Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine came under criticism from some in his party when he endorsed Deputy Prosecutor Karen Richards before other likely candidates filed to run for county prosecutor in 2001.
In a letter to the editor, one writer said the endorsement was “probably the single worst and most public error that Shine has committed in a decade.”
It was the last time the county chairman offered public support for a candidate in an intraparty contest – until now. He's asking GOP precinct committee members to appoint political novice Elizabeth Underwood to Larry Brown's seat on Allen County Council. Shine said he will introduce Underwood to the 18 precinct committee members in District 4 in a meeting at the Aboite Township Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday. The caucus vote is July 6.
If elected, Underwood would be the first Black Republican woman to serve on council.
“These are different times,” Shine said. “The community is asking for recognition by the political parties that they are heard. We are trying to address their concerns by attempting to reach out and respond with a person who is culturally diverse.”
Brown stepped down Monday under pressure. In a meeting a week ago, the third-term councilman referred to participants of the recent downtown protests as “uneducated” and said “unfortunately they also breed.”
Underwood, a litigation attorney with Barnes & Thornburg, said she grew up in the southwest 46814 ZIP code area and returned to live there after practicing law in San Francisco for about three years. She said she loves the growth the county has seen in the time she was away and wants economic development to continue.
She has no political experience beyond attending a handful of the GOP's annual Lincoln Day and Reagan Bean dinners – no primary voting record or hours spent working on behalf of a local campaign. And Shine acknowledged campaign finance records will show she supported President Barack Obama's campaign. He said he expected pushback from party activists eager to apply a loyalty test.
But the calls for change are strong, Shine said, and Underwood, whom he said he has known for more than 20 years, has the qualities and talents demanded by the job.
Underwood said she is comfortable with the party's views, even if Black participation in GOP politics is low.
“At the end of the day, my values, irrespective of race, align with Republican voters,” she said.
While Shine has avoided selecting candidates for the past two decades, he hasn't hesitated to speak up when he believes the party's reputation for tolerance is at risk. He criticized mayoral candidate Matt Kelty in 2007 for an inflammatory radio ad aired on Kelty's behalf. It attacked Democratic candidate Tom Henry for “promoting the gay rights agenda” by sponsoring a 2001 ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Shine also protested the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act approved by Republican state lawmakers in 2015.
“I find the (RFRA) situation repugnant, and contrary to that which I have tried to accomplish within the Allen County GOP for the past 22 years,” he said at the time.
In this moment, Underwood is the right candidate, Shine said.
“I've heard Change.org. I've heard Black Lives Matter. I've heard (Advancing Voices of Women). We will show we have heard by advancing diversity,” he said. “Isn't this what leadership is – to take proactive steps?”
Marilyn Moran Townsend, one of the AVOW founders and a local Republican, was pleased to hear of Shine's recommendation.
“We have reached out to (Shine) and, obviously, urged him to consider appointing another woman,” she said. “We encourage women to reach across the aisle for the greater good. We think having more women at the table is good.”
The troublesome circumstances under which the seat became open present opportunity. Give Shine credit for recognizing it and addressing the lack of diversity in both his party and local government.