2 sitting Butler County lawmakers could face off for Ohio Senate seat

Ohio Reps. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, and George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., could face off in the March 2020 primary election for Ohio Senate. Incumbent Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., is ineligible to seek re-election due to term limits. PHOTOS PROVIDED

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Ohio Reps. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, and George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., could face off in the March 2020 primary election for Ohio Senate. Incumbent Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., is ineligible to seek re-election due to term limits. PHOTOS PROVIDED

The race for Ohio’s 4th Senate District seat in 2020 could pit two incumbent House members against each other.

State Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, announced last week she would run for the Senate seat that represents most of Butler County as incumbent Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., cannot seek re-election because of a term limit.

Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., told the Journal-News this week he may be Keller’s chief primary opponent.

“I will make an announcement in the next two to four weeks,” Lang said. “We’re looking very hard at it.”

Lang is known for fundraising — he raised nearly $250,000 in his 2018 Statehouse election bid — and his contributions to the GOP. He touted his fundraising skills in his September 2017 speech when seeking the Butler County Republican Party’s recommendation to the Ohio House appointment.

"Two things that your state rep must be very good at: one is getting elected and, two, being able to raise funds," he said to the GOP Central Committee members that live in the 52nd District.

RELATED: West Chester Trustee George Lang gets Statehouse appointment (September 2017)

Keller, who is the senior member of Butler County’s Ohio House delegation, announced on Facebook last week she will seek the open state Senate seat. She told the Journal-News this week she’s “running to continue the conservative agenda that has been so popular in this district.”

“We are anxious to run a strong race and take that decision again directly to the voters rather than go through the usual Butler County GOP endorsement,” she said. “I look forward to any primary opponent, and am ready to debate on my record of voting against every single tax increase and bail out the House has implemented.”

In 2015, Keller bucked historical county GOP trends and ran in the primary against the endorsed Republican candidate for the then-open 53rd Ohio House District seat. She told the Journal-News in 2015 she was "not discouraged" by the party snub, calling it "just politics." Later, said she would never seek the party's nomination again.

Though Coley is term-limited, he is running against Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers II for the open 12th District Court of Appeals seat in 2020. It’s not uncommon for term-limited elected officials to resign early to pursue something new, but Coley said he has no intention of resigning early. A vacated House seat would give an incumbent’s edge to any potential candidate.

“I have 18 months (remaining on his four-year term),” he said. “I’m scrambling to get everything done I want to get done.”

Coley just announced an initiative to help leave college with little to no debt, which is designed to help low-income families send their children to college.

RELATED: Sen. Bill Coley says new college-workplace partnership will ‘make a huge difference’

The third member of the Butler County Ohio House delegation, Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, said she would not run for the state Senate, though she’s “been humbled by the encouragement I have received to run.”

“I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives because I believed our community needed a stronger voice with integrity in Columbus,” said Carruthers, who committed to a 2020 re-election bid. “I believe the work we are doing in the Ohio House is making a real difference for families, children and our community, and I plan to continue focusing my efforts on those issues.”

Keller was elected to the 53rd Ohio House District in November 2016 to fill the vacancy created when former Republican state representative Tim Derickson — who told the Journal-News he won't re-seek his old job — left to take a job with the state. She assumed her first full term in January 2017 and was re-elected in November 2018, but refused to debate her Democratic opponent.

Butler County Democratic Party Brian Hester said if Keller is the GOP’s nominee, his party will also showcase her record.

"From her appearance on a white nationalist talk radio or intentionally making provocative and controversial statements that equated public health organizations to Nazis, Keller has worked harder to get attention from the most extreme elements than doing anything to improve the lives of Butler County voters," Hester said. "She's so out of touch she's been publicly mocked by other conservatives in the state legislature."

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Potential 52nd House District candidates are waiting on Lang’s decision, but they won’t include West Chester Twp. Trustee Ann Becker, who sought the 52nd House District seat against Lang in 2017. Becker said she’s focused on her re-election bid as West Chester Twp. trustee.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Steve Schramm, chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business board, said he will not seek political office outside Butler County.

“I like serving the people I live with,” said Schramm. “When I make decisions here, I get to see the people who are impacted by my decisions every day.”

West Chester Twp. Lee Wong, who also sought the 52nd House District seat in 2017, said he hadn’t made a decision about running for a Statehouse seat in 2020.

Madison Twp. Trustee Thomas Hall said he would seek the 53rd Ohio House seat.

The filing deadline for the March 10, 2020, primary is 4 p.m. on Dec. 11. The winners of the March 2020 primary will advance to the November 2020 general election.

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