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Ohio Senate leader insists he wasn't being sexist
Tom Patton questions whether a young mother's place is in the Ohio House, and is taking flack from Democrats and Republicans

Karen Kasler
Jen Herald is taking on Tom Patton in the House Republican primary.
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The comments a Republican Ohio Senate leader made about his primary opponent in a House race have fired up a debate over how the GOP views women – in particular, working moms. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.

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Tom Patton is a term-limited senator from Strongsville and is facing a March primary for the House seat he’s now seeking. He talked about his stance as a pro-union Republican on America’s Workforce Radio, a labor-backed program recorded in northeast Ohio.

Then Patton said this: “The gal that’s running against me is a 30-year-old mom, mother of two infants. I don’t know if anybody explained to her we gotta spend three nights a week in Columbus. How does that work out for you?”

A political newcomer
Patton’s talking about Jennifer Herold of Strongsville, a newcomer to politics and his opponent in the March primary – which will be Patton’s first primary since 2002. As the interview went on, he was asked about his work on school funding. He responded: “One of the things that my opponent’s running against is how hard she’s going to work on education. And I wanted to tell her, ‘Hey sweetie…”

Herold said those comments were discriminatory and insulting -- and suggest that motherhood is a liability. She notes most Republican women officeholders are mothers – and referred specifically to Republican Rep. Christina Hagan of Alliance, who recently brought her newborn daughter with her to committee hearings and a House voting session.

But Herald said this controversy goes beyond her. “There is a broader narrative here that I don’t think has been fully put to bed with women in the workplace, women in politics,” Herold said.

"I apologize if..."
Patton writes in a statement that he used a poor choice of words. He asks to be judged on his record and concludes: “I sincerely apologize if my words were misplaced on this matter."

Patton’s comments quickly went viral, with critics around the country blasting them as “outrageous," “ridiculous," and “sexist." Rob Frost is chair of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, which has endorsed Patton. Frost said he doesn’t think the comments were sexist or out of line, but have been blown out of proportion.

“I think his opponent, who has a very long shot of winning this primary, is looking for a way to get some notoriety. And clearly she did,” he said “And it’s a valid question – to say, ‘Well, Sen. Patton, is that really what you meant to say?’ And as we now know, it wasn’t.”

The GOP and working women
But there are other questions, about how the Republican Party views working moms.  Sometimes they’ve been asked by Democrats, but they’ve also been raised by a few GOP politicians who’ve found their comments made headlines too.

Frost said suggestions that this is the Republican attitude toward mothers who work outside the home is what he calls a “persistent myth” perpetuated by the media.

But Jennifer Herold said this is real to her – and perhaps, to other potential candidates. “I don’t know if women feel comfortable in running because of this exact case in point,” Herold said. “So I’m hoping that this can be a broader issue, encouraging women to run and hopefully change this rhetoric we have about working moms.”

A bad moment or a persistent pattern?
While Patton isn’t talking beyond his written statement, he has gotten support on social media, including from longtime Republican strategist Neil Clark. Clark said Patton had what he called a “bad moment” and that he doesn’t believe the comments reflect Patton’s views – or the thoughts of most Republican state legislators.

But Clark said the way some in the GOP have focused on sensitive issues such as abortion and health care may send a different message.

“I don’t think that any Republican would deny that we have a problem with how women see us,” Clark said. “And I think that that is an issue for a different discussion, but that’s not the issue that drove Tom Patton.”

Patton said in his statement he raised five daughters as a widower, so he knows first-hand how tough it is to be a working parent. Patton also had a namesake son who was a police officer who died in the line of duty in 2010. Patton may be officially backed by the county party, but a spokesperson for Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges said the state party hasn’t endorsed anyone in that race.

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