Tuesday evening the Marshall County Republican Party conducted a caucus to elect a new county chairman to fill the vacancy left when Dave Holmes passed away last month.
Republican Headquarters at the corner of Garro and Water Streets was packed Tuesday evening with 38 precinct committeemen and vice committee men who voted to decide who the next county chair would be.
Deb VanDeMark, the current Vice County Chairman called the caucus to order at 6 p.m. and went through the procedures. VanDeMark did clarify that two precinct committeemen were not illegible to vote. Will Patterson was not reappointed by Mr. Holmes after Precinct Committeeman Jessie Bohannon moved from Bremen to Culver and Ms. Myers was elected but not reappointed when she moved out of her precinct.
After reviewing the rules, it was time to hear from the two candidates, Sean Surrisi and Deb VanDeMark. Each candidate was allotted 5 minutes to speak to the precinct committee members.
Sean Surrisi was the first to speak. He told those in attendance he believed he was the best candidate for county chair. He said he has been an attorney for 17 years and spent the last decade working for Mayor Senter as the City Attorney. Sean shared some of his ideas for the direction of the party saying he wanted to improve party communication, enhance the party’s fundraising efforts, think big by possibly having the next U.S. Senator or homegrown governor, and increase fellowship among the party.
Surrisi said when he began to get involved in politics 14 years ago, he was a Democrat. After spending just over 3 years trying to work with the Democratic Party, he realized it wasn’t a good fit.
Sean spoke about the difference between leadership and administration and said they both take a lot of hard work. He then said, “Deb for many years has done the hard work for the party and carried the water and done a lot of good things. 16 years of doing the work of the party maybe isn’t just the best leadership moment that we need at this moment.”
Surrisi accused Commissioner Kevin Overmyer of causing trouble recently. He then showed a large photocopy of a text message from Overmyer to Surrisi last week that said, “Referring to Tim Harmon and some of the newly elected Republicans, that they have destroyed the party and you can’t fix it.” The next picture was of a Democrat candidate for County Council walking in the Culver parade last week. Surrisi said, “He directly told, face to face, me and the mayor that Kevin Overmyer recruited him to run for council.” He spoke of the need for principles and discipline in the party.
Surrisi also said, “Deb doesn’t condone the support of Democrats but yet she has Kevin out making calls for her and he is the top person on the endorsement list for her,” and he showed another photo of VanDeMark’s endorsement letter with Kevin Overmyer’s name circled at the top of the list. Surrisi said, “Looking the other way at things like this isn’t leadership. You have to speak up to be a leader.”
Other plans Surrisi said were to work on improvements to the campaign headquarters, recruit candidates, conduct candidate training and not forget the Republican principals.
Deb VanDeMark read a speech and said she is a lifelong Republican and has never switched parties. She commented on her 16 years serving the Republican Party and her work experience serving the citizens of Marshall County in political office.
To clarify the issue Surrisi brought up with Kevin Overmyer, Deb said, “Kevin Overmyer is not running for county chair, I am running for county chair. I will not allow others to define who I am. I will not allow Kevin to define who I am. Let’s get that out in the open from the start.”
VanDeMark said her career plan after December 31st is still up in the air but there are a couple of opportunities for her to think about. As a Plymouth Lion’s Club member and member of the Marshall County Park Board she is busy.
During her tenure with the Republican Party Deb said she has attended nearly every Republican breakfast, Lincoln Day, parade, golf outing, pumped water when headquarters was flooded, set up the fair booth, stored the elephant at her home, and made sure the elephant got to the parades.
VanDeMark said, “Campaigns can get ugly, as I have witnessed the past 30 days. Through this campaign, I have heard the rumor that I was Kevin’s puppet. For clarity I am not anyone’s puppet, you can probably ask Kevin that. I don’t go to dinner with Kevin. I don’t vacation with him, and I don’t visit in his home. However, I do work with Kevin. As an elected official and we do have conversations.”
VanDeMark said she is proud that the county offices are all filled with Republicans and that she and Dave Holmes didn’t recruit candidates to run against incumbents however this past primary she said other republicans did go after incumbents. Deb said, “Perhaps this was an attempt to purposely cause division to split our party. It certainly seems to have had that result and the Democrats are taking advantage of this division and the Democrat Park Chair has slated several Democrats for the General Election.” VanDeMark continued, “I’ve always said, everyone has the right to run for office and the opportunity to serve. This is America.”
VanDeMark closed her comments by saying, “As your party chair I will work with and support all Republican candidates for a successful win to ensure Republicans continue to hold our elected offices.” Her plans as the next county chair include a candidate meeting, organizing pictures for advertisement, and getting ready for the fall election. She has plans to improve headquarters, have a better presence on Facebook, and expand the email list so precinct committeemen can see what the party is doing. She also wants to fill the vice precinct positions that are vacant and work with the city and towns to get them more active with the county Republican party.
All thirty-eight precinct candidates were then invited to the back of the building to cast a private ballot for the candidate of their choice. After all the votes were counted it was announced that Deb VanDeMark will serve the remainder of Dave Holms’ term as county chair ending in March 2025 with a vote of 25 to 13. She also asked Jim Masterson to serve as her vice chairman and he accepted.