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Conversations with the Candidates: Attorney General Mike DeWine and David Pepper

Photos: Nick Castele, Ohio Public Radio & TV screenshot
Photos: Nick Castele, Ohio Public Radio & TV screenshot

Republican incumbent Mike DeWine and Democratic challenger David Pepper have similar answers to the question of what is the most important mission of the Attorney General, whose office oversees law enforcement and consumer protection. DeWine says he feels the most important function is to protect Ohio families. Pepper says it's to keep people, families and communities safe.

They're more specific when asked about the state's heroin problem. DeWine said he's created a heroin unit to work with local jurisdictions and has held town hall meetings in communities.

"You have to first recognize there's a problem before you can do anything about it," he said. "I think prevention and education is the most important thing."

Pepper said there needs to be more treatment options in all 88 counties and more prosecution for dealers.

"We've laid out a specific plan," Pepper said. "And right now in Ohio, there is no plan on the heroin crisis. There's a whole lot of talk. There's not a lot of action."

DeWine said his office started the program to test old rape kits around the state, and that his office has taken in 8,200 kits, tested more than half of them and got hits to likely suspects in a third of those.

"Since I've taken office, we've had a four-fold increase in workload," DeWine said. "We've taken that backlog from 125 days to an average of 22 or 23 days, and we can turn a case around in 24 hours."

But Pepper said if more kits and resources were shared with crime labs around the state, the backlog could be handled more quickly.

"Right now he's only able to test 300 a month," Pepper said. "So I give him credit for beginning the testing, but I don't give him credit for not managing this process well. It's taking far too long. We know that it's working, so let's speed it up."

Pepper has been on the offensive for most of this campaign. He accused DeWine rewarding donors who've given millions to his campaign and to the Republican party with lucrative debt-collection contracts, often by rigging bids and fudging business records.

"This is the office in Ohio, more than any other, that's supposed to be cracking down on corruption and calling out pay-to-play and demanding integrity in government, and it's breaking all the rules."

DeWine said those charges are "totally irresponsible" and that his office is following the law.

"There's no secret about who gets business," DeWine said. "There's no secret about who gives money. It's all published. There's no way that anybody giving money to my campaign, any more than would for anybody else, that that impacts what people get business."

And the two also disagree strongly on social issues. Pepper wants DeWine to stop fighting for Ohio's same-sex marriage ban, but DeWine said he has to uphold the Ohio Constitution.

DeWine is a well-known opponent of abortion rights and the federal Affordable Care Act, and said he filed the first friend-of-the court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case involving Hobby Lobby and birth control because it was about religious liberty. But Pepper said DeWine used taxpayer dollars to fight for his extreme positions.

And as for reports that Pepper paid almost $10,000 in parking tickets over a decade and a half, Pepper said that's an old story dredged up for the political silly season. DeWine only said he didn't understand how that happened and that his wife would have been angry.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.