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Democrats Aim Criticism At GOP In Ohio Governor's Race Debate In Cleveland

From left to right, Former State Rep. Connie Pillich, State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley debate in Cleveland. [ideastream]

Four Democratic candidates for Ohio governor largely avoided criticizing one another in Monday night’s City Club of Cleveland debate, focusing their condemnation instead on Republican state leadership.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, State Sen. Joe Schiavoni and former State Rep. Connie Pillich discussed opioids, healthcare and education during the hour-long event at the Idea Center at Playhouse Square.

The Democratic field will likely grow soon, as former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray is expected to announce his candidacy on Tuesday.

Watch the full debate below:

Opioid crisis

The candidates proposed bringing more to bear on the crisis of opioid addiction.

Schiavoni said Ohio should spend 10 percent of its rainy-day fund on the crisis, funding law enforcement, treatment and the foster care system. 

Pillich, who proposed allowing all Ohioans to buy into Medicaid or lawmakers’ healthcare plans, said treatment dollars must be kept flowing into the state. But she also said there was an economic answer.

“My first line of prevention is to make sure people have a good job, the dignity of work and the ability to support your family,” Pillich said. “And we have to use every resource available to educate Ohioans about the dangers and the deadliness of these pills.”

Sutton criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike DeWine, but agreed with his decision to sue drug companies.

“We should hold them accountable, but we also need prevention,” Sutton said. “We also need education. We need more beds for treatment. We need jobs and opportunities for everyday Ohioans, because nothing stops a needle like a job and hope for a future.”

Whaley suggested charging drug manufacturers five cents per dose of prescription painkillers.

“They’re the ones that are making huge profits on this stuff,” Whaley said. “That will help us have a sustainable funding source. This is about justice for taxpayers, justice for people that have lost loved ones and justice for the people that are fighting with addiction in our communities every single day right now.”

Education funding

Audience members asked questions during the second half of the program. The first came from Democratic state board of education member Meryl Johnson: How would the candidates respond to state supreme court decisions finding Ohio’s education funding model unconstitutional?

Pillich touted an “education stimulus package” proposal. She said the plan would “make universal pre-K a reality for all our children, have a robust, balanced K-12 curriculum with a focus on the STEM fields.”

Schiavoni said he would close failing charter schools and make “targeted investments” in school districts.

“It’s been going on year after year in the statehouse, where the senators and House members just kick the can down the road,” Schiavoni said. “We need to invest in a meaningful way, so that the school districts aren’t begging the local voters for dollars every single year.”

Sutton said she would support vocational education, community college and affordable higher ed, in order to promote job development.

“We have to do that by funding education, pre-K through lifelong learning,” Sutton said. “That’s the way this state becomes what it can, and that’s the way our people prosper.”

Trump rarely mentioned

While the candidates criticized Republican leadership in Columbus, they paid less attention to President Trump, who won Ohio by eight points last year.

Asked about the GOP president after the debate, Schiavoni said he doesn’t start meetings on the campaign trail with questions about the 2016 election.

“Let’s talk about 2018, let’s talk about how we can build a stronger Ohio,” he said. “That way, you’re talking about everybody, you’re not saying it’s us against them. If a Democrat doesn’t pick up Trump crossover voters, we’re dead.”

Whaley, who during the debate criticized state cuts to local governments, said last year’s election was about frustration.

“They recognized that nobody’s paying attention to them, that they felt forgotten, invisible and ignored,” she said. “I can relate as the mayor of Dayton, and in the city of Dayton, we feel forgotten, invisible and ignored by the Statehouse, too.”

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