that was signed by more than 80 people, including "liberty group members," "social conservative voters" and "rank-and-file registered Republicans," said Tom Zawistowski, president of the We the People Convention and executive director of the Portage County Tea Party.
"The leaders of the Republican Party in Ohio have chosen to separate themselves and the party from the wishes and values of their support base," Zawistowski wrote in his statement. "With this letter, we put the party bosses on notice that we reject their betrayal of the party platform and our conservative values. We will not support them going forward but will instead support those who are true to our cause."
But Ohio GOP Executive Director and expected Chairman Matt Borges countered the assertions, citing statements from other conservatives with different opinions, including the head of Ohio Right to Life, former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Congressman Bob McEwen.
"Few have done more to elect conservatives to office in Ohio over the last 23 years than I have," Borges said, adding, "My hand is extended to anyone who wants to join our cause."
In the statement, the conservative coalition outlined its opposition to Kasich's plan to expand Medicaid, increase state spending and hike taxes on oil and gas produced by horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
It voiced dismay over Portman's new support of gay marriage, saying the reversal "dismisses the views of roughly 3.3 million Ohioans who in 2004 voted for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman."
And it criticized support for Borges to replace outgoing Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett over other potential candidates.
"Never have I been more concerned for the direction of our state and country -- largely due to a failure in leadership," Seth Morgan, a former state representative, said in the statement. "Why would our Republican leaders put themselves at odds with sound public policy and the platform of their own party?"
Kasich is locked in a struggle with the Republican-led state Legislature over his proposed $63.2 billion, two-year state operating budget. The proposal includes the Medicaid expansion as well as an increase in the tax rate on large-scale oil-and-gas production. It also extends the state sales tax, at a reduced rate, to a new list of services including lawyers, accountants, entertainment events and cable TV.
Kasich's spokesman said, "Go ask (Ohio Democratic Party Chairman) Chris Redfern if he thinks the governor's too moderate."
Redfern and his party have steadily blasted Kasich's leadership and accused him of rushing an agenda they dub "ultra-conservative" through the Legislature.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.