London Republican Bob Hackett has received a state senate committee’s recommendation to serve out the remaining 10 months of Chris Widener’s term — a decision his opponent is calling the final move of a political game.
Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said Friday a six-member screening committee voted unanimously to recommend State Rep. Hackett for the appointment in the Ohio’s 10th State Senate District seat, encompassing all of Clark, Greene and Madison counties.
The 23-member Senate Republican Caucus will likely meet Feb. 23 to accept the screening committee’s recommendation and seat the new member. Hackett said he has requested his swearing in be conducted by Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer and Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin, both Republicans.
Hackett, who served as a Madison County commissioner from 2001 to 2008, and a Springfield businessman, Patrick “Rick” Chimento, were the only two who applied for the vacant position.
“Bob has the experience and depth of knowledge to be an effective state senator on day one,” Faber said in a statement. “We were very impressed with both applicants, but Bob’s record of leadership and accomplishment in the Ohio House make him the best choice to fill this vacancy. He knows the district and the issues important to its constituents. I’m confident he’ll be an outstanding advocate for the 10th District. We also look forward to ensuring his election to a full, four-year term in November.”
Hackett said he has enjoyed his time in the House — most notable serving as chairman of the insurance committee — but moving to the senate is the nature of term limits.
Termed out after eight years in the 74th House District, Hackett is running for Widener’s seat in the March 15 primary election. He said he once favored term limits, but now believes they result in losing good people and forcing political parties to concentrate their focus on elections rather than the legislation itself.
“Maybe going 12 years would be better than eight,” he said. “In the beginning I supported new ideas and new energy, but the problem is eight years go by so quickly and there’s a learning curve. By the time you get a good legislator, they’re leaving.”
In the senate, he plans to remain “constituent-oriented,” and continue “a great relationship with the local leaders.” He describes his areas of expertise as finances, investments and health care.
Hackett will face Beavercreek Republican Brian Walton in March for the Republican nomination, while Yellow Springs Democrat Matthew Kirk and Springfield Democrat Michael Sergio Gilbert battle for the Democratic vote. The winners from each of the primary races will square off in November.
By receiving the appointment, Hackett essentially becomes the incumbent. When asked how that would affect his campaign, he said, “I have no idea.”
“I’m not the political person on that,” he said. “I know my opponent is screaming, but he’s been screaming about everything.”
But Hackett’s opponent, Walton, says Widener’s resignation was part of a political plan.
On Friday, Walton said the day after Widener’s Jan. 21 “so-called surprise resignation,” sources in Columbus told him it was already decided Hackett would receive Widener’s seat while Plain City Republican Chris Wallace would slide into Hackett’s vacant seat.
Just one week prior on Jan. 14, the Greene County Republican Party endorsed Walton over Hackett, he noted. The next day, Greene County was removed from the Ohio Republican Party’s bulk mail list — essentially making it more expensive for the county’s party to mail advertising.
“I’ve spent most of my life working as an intelligence analyst connecting dots,” Walton said. “If it’s not a political game, it’s sure a big coincidence.”
Walton said he chose not to seek the appointment to Widener’s seat because he didn’t think it was right to “confuse voters” this close to the election.
House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) has said he will not immediately take action to fill Hackett’s seat. Instead, he will wait until after the primary.
Walton praised the decision, but said it “doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure out why Rosenberger made the statement weeks before the appointment was announced.
He said Hackett’s becoming the incumbent doesn’t hurt his campaign, but help it.
“This is not the year to be playing these games — people are fed up,” he said. “This illustrates my point exactly and reinforces my decision to run.”
Andrea Chaffin can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.