Wes Retherford: Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky

Dave Ghose
Wes Retherford

Wes Retherford is a "swell fellow," but not a policy expert.

Wes Retherford is an easygoing guy. The Republican state representative from Hamilton is a good campaigner, charming in a rough-around-the-edges way, but he lacks interest in public policy. "He's a swell fellow, never met any enemy," says a survey respondent. "But Wes shows up to committees late, leaves early. While he's there, he can be charming and witty and funny, but he's not a heavy lifter."

A fellow state representative echoes that comment, recalling several instances when Retherford was stumped while offering sponsor testimony on bills he was proposing. To be sure, testifying legislators might need help on occasion with technical questions, but Retherford struggled with even basic information, his fellow representative says. "Wes will either say, 'I don't know,' or he'll make up an answer that's entirely wrong," the representative says. "It's like he doesn't know what's in his own bills."

In 2015, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger ordered Retherford to remove a liquor cabinet he was keeping in his office. Retherford told a reporter with the Journal-News in Butler County that he bought the cabinet from a former legislator in 2015 and was storing it in his office until he had a chance to move it to his home. This year, former state lawmaker Courtney "Corky" Combs, who was challenging Retherford in the Republican primary, pounced on the incident, accusing Retherford of having a "partying problem in Columbus" and coining the hashtag #StatehouseNotFratHouse in a Twitter battle with Retherford.

Republican party leaders also have clashed with Retherford. Both the Butler County Republican Party and the state party declined to endorse him in the GOP primary. Retherford had indicated he would drop out if that were to occur, but he reneged on the promise and won his March primary. In November, he will square off against Democratic challenger Johnny Hamilton. A Republican lobbyist says Retherford doesn't appear to have many deep principles. "I don't think he wants to do anything other than keep his job," the lobbyist says.