A Republican political operative with a sketchy past is transforming a local GOP chapter in Ohio into a nationalized money-making operation -- and it could offer a glimpse of the party's future.
Shannon Burns has legally transformed the Strongsville Republican Party into the Better Ohio PAC, which he formed nine days after Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) voted to impeach Donald Trump, and he helped chase the area's congressman out of politics and keeping local conservatives at a constant state of agitation over masks, critical race theory and "defund the police," reported Politico.
"There's this group that put together this fake report about our police, and this fake report is trying to use some statistics that say that our police are racist," Burns said at one recent event that resembled a much smaller Trump rally, with the crowd booing on cue. "And then they also want the 'Thin Blue Line' flag in headquarters to be taken down because they think that's a racist symbol. Know what we said? We said, 'Hell no.'"
Burns has drawn national conservative figures to events that raise money for his political action committee, which Plain Dealer editorial cartoonist Jeff Darcy dubbed a "de facto Trumplican cult," and his past turns up a lengthy record of evictions, bankruptcies, overdue taxes and dozens of lawsuits against him and his companies.
"He's a scumbag, and anybody associated with him needs to hang their head in shame," said former employee Elva Heuschkel, who sued him in 2013 for $3,384.61 -- which Burns actually paid. "I think I'm one of the few that got money from him. I was one of the lucky ones."
Others who've done business with the 46-year-old Burns called him "a shyster," "a flimflam artist" and "Scammin' Shannon."
"You got the red and you got the blue, but Shannon's 'conservatism' is green," said Ralph King, a longtime conservative activist in the area. "Who can put it in his scamming little pocket?"
Martin Schutte, who received a 2017 judgment for more than $53,000 in his lawsuit against Burns but never received his money, warned the Strongsville GOP that its leader was a "fake Republican and a fraud."
"He runs everybody through the mud," Schutte said. "He still has not paid me, and no one makes him — like, there's no consequences at all, and I think he knows that, so he doesn't care. He's, like, 'If there's no consequences, why should I have to do anything?'"
Burns has run the Strongsville GOP since early 2015, and he quickly nationalized two unsuccessful city council races by putting Trump and Hillary Clinton on mailers, but he was elected in 2020 to the state central committee by aligning himself closely with Trump -- and has only embraced the twice-impeached one-term president tighter since his re-election loss.
"All I've done," Burns told Politico, "is figured out how to catch the wave."