Will it Be 'Rep. Gillmor II' Or 'Rep. Latta II?'

Just more than twenty-four hours after the sudden death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R.- Ohio), talk has already begun in Ohio over who will succeed the well-liked, ten-termer, who was found dead in his Arlington, Virginia condominium Wednesday at 68.

No one in Gillmor’s 5th District, or in Washington or Ohio, speaks audibly at this point about the succession.  A state senator from 1966-86, senate president, and then congressman since 1988, the avuncular, cigar-chewing Gillmor was such a beloved figure that talk more centers around the sudden nature of his death and funeral plans.  But sources who spoke to me said they anticipated a “snap” special election — in all likelihood, to coincide with municipal elections in the Buckeye State in November — and that the next congressman from the heavily Republican 5th District would be a Republican with the same last name as the its last two U.S. Representatives: Gillmor or Latta.

The congressman’s widow, former State Sen. Karen Gillmor, is the first name on everyone’s lips after news of her husband’s death had sunk in.  The 59-year-old Mrs. Gillmor, mother of the congressman’s three youngest children, is a professional fundraiser by trade, worked closely in her husband’s campaigns, and has a public career of her own.  Following her stint in the senate, Mrs. Gillmor was appointed to the State Employee Relations Board by then-Gov. Robert Taft in 1997. 

“The problem with Karen,” one GOP source who requested anonymity told me, “is that she and Paul never really lived in the 5th District and everyone knew it.  The Toledo Blade was always hammering Paul and Karen on the fact that they owned homes in Northern Virginia and suburban Columbus, but not in the district he represented.  It never hurt Paul and he never had a tough re-election. But you can bet it will come out again if she runs.”

The counter-arguments are, of course, that Karen Gillmor has already been elected to office from within the 5th District and that widows of congressman have an outstanding record of succession in special elections.  In the last half-century, only three congressional widows who ran following their husbands’ deaths were defeated. 

The other name talked of aside from Karen Gillmor is that of State Rep. Bob Latta, a Bowling Green lawyer and son of the still-revered conservative Rep. Delbert Latta, who held the 5th District from 1958-88.  Almost a generation after he left Congress, “Del” Latta is still spoken of in near-worshipful tones by conservatives who recall him as a spirited foe of federal spending and as co-author of the famed Gramm-Latta Act of 1981, which contained the massive spending cuts signed into law by Ronald Reagan.  (Budget Committee Member Latta actually sponsored the original bill with language from Reagan that had $5 billion more in cuts than the version that actually passed, in large part with Democratic crossover votes.)

When the elder Latta stepped down in 1988, Gillmor won nomination in the all-important primary over Bob Latta by a margin of 27 votes out of 63,000 cast — the counting and certification taking nearly ten days to complete.  The younger Latta went on to be elected Wood County commissioner, state senator and then (after being termed out under the state’s term limits for legislators) state representative. 

Along with holding the same offices his father did before going to Congress, Bob Latta has also followed in his footsteps as a hard-charging fiscal hawk.  He broke with Republican Gov. Taft in opposing the Capital Activities Tax, (CAT), a tax on gross sales that would have hit hard at the service business. 

Other Republican names mentioned include those of State Sens. Steve Buehrer and Randy Gardner, both of whom are considered less conservative than Latta or Gillmor — and lacking the wallop that either of their last names packs.