Republican leader splits county

A libertarian-leaning challenge to the Blair County Republican Committee chairman Monday ended with an unprecedented vote: a 59-59 tie, which will likely force another vote as the state party advises county leaders on their next step.

Lois Kaneshiki – founder of the Pennsylvania Republican Liberty Caucus and recently an officer in Hollidaysburg Area School Board member Aaron Ritchey’s unsuccessful state House campaign for the 78th District – challenged incumbent committee chairman A.C. Stickel to a draw in a vote that shocked party members.

“As we opened the ballots, it was 59-59. One ballot left to open – and the last ballot was blank,” committee officer Bruce Erb said Tuesday. “It was amazing.”

Erb said he’s never seen such a result in 40 years with the county GOP.

Kaneshiki, who challenged Stickel in 2012 but failed to take the party’s reins, said another vote will be set for mid-July. Erb said state party officers will advise county leaders on their next step.

“I really, obviously was hoping to win. Who would have expected a tie?” Kaneshiki said.

In an interview Tuesday, Kaneshiki described herself as the bottom-up candidate for leadership, a supporter of a grassroots Republican Party based at the local level. A former state chairwoman of the Libertarian Party, she said she wants to “bring back the dignity and respect of the local (party) positions.”

Stickel, whom Erb styled as a “conservative Republican” to Kaneshiki’s libertarianism, declined to discuss the race in detail, saying he hopes the party will unite regardless of the winner.

“There are always people with different opinions, different visions. At this point I think it’s best not to comment,” Stickel said. “Politics can be an ugly business, and I’m not about dividing the party or dividing its members.”

Stickel has controlled the county GOP since 2008, when members voted him in to replace outgoing chairman John Urban. He serves as Altoona city controller and heads a county tax committee.

As chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Republican Liberty Caucus, Kaneshiki heads the state wing of a libertarian-minded GOP branch that calls for a nationwide tax overhaul and end to the drug war and the elimination of several federal departments.

“I think you will find there’s a difference both in style and substance,” Erb said. “They’re very different personalities.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.