Take Wednesday night's Summit County Republican Finance Dinner, Chairman Alex Arshinkoff's annual fancy finance dinner - this one at the Akron West Hilton. From the grapevine I had heard that a slew of GOP candidates, including bell cows John Kasich and Mike DeWine, would be there to generously allow some of their prominence to rub off on the locals. The main speaker was billed as Sonny Perdue, the governor of Georgia and, of course, a good ol' boy. At least,I think so.
If some of this report sounds a tad tentative, there is a reason. By order of Arshinkoff, the party's bold commander-in-chief, I was barred from entering the dining room. Honest. Not even a teensy peek.
I don't really feel I missed anything. An Arshinkoff pageant includes a succession of candidates rising to the dais to drum rolls as Alex bellows to the crowd that each will be the greatest ever to serve in his or her respective office. I've heard it so many times over the years that I've come to expect it as part of the well orchestrated hyperbole of the moment . (Alas, the Democrats in this county have nothing to compare with it other than maybe an inexpensive Valentine event at Our Lady of the Elms with finger food. Somehow, they raise money anyway and win most of the important elections hereabouts.)
My moment of truth arrived as I wandered toward the dining room from the lobby to take my usual station at the rear of room without eating inasmuch as I don't want to mooch after the others have paid $250 or more for their victuals. But a determined woman at the entrance told me that NO media would be permitted in the dining room. Bizarre, I thought, since going all the way back to the glory days of Ray Bliss all of the media had been treated with courtesy. It was the sort of class that is not that apparent in today's climate.
The woman told me the media ban was ordered by the committee, and upon further questioning, I was told I would have to talk to Alex for further explanation. (Alex, it seems, was the committee). Crossing the lobby, I confronted Bryan Williams, the No.2 executive committee chairman under Arshinkoff. When I asked him what was going on, he shrugged and said sheepishly, "I just handle the accounts." Spotting Alex talking to candidates in the small room beyond Williams, I asked Williams to tell Alex that I would like to talk to him. "I really can't do that," Williams begged off.
A few minutes later, Arshinkoff burst from the room in a trot as I called out to him. With his arms extended above him, he shouted, "No media, No media" without breaking stride.
In more than four decades of covering politics hereabouts, I can't recall a more preposterous act by a party leader. I would only wonder what the hell those first-team candidates had to say to their dinner audience that the public shouldn't know about. But there's a lot of odd things going on in the Republican Party these days that in this instance borders on the secret lives of a lot of Walter Mittys. Apparently the state ticket guys are skittish about talking to even documented journalists outside of their familiar preserve. So I'll chalk it up as part of my learning experience during this abysmal election year.
But that's not really my beef. I'm upset that I had rushed through dinner with friends, put on my best pair of least-scuffed shoes, shaved and fished out a sport jacket that I hadn't worn in months to look as presentable as possible among a lot of spiffy guys in black suits.
Really, common courtesy would have told me ahead of time to stay home in a T-shirt and walking shorts and spared me the burden of getting all gussied up for one more self-absorbed Project Runway on a hot summer evening. Is that asking too much? I guess it is.