Ohio 2022 primary: Who are the Republican candidates for governor?

Incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine faces three Republican challengers — Joe Blystone, Ron Hood and Jim Renacci — seeking to unseat him in the party primary.

On May 3, voters in Ohio’s partisan primaries will choose the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor. This story profiles the Republican candidates. The winner, in November, faces the winner of the Democratic primary.

A story on the Democrats, former Cincinnati mayor John Cranley and former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, appeared April 10.

Joe Blystone

Credit: Jaclyn Mims

Credit: Jaclyn Mims

Joe Blystone is a self-described constitutional conservative whose run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination stems largely from his anger at Ohio governments’ response to COVID-19.

“All this government overreach has to stop,” he said.

By that Blystone means, at least in part, early-pandemic orders to temporarily close nonessential businesses where people gathered in close quarters.

He accused DeWine of “work(ing) against the people in wanting to steal our rights.”

“One barn-burner that is very bright right now is individual health autonomy,” Blystone said, by which he means prohibiting any requirement to get a COVID-19 vaccination or tell anyone whether you have.

“It should be your choice and your choice only,” he said.

Blystone said he received childhood vaccinations but refused to say if he has been vaccinated against COVID-19 — calling the question “Nazi Germany stuff.”

Mask requirements for students were a “heinous abuse of our children” that scientific data does not support, he said.

A nationwide study by Yale researchers, published in January, found mask requirements for children cut school closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks by 13%. A study of Arkansas school districts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in January, found those with universal mask requirements had 23% fewer COVID-19 cases than districts that didn’t.

Blystone, 53, was born in East Liverpool and founded Blystone Farm in 2004. That includes a steakhouse, market, butcher shop, bakery and event venue, employing more than 70. He founded the nonprofit Agricultural Community Inc. to educate about food and farming in 2019.

“I’m like the majority of folks here in this state,” Blystone said. “We work hard, we try to take care of our families, we run our businesses or work outside the home. We just want to be left alone to do what we do in this great country.”

Blystone has never run for office before. His running mate is Marion native and fellow political novice Jeremiah Workman, an author, Marine Corps veteran and former IT worker. In January Workman replaced Blystone’s former running mate, Canton restaurant owner Joanna Swallen, who dropped out in October.

Jaclyn Mims has known Blystone since 2018, and since January 2020 has handled social media, marketing and events for Blystone Farm.

“I love working for Joe,” Mims said. “I would not say Joe is a perfect person, but Joe is somebody who has heart and goes for it. If he sees something that is wrong, he’ll be the first person who will fix it.”

Mims described Blystone as hard-working, usually on the job before she arrived at 6 a.m. He’s a good leader, dedicated and a good listener, she said.

“He’s misunderstood a lot,” Mims said. “A lot of people don’t really give him the chance to get to know him.”

Mims said Blystone “has a heart for kids” and loves to teach them about farming.

Bystone said he stands for “what’s right, what’s Godly,” and wants to “put the power back into the people’s hands.”

He said he has publicly declared he won’t accept money from PACs, SuperPACs, nonprofits, money from unknown sources or “with strings attached.”

Blystone said he would appoint people to state departments who “have the same ideologies, that want to work for the people.”

“The special interests will be gone,” he said. Too many current appointees are working to “pad their life and their pockets,” Blystone said.

As for getting his agenda through the General Assembly, “I’m just going to take Trump’s playbook,” Blystone said. “He let us know where the roadblocks were.”

Mike DeWine

Credit: Paul Vernon

Credit: Paul Vernon

Incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine said he wants another four-year term to develop the long-term agenda he laid out in the year before COVID-19 hit. He reiterated several of those initiatives during his State of the State speech in March.

“I’m running for reelection as governor to complete the work that we started,” DeWine said.

As the pandemic wanes, Ohio is moving forward economically, due to a good business climate with low taxes and reasonable regulations, he said.

DeWine pointed to Intel’s announcement last year that it will build two computer chip factories northeast of Columbus, a $20 billion project. That will be augmented by the relocation or development of Intel’s suppliers, as happened following Honda’s 1977 announcement that it would build factories in Ohio, he said.

DeWine, 75, was born in Springfield. After attending Miami University and Ohio Northern University’s law school, he worked as an assistant prosecutor in Greene County until his 1976 election as county prosecutor.

Elected to the Ohio Senate in 1980, he served until 1982, when he was elected to the U.S. House district southwest of Cleveland and Akron. DeWine held that seat until 1991, when he was elected lieutenant governor under Gov. George Voinovich.

DeWine resigned that office on his 1994 election to the U.S. Senate. He was reelected senator in 2000, but in 2006 lost to current Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Barbara Mills of Beavercreek was DeWine’s state director during his time in the U.S. Senate.

“I met the DeWines in November of 1992,” she said. Mills went to their Cedarville home for her job interview, and found the house full of children.

“That has sort of been the theme of their life,” she said. “He doesn’t have a lot of hobbies outside of his public service, and if he can’t do it with his wife and his family, then he doesn’t do it.”

Elected Ohio attorney general in 2010, DeWine held that position until his 2018 election as governor. For 2022 he retains his 2018 running mate, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

DeWine had been governor for a year when the pandemic began. Early on he shut down in-person schools, restaurants and stores, later issued a statewide mask mandate and imposed other restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. He was advised by Dr. Amy Acton, then director of the Ohio Department of Health, but she stepped down in summer 2020 after backlash from Republican legislators. Subsequently, legislators gave themselves the power to cancel any further health orders.

“Even though the legislature and I have not always agreed on everything, this legislature has been very supportive of the major initiatives that we have placed in front of them,” DeWine said.

He cited the General Assembly’s support of H2Ohio, a decade-long water quality effort that was allocated $172 million for its first two years. Legislators understood the need to protect Lake Erie for recreation and to provide drinking water for 3 million Ohioans, DeWine said.

Barbara Mills said DeWine is thoughtful, low-key and dedicated to his job.

“You cannot outwork Mike DeWine,” she said.

DeWine said the state has put more money into early childhood development, assistance to pregnant women, and education — defining education broadly, from prenatal care to state-paid advanced training for late-career workers.

“But we have a ways to go,” he said.

Topping his agenda for the next four years is greater state investment in mental health to dramatically accelerate community-based mental health services.

“No state has lived up to the commitment that was made in the ‘60s,” he said. “As we deinstitutionalized people, turned them out into the community, the promise was that we would have the support they needed in whatever community they lived in.”

DeWine said he’ll also call for construction of statewide high-speed internet, especially for the Appalachian region. That would be coupled with more water and sewer infrastructure money for Appalachian communities.

“We still have places in Ohio where they’re trucking water in to residents,” he said.

DeWine said he will propose creation of a dedicated fund to provide annual training for police, especially for small-town departments that can’t afford it.

“There needs to be a real emphasis on what’s called scenario-based training, which is kind of the ‘shoot and don’t-shoot’ scenarios,” he said.

DeWine has urged the revival of a 2-year-old bill cosponsored by state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, that would have not only created sustained funding but would monitor police use of force and discipline.

He said the state has designated $250 million for communities to create their own local programs. In December, DeWine announced that amount from federal American Rescue Plan funds would be available for grants to police and other first responders.

Ron Hood

Former state Rep. Ron Hood and his running mate, former state Rep. Candice Keller, describe themselves on their campaign website as “Forever Trumpers.”

Their campaign did not respond to requests for comment, so the following is compiled from previous media reports and the candidates’ stated positions.

Hood, 52, a Circleville resident, graduated from Ohio State University and has worked as a marketing consultant for American Way Investment Corp.

He has run unsuccessfully for state House and Senate, and U.S. House seats. Hood has won election to the Ohio House, holding a seat southwest of Chillicothe from 1995 to 2000 and 2005 to 2006; and a seat northeast of Chillicothe from 2013 to 2020.

Hood and Keller have a record of across-the-board opposition to abortion and COVID-19 precautions, and support for looser gun laws.

They tout their sponsorship of a “heartbeat bill” to outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable — generally around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

Hood and Keller jointly introduced such a bill during the overlap in their state legislative terms. It died in a House committee, but a Senate version passed. The bill’s implementation has been blocked by a federal court.

Although former President Donald Trump won Ohio by an 8-point margin in 2020, Hood and Keller want to conduct a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election. Republicans have done so in several states, with none turning up significant evidence of voter fraud.

Their campaign website pledges to ban the teaching of critical race theory, in primary schools and state colleges.

Last year some Ohio Republican legislators sought to pass bills against teaching critical race theory, but those they remain in committee. They refer to teaching “divisive concepts,” dealing primarily with race, gender and specific topics in U.S. history such as slavery.

Critical race theory is the academic concept that racism is not just individual prejudice, but is built into legal and social systems. If taught at all it generally appears in college courses; but claims that CRT is taught to small children have made it a hot-button issue nationwide. Opponents denounce the bans as an attempt to suppress discussion of legitimate issues.

Jim Renacci

Credit: Tony Dejak

Credit: Tony Dejak

Business and political success haven’t changed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci, according to Ron Paydo of Wadsworth

“The group of friends he had 30 years ago, he still has today,” said Paydo, community president and dedicated group manager for Huntington National Bank.

Renacci, 63, is originally from Pennsylvania where he graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was on Wadsworth City Council from 1999 to 2003, and was Wadsworth mayor from 2004 to 2008.

Elected to the U.S. House in 2010, he represented the district southwest of Cleveland until 2019. In 2018 Renacci announced a run for governor, but instead ran for U.S. Senate. He lost to Democratic incumbent Brown.

Renacci’s running mate for 2022 is Christian movie producer and motivational speaker Joe Knopp, who has no political experience but has made a documentary supporting former President Donald Trump.

In 2020 Renacci commissioned a study from researchers at the University of Akron and Ball State University. It concludes Ohio should invest in all levels of education, boost small business instead of wooing big manufacturers, diversify the economy and lower average households’ taxes. Quality of life is a dominant factor in drawing people and jobs, but in 2018 Ohio ranked 45th in the country on that score, the report said.

Renacci said he doesn’t entirely blame incumbent DeWine.

“We have been going in this direction for the past 25 years,” he said. “We continue to have 20th-century economic policies in the 21st century.”

Ohio taxes and spends too much, Renacci said, has too many regulations and ranks low for business friendliness. He said Ohio needs to be more family friendly to attract people. Renacci said spending should be cut to levels comparable with surrounding states, and the tax code changed to make Ohio more competitive.

Over the years Renacci bought and operated multiple nursing homes. He also bought a troubled car dealership in Wadsworth, saving 50 local jobs, Paydo said.

“He’s been able throughout his career to go into tough situations on the business side and turn things around,” he said.

As a longtime business owner Renacci knows what it’s like to establish a budget and meet payrolls, Paydo said.

“Running a state is like running a business, and Jim has run a lot of businesses very, very successfully,” he said.

Renacci also has plans for public education, but not to increase spending.

“I’m going to ask the legislature to eliminate (critical race theory), SEL (social and emotional learning) and comprehensive sex education at the same time,” he said.

The number of school districts and state colleges should be looked at closely as public school enrollment declines, Renacci said.

“I’m not saying we have to eliminate them, but we have to start looking at our overhead,” he said.

Renacci said he doesn’t advocate the Backpack Bill, House Bill 290, but is for “something similar.” That bill, introduced last May and now in a House committee, would divert public school funding to pay for children to attend private schools. Public educators have decried it as a way to defund public education and warn that it lacks oversight of spending.

Renacci criticizes the amount Ohio spends on Medicaid: nearly $35 billion in fiscal 2022. That amount has increased steadily for years. Medicaid covers about 3 million Ohioans, mostly children and the elderly; about two-thirds of its cost is paid from federal funds.

Ohio should take care of children, the elderly and disabled, but should look to other states for ways to cut costs, he said.

Renacci said he wants to strengthen police, privatize prisons, require a photo ID to vote and hold comprehensive audits of voting systems.

“We should not be bringing illegal aliens into this state. Refugees as well. We should be taking care of our homeless veterans first,” he said.

Immigrants living here illegally are estimated to make up about 1% of Ohio’s population. The state has accepted an average of fewer than 2,000 refugees per year, but that is likely to increase with President Joe Biden’s raising of the federal cap on refugee admission.

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