The gloves came off early and stayed off during Ohio’s first gubernatorial debate of 2018 between Mike DeWine and Richard Cordray.
For a solid hour, the two candidates did not bother to jab at each other but seemed to go straight for a knockout blow.
They were asked about the opioid and drug-addiction crisis in Ohio, about guns, abortion, President Trump, and ‘Issue 1’ on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Several commentators noted afterward that the tone seemed to be one of personal animosity rather than carving out their positions on the issues.
If that was the tone, it was set by Cordray, who went first in his opening remarks and immediately went into attack mode, calling DeWine a “failure” at all levels.
DeWine returned the favor later when the subject turned to the opioid crisis. “You know, Richard, you’re all talk and you do nothing. You’ve been a failure at every job you’ve had. The last job you hand the inspectors said there was a culture of discrimination, that one-fourth of women and minorities felt they were discriminated against.”
Cordray said asking DeWine for direction on how to solve the opioid crisis “was like asking for directions from the captain of the Titanic.”
DeWine blasted Cordray for allowing a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits while he was Ohio’s attorney general, a post that Cordray handed off to DeWine.
“You left us with a mess. We cleaned it up,” DeWine said.
After the hour-long debate ended the two men did shake hands but did not appear to say much of anything and barely looked at each other before parting ways.
Republicans seemed pleased with DeWine’s performance in the first debate and how he repelled Cordray’s aggressive personal attacks by dishing out some stern rebukes of his own.
“Mike DeWine is known in Ohio for getting things done. Cordray tried to portray Mike as a lazy, do-nothing leader, which that characterization was really off,” said Ohio State Senator Peggy Lehner (R-06) in an interview with WHIOE1 after the debate.
“What I heard from Richard Cordray was a string of political clichés and well-rehearsed one-liners, like that comment about the captain of the Titanic,” Lehner said. On the opioid crisis, Lehner said she heard no specifics from Cordray whereas DeWine laid out a strategy that includes closing “pill mills” and supporting the drug courts.
On abortion, Cordray tried to paint DeWine as “extreme” because he is unapologetically pro-life.
Cordray said he would proudly veto the so-called “heartbeat bill” that was passed by the Ohio legislature but vetoed by Gov. John Kasich. The bill would have banned all abortions after the point when an unborn baby has a heartbeat.
DeWine responded with words of compassion for young mothers who may feel they are not in a financial position to support a baby and said he would sign the heartbeat bill.
“I am prolife. I believe that government exists to protect the most vulnerable people, and that includes the unborn as well as the born,” DeWine said. “I think any woman in a troubled pregnancy, we need to help her, we need to give her whatever assistance we can. We have put real emphasis on early childhood development, but early childhood development means before that child is even born. We are going to have the most focused outreach to women in difficult circumstances, those who don’t have enough money, we are going to reach out to them and help them.”
When it comes to mass shootings at schools and on the streets, Cordray’s only answer was to make vague references to gun control.
DeWine has a broader approach.
“We have a plan that we have put forward. We need a mental-health specialist in every school and that’s important not just to identify problems of violence that might happen in the future, but because of the suicide rate, which is a growing problem. Third, in our Fusion Center in Columbus we will do in every school what some schools are already doing, which is to go on social media and see what students are posting. Fourth, we will continue our work to make our criminal records accurate and correct, because as we’ve seen that’s important for the records to be correct and accurate when someone undergoes a background check.”
Cordray turned the conversation immediately to gun control.
“We are talking about gun violence but you really don’t want to talk about guns,” he told DeWine. “Taking guns out of the hands of criminals, people with mental health [issues]… Yes, some people think that’s not the right thing to do but we need leadership from someone who will do it. We have shootings every day in the state, we need to clean up the violence. I will work with local law enforcement to do that.”
Cordray said he has the backing of the state’s major law enforcement unions.
There are already laws against selling guns to felons and people with certain diagnosed mental health diseases, so Cordray’s answer on how to stop mass shootings fell short of the mark.
Cordray attacked DeWine on his tax plan, saying his whole economic agenda was about “tax cuts for the rich” whereas he would be the kind of governor who would “work for all of us.”
“Unfortunately, Richard, you have a whole track record of failure,” DeWine said. “We are in the building where NCR once was, and GM left Dayton under your watch, so I would not bring that up if I were you. We will offer tax incentives for people to put that into growing jobs.”
DeWine gave a blistering critique of Cordray’s support for Issue 1, a ballot proposal that would reduce many drug crimes from felonies down to misdemeanors, including for possession of up to 19 grams of the dangerous opioid fentanyl.
“What he is advocating for the state of Ohio is to do something that is outrageous, that someone could have enough fentanyl to kill 10,000 people, and yet that person could not be sentenced to a felony, would not serve any jail time,” DeWine said. “In every other state it’s a felony. If we’re the only one that makes it a misdemeanor, where do you think the drug dealers are going to come?”
DeWine cited the opinion of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who has said Issue 1, if passed by voters, would bring “catastrophic” consequences to the state, turning it into a haven for dealers and pushers big and small.
Each candidate was asked how he will vote on Issue 1.
“I will vote no, my opponent will vote yes,” DeWine said. “If you want to know the difference between the two candidates, there is no issue more telling than this one. Enough fentanyl to kill 10,000 people, you really think Richard that someone who has that much fentanyl is just an addict? You know they are more than that. Unbelievable. This would be available to armed robbers, drug dealers, and it’s going to destroy our drug courts. We have judges out there who are heroes, working with people, but you have to have both the carrot and the stick. A misdemeanor with no jail time [for that much fentanyl], it makes absolutely no sense.”
Cordray said he would implement medical marijuana and also argued in favor of letting Ohioans vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
“I will implement [medical marijuana]. I will do so cleanly and so people will have it as a treatment for pain, and perhaps as a treatment for opioid addiction as well,” he said. “I would support putting recreational marijuana back on the ballot and let people decide.”
Cordray said he put $12 billion “back into the pockets” of consumers who were mistreated by big corporations while running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the Obama administration, a figure that The Ohio Star has reported is grossly exaggerated.
“You can talk about going against Wall Street, but what you really did was go against community bankers,” DeWine said. “We lost a fourth of them in Ohio while you were harassing them. By the way, you won’t take a position on things. You talk about recreational marijuana. I’m against it. It’s more than twice as potent as it used to be. And when you tell a 14-year-old marijuana is legal, that it’s OK, what do you think they’re going to do? And the other thing we haven’t told them is what it does to the brain. We didn’t know that until recently.”
In thinking so much about protecting Ohio teenagers, Cordray said DeWine was just too old-fashioned.
“Mike, you have been living in the past and you continue to live the past,” Cordray said. “Marijuana has been legal in several states and it should be put to the people of the state of Ohio to decide, and that’s what I plan to do.”
Mandi Merritt, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, offered an enthusiastic reaction to the debate.
“Mike DeWine won tonight’s debate with his experience, record and passion for Ohioans,” Merritt said in an email to The Star. “While Richard Cordray would rather see us turn back the clock on Ohio’s economic progress, Mike DeWine will lead Ohio forward to more jobs, lower taxes and better opportunity for all. Richard Cordray’s record of job loss, discrimination and mismanagement are disqualifying, and Ohioans can’t afford more of his failed leadership in the Governor’s office.”
This was the first of three debates. Could the next two get any hotter?
Watch the first question of the debate, courtesy of WHIO Channel 7:
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