Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner entered the race for chief justice Tuesday, touching off likely bipartisan competition next year for the state judiciary's top job.

Brunner, 64, is a former common pleas and appellate judge who also served one term as Ohio secretary of state. Her nearly 11-percentage-point victory over incumbent Justice Judi French last year gave Democrats three of seven seats on the state's high court, a high-water mark for the party in recent years.

“Steady and principled leadership of the state’s highest court is essential to helping Ohioans realize justice in their everyday lives,” Brunner said during a virtual news conference called to announce her bid. “I know that courts can do good things for people — protect their health, safety, and welfare — with fairness, equality, and respect.”

Brunner seeks a seat being vacated by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor due to age limits. O'Connor will turn 70 in August, the age after which judges may not run. Two of O’Connor's fellow Republicans, justices Sharon Kennedy, 59, and Pat DeWine, 53, son to Gov. Mike DeWine, are also expected to run.

Supreme Court justices serve six-year terms and run without party labels. A bill moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature would change that, requiring the party affiliation of chief justice and associate justice candidates to be listed. The measure cleared the Ohio Senate in April and awaits action in the Ohio House.

Brunner is able to run for chief justice without risking her current position on the court, which runs through 2026.

She has pursued her career in politics sometimes at odds with her own party.

In 2010, Brunner opted against running for a second term as secretary of state to run for a coveted open seat in the U.S. Senate created by Republican George Voinovich's retirement. Powerful party leaders had hoped to clear the Democratic primary for then-Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, but Brunner persisted. With their backing, Fisher defeated her in the primary then went on to lose the general election to Republican Rob Portman.

In a statement, Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Paduchik called Brunner “singularly focused on self-serving promotions.”

“It is hard to fathom why a justice who was elected just over six months ago and has not yet written a majority opinion would ask to be promoted to chief justice," he said.

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