Is Chris Redfern’s Once-Promising Political Career Finished?

By Cyndy Rees


Followers of Ohio’s statehouse political scene know Chris Redfern (D-Ottawa County) as a politically savvy, confident, and sometimes fiery former member of the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served as Minority Leader for a time.  Perhaps more prominently, he also served as the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party from 2006 to 2014.  From the start of his political career in the mind-nineties, Redfern enjoyed a steady rise in his party through the 2014 election cycle, where his gubernatorial candidate suffered a historic trouncing at the hands of Governor John R. Kasich.


Since then, Redfern’s political nosedive has been striking, and leaving many to wonder whether his political career is merely on hiatus, or is finished for good.   


First elected to the Ottawa County Commission along the shores of Lake Erie in 1993, the politically talented Redfern was the youngest serving county commissioner in the state.  His constituents next rewarded him with a seat in the Ohio House.  And by 2012, he was very strong politically in his 89thDistrict, winning 61% of the vote to easily best Republican Donald Janik.


Then 2014 happened. 


That year, Redfern was summarily unseated in a surprising upset by a quirky tea party candidate who would later face removal from office for a felony conviction.  That same night his wife Kim Redfern, a political fundraiser-turned-candidate in her own right, also lost a race for state school board in the 2nddistrict. Republican Kathleen McGervey won the multi-candidate race with 43%.  (Kim received 36% of the vote). 


The Republican “twin-killing” of the Redferns that evening was compounded in the coming days, when Chris also resigned as Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party under pressure from party insiders.


But while one may be tempted to attribute 2014 to fluke losses in a wave year, recent events suggest otherwise. 


In 2016, in what can only be described as an attempted political comeback, Chris Redfern sought to rebuild his political career and his political brand where he started a couple decades prior:  the Ottawa County Commission. 


However, Redfern’s longtime constituents who had elected him so many times throughout the years, had other plans.


On Election Night in 2016, Redfern was defeated handily by Republican Mark Stahl, who captured 63% of the vote.  In his home county, where he had first launched a promising political career that would take him to great heights, Redfern could garner only 37% of the vote. A stunning second consecutive defeat, and a third for the last name “Redfern.”


So what happened?


Local accounts vary.  Some believe that, like 2014, the “Trump wave” of 2016 was just too powerful.  Others suggest Redfern’s reputation was that of a “big shot” and that voters were not interested in serving as just another stepping stone.  Another local observer suggested Redfern did not campaign very hard and was just “in it for the public pension.”  In an interview with 3rd Rail, Redfern himself attributed the loss to Donald Trump.


"I wanted to run for Commissioner because I believed more could be done to support local businesses," said Redfern.  "My campaign was impacted by the Trump wave which saw many seats in our county turn red."


Since their political defeats, the Redfern’s seem to be enjoying commercial success with a winery and bed and breakfast in Marblehead, Ohio, near the iconic Lighthouse.  They appear to have paid $650,000 for a home- which on a State Representative salary of $60,000 could have been challenging.


So will Redfern return?  He says not, and that life as a civilian is good.


"While I am eager to help out fellow Democratic candidates in their run for office, I will not be running for office again."  Redfern said.  "My wife and I are enjoying running our Inn and winery and we invite everyone to come for a visit."


But the lesson here seems to be a simple one:  even if he tries, the final say lies with the voters.