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Who really stopped Dems from attending Portman speech?
By Kat Tenbarge
The Columbus Dispatch
(February 23, 2017) — Rob Portman’s press secretary said today the GOP U.S. senator wasn’t the one prevented Democrats from attending a political dinnernner where he spoke Wednesday night.
Justin Smith, chairman of the Sandusky County Republican Party, which co-sponsored the Lincoln Day Dinner fundraising event, this morning took responsibility for denying tickets to potential protesters and said he is proud of it.
But that doesn’t quite end the controversy over who turned away Democrats from attending the annual Republican get-together.
Last week, David Koehl, treasurer of the Seneca County Republican Party — the gathering’s other co-sponsor — protested the decision to exclude possible disruptors, saying it stemmed from the Portman staff.
He shared an email to Portman’s staff that began, “While I understand your desire not to let any potential protesters in the room, I’m strongly inclined to believe the Bill of Rights is more important. We have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to protect the rights of citizens to speak to their elected officials even if they disagree with those officials — especially if they disagree with those officials.”
Koehl noted he had recently spent two weeks in Cuba and came to cherish America’s freedoms even more.
“The suppression of free speech and dissenters, by both (Fulgencio) Batista and (Fidel) Castro for decades, has had a horrible effect on Cuba. We are better than that,” Koehl wrote. “So I want to let these people come to our dinner, even if we suspect they might cause a protest.”
Then on Wednesday, Koehl emailed a ticket-buyer whose money was refunded: “I would still be happy to welcome you this evening, but the Portman staff is concerned you may interrupt his speech … Some other local party leaders agree with me, but we are deferring to the decision of his staff. It seems appropriate we are serving chicken for dinner.”
Koehl refused to refund the orders of a table of registered Democrats, saying in the email to Portman’s staff that he would send the PayPal password in lieu of performing the action himself.
“Don’t silence people who are dedicated to their cause, even if we disagree with them. That’s the essence of our democracy, and why we cherish the Bill of Rights,” Koehl pleaded.
Portman’s press secretary, Emilyenavides, insisted that access to the dinner was controlled by the Sandusky County GOP.
The issue emerged when a group of Democrats who had purchased tickets to the private political event were told they could not attend. One of them, Katie Finneran, a junior studying environmental policy at Ohio State University, said, “Just because Republicans are in power does not mean Republican citizens have more of a voice than Democratic citizens or even independent citizens or Green Party citizens or Libertarian citizens. He represents everybody, not just the Republican Party.”
Finneran made the two-hour drive to Fremont to protest Portman’s policies outside of the Terra State Community College, where the dinner was held. She estimated that she was joined by more than 70 others who chanted and held signs for more than three hours in a designated protest area.