ECOT and political independence central in Ohio attorney general race

The two men running for Ohio attorney general, Republican Dave Yost and Democrat Steve Dettelbach, both boast that they’ve put away corrupt public officials and have a track record of political independence.

But Yost charges that Dettelbach would use the office to advance a political agenda and Dettelbach paints Yost as a career politician, hop-skipping from one office to the next.

“I’ve got a proven record of calling balls and strikes and ignoring politics,” said Yost, the state auditor since 2011.

Related: Auditor on ECOT school case: ‘I believe this may rise to a criminal act’

“I don’t view it (the attorney general’s office) as a political office and by his promises and his public communications, he does. I don’t believe that we should make law through the courts, he does. I don’t believe in using lawsuits as a political weapon, he does,” Yost said of Dettelbach.

Dettelbach, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said he has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans for political corruption and went up against the Cleveland Police Department.

Dettelbach says Yost is a career politician who sat on the Ohio Apportionment Board and agreed to gerrymandered political maps, failed to stand up against online charter school operator Bill Lager who was a political donor, and refuses to stand up to President Donald Trump.

“He started out as a guy who called the president evil and he is now singing to him, literally serenading him,” Dettelbach said.

Their differences

The attorney general runs Ohio’s largest public interest law firm, four state crime labs, a police training academy and the state’s debt collection system and represents state agencies, pension funds and universities.

Yost earned an undergraduate degree from Ohio State University, worked as a newspaper journalist and received a law degree from Capital University in Columbus. Yost, 61, has spent two decades in elected office: Delaware City Council, Delaware County auditor, Delaware County prosecutor, Ohio auditor.

Dettelbach, 52, went to Dartmouth for undergrad and then Harvard law. He has never held elected office but spent 20 years in the U.S. Department of Justice as a federal prosecutor. He is currently a partner at Baker & Hostetler.

On the campaign trail, both men are highlighting that they’re tough on public corruption.

Yost said that he helped secure convictions for 165 public officials as state auditor. But his list includes some cases prosecuted by Dettelbach, cases started by his predecessor in the auditor’s office and some cases are counted multiple times.

Still, Yost's auditors uncovered waste, fraud and abuse across Ohio—forgery, theft in office, unlawful interest in public contracts and more.

Yost said he has a track record of going up against his own party: he advocated for reforms and disclosures for online charter schools, pushed to audit the books of JobsOhio, and conducted an audit of use of the state-owned aircraft that resulted in Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor paying back money for flights deemed personal.

As a career federal prosecutor, Dettelbach took on cases involving involuntary servitude, bribing public officials, campaign finance violations, operating a major heroin ring, bank fraud, human trafficking and running an identity theft ring.

Key issues

Here are a few items both men said they would address as attorney general:

* Dramatically speed up turnaround time for drug test results from the state crime labs so criminal cases can be prosecuted;

*Conduct a review of how the office picks outside law firms to do legal work and ensure contracts are awarded based on merit;

* Address Ohio’s opiate addiction crisis by focusing on enforcement, prevention and treatment.

Dettelbach also noted that he would push health insurance companies to cover non-addictive pain management methods and look at whether they’re complying with federal and state mandates to cover behavioral health, which includes substance abuse disorder and mental health treatment, the same as physical health.

Related: State’s record in enforcing insurance mandate questioned

Yost and Dettelbach have wildly different takes on Lager’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school that abruptly closed its doors in January and sold off its assets in a public auction. Between 2000 and 2018, the state paid ECOT $1.07 billion but the school’s graduation rate ranked among the worst in Ohio, hovering between 30 and 40 percent.

Related: Dems want to pin ECOT blame on GOP in the fall

Lager made $993,791 in campaign contributions to candidates and political parties, largely to Republicans, since 2012. The Columbus Dispatch, which looked back further and included other ECOT officials, tallied $2.5 million in political donations over the past two decades.

Dettelbach said Yost took campaign contributions from Lager and his associates while he was supposed to be independently auditing ECOT.

“Because he was too close to them, because he was taking money from them, he treated them with kid gloves, he fawned over them. It wasn’t just that he didn’t catch them, he went to speak at their graduation while they were overbilling the state of Ohio to the tune of tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars,” Dettelbach said.

What is State Issue 1?

Yost, however, said the auditor makes sure there is compliance with rules established by regulators. He argues that in 2014 his office sought data to determine how long ECOT students spent online but got push back from both ECOT and the Ohio Department of Education.

He maintains that he was instrumental in getting charter school reforms passed in House Bill 2 and in May 2018 he released and referred an audit on ECOT to state and federal prosecutors for possible criminal charges.

“I’m a little bit tired of being flogged over a cherry-picked set of facts and a fake timeline that doesn’t match what we’ve actually done for years on this topic,” Yost said.

Who is running for state treasurer?


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