Compares County GOP Chairman to a ringmaster

To the editor:

For over 25 years, I had a ringside seat in the Columbiana County Republican “big top.” Chairman David Johnson acted as ringmaster. Commonly in a bow tie and saddle shoes he “barked” instructions to the wide-eyed attendees who paid the price of admission. Instead of popcorn and peanuts, excited men, women and children got hors-d’oeuvres, cocktails, coffee and soft drinks to consume as they awaited the main attraction. The Johnson family-owned Spread Eagle Tavern was often the hosting venue where attendees could upgrade their experience by picking up the tab for regular menu selections.

After entertainment by a few warm up “acts” from various current and aspiring public officials, a song and a prayer, the time for the main event arrived. Attention was diverted by the sound of opening doors, animated chatter and security details in motion. All-Star elephants from various other elephant-oriented shows led the colorful collection of “elite” performers into center ring.

In the early days, although we all understood the concept of “pay to play,” we GOP “groupies” seemed in lockstep with that of Ringmaster/Chairman Johnson. Our oars were all in the water rowing in the same direction at the same speed. We drank the kool-aid but we pledged allegiance to the Grand Ol’ Party, not to the “Chairman.”

In about 2002, Ringmaster Johnson had to depart the circus to handle his family business’s financial hardship. He had a plan which involved getting his handpicked successor, whom none of the circus family knew, elected as GOP Chairman. One of the longtime attendees also offered to become the new chairman. When the vote was tallied, Atty. Jerry J. Ward, a well-known, established and respected Republican became the GOP Chairman going against Chairman Johnson’s plan to maintain control from a distance.

Well, anyone that knows anything about Chairman David Johnson knows that you do NOT practice anything that remotely resembles independence. You do not suggest. You do not disagree. You do not question. Who was Atty. Jerry J. Ward’s longtime law partner? Judge Ashley Pike.

In a communication that I received soon after, in which I inquired about the change in his friendliness, David Johnson told me Judge Pike was most certainly responsible for Atty. Ward’s interest in becoming the GOP Chairman, which was untrue. He also stated that “disloyalty” would be punished.

Although there was a period where the differences seemed to be resolved, once again independent thought and action enraged the Chairman. Opposition and opinion were voiced. Judge Pike found in favor of the Salem Firefighters Union. An act to which David was vehemently opposed. His decision in favor of The Buckeye Water District was criticized by Johnson in a public letter to the editor.

There is much more to this story which is ongoing. Eventually, it will be told as it was not only “humans” who are victimized under the GOP big top. Because of my involvement with The Humane Society of Columbiana County, the non-profit was also targeted for “punishment” by David and other loyalists. Like many domestic and wild animals who receive a daily dose of a whip to the hip or a smack to the nose, humans also have their limits. Occasionally, we hear of trainers and zoo keepers who are attacked by the animals they train. Good trainers understand that cooperation is earned and inspired, not demanded. Humans are no different. Unless death happens first, “even the worm will turn.”

Jenny Rukenbrod,



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