State Rep. Jay Edwards recently was named the new Athens County Republican Party chair, putting him at the helm of a party whose appointees to the local board of elections have voted to disqualify his sole challenger for the state house district centered in Athens County.
Pete Couladis, a longtime local and state government official who led the county GOP since 2004, told the Independent last week that he lost his reelection vote earlier this summer to Stephen Kane, a former local law enforcement official. Within months, however, Kane died in a tractor accident on his farm in Shade.
The next in line for his seat was Alex Burcher, a 24-year-old Nelsonville resident currently running for a seat on the county commission — but he wasn’t interested in the role. After him in the line of succession was Edwards, who said he accepted the position on July 19. Burcher has not responded to a request for comment sent to his campaign email.
“We’re gonna organize, we’re gonna get Republicans involved, and we’re going to have options on the ballot, for once,” Edwards said in an interview, criticizing countywide elected officials for only focusing on the city of Athens at the expense of smaller, more rural communities. “Athens County is going to be a major league Republican county.” He declined to comment on Conrath’s candidacy or the votes against her certification.
Couladis, who now serves on the party’s central committee, denied that pressure was put on the Republican appointees to the board of elections to vote against certifying the candidacy of Tanya Conrath, who was selected by area Democratic parties to run against Edwards after the candidate who won the Democratic primary dropped out.
However, both members — Aundrea Carpenter-Colvin and Gary Van Meter, who were appointed by party officials — have ignored the Independent’s requests for comment. The party, which does not list its officers on its website, has not made any public announcement about its leadership turnover.
In an email, Conrath directly linked Edwards’s new leadership of the party to the Republican opposition to her certification at the Board of Elections.
“Do I think Jay Edwards is behind the effort to keep me off the ballot?” wrote Conrath in an email to the Independent. “Is rain wet? The last thing he wants [is] to face me in an election.”
Additional reporting by Dani Kington
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