Fri., 2:03pm: Kasich pick beats rival in bid for Ohio GOP chair

COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasichs pick to lead the Ohio Republican Party was elected Friday over a conservative challenger after navigating criticism about a past misdemeanor conviction and tax liens.

The GOP State Central Committee voted 48-7 to elect Matthew Borges over Portage County businessman and tea party leader Tom Zawistowski. There were three abstentions.

Zawistowski is a leading figure in a conservative backlash against party leadership. His camp raised questions about Borges’ suitability for the job given his expunged 2004 conviction for misdemeanor misuse of public office. Kasich called Borges a good man deserving a second chance.

Borges, 40, also was criticized by fellow Republicans, including some statewide officeholders, for not making known to them tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid state and federal tax liens.

Borges paid the bulk of the liens – about $150,000 worth – ahead of Friday’s election. He said he accrued the debts while fighting a 2007 lien. At issue was how income was counted from the sale of a $575,000 home, he said.

Borges replaces veteran chairman Bob Bennett, who returned to the party’s helm last year after Kasich allies took control of the central committee and forced out then-chairman Kevin DeWine.

Bennett retires as of May 31 to give the party’s new leader time to position itself for statewide elections in 2014.

Before the tax liens were revealed, every elected Republican official statewide as well as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner had signed a letter endorsing Borges for the job.

Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, however, were among those who called Borges after learning of the liens to express disappointment. DeWine asked Borges for an explanation of how he built up the debt, and Husted asked him to pledge he’d pay off the liens before the election.

Borges succeeded in paying off all but a 2006 lien with an amount he continues to dispute. He said he used personal funds to do it.

Ashtabula County GOP Chairman Charlie Frye sent an email to party leaders around the state ahead of Friday’s vote pushing an alternative candidate, Lake County Republican Chairman Dale Fellows.