What the next governor of Ohio plans to do about the opioid crisis was a major topic of the first debate between candidates Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine Wednesday night.
Cordray repeatedly accused DeWine of failing to solve the problem during eight years as attorney general, the state’s top law enforcement officer.
For his part, DeWine criticized Cordray’s support of Issue 1, a Nov. 6 ballot measure that would reduce criminal sentences for some non-violent drug offenses.
Cordray, who served as attorney general before DeWine, pointed to the increase in overdose deaths Ohio has experienced during the eight years that DeWine has been in office.
Taking advice from DeWine on solving the opioid epidemic would be like “asking for navigation advice from the captain of the Titanic,” Cordray said.
DeWine defended his record, saying he moved to shut down pill mills during his first month in the AG’s office. Over-prescribing of opioid pain medications by doctors at such facilities has been cited as one of the causes of the current epidemic. When those doctors were put out of business, those addicted to the drugs increasingly have turned to heroin and other street drugs now frequently containing the dangerous synthetic fentanyl.
Cordray also took issue with DeWine’s proposal to appoint a drug czar if elected. “News flash: We already have an opioid czar,” Cordray said, meaning DeWine. “When you see him, tell him he’s doing a horrible job.”
Both candidates have said they would create a permanent cabinet-level office in Columbus to oversee a coordinated state-wide effort against the drug crisis.
Jobs and education plans highlighted
The candidates also touched on how they would move Ohio’s economy forward, with Cordray highlighting clean energy and infrastructure improvement projects and DeWine committing to supporting local governments and the roughly 27,000 jobs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“We want to be prepared the next time there is a BRAC, the next time there is a realignment,” DeWine said. “Not only do we have an opportunity to not lose jobs, but we have a great opportunity to gain jobs as well.”
Cordray said many Ohioans feel left out of the economic recovery.
PATH FORWARD: How do we get the economy to boom for all?
“We need to create an economy that works not just for some of us, not just for those at the top, but for all of us,” he said.
Cordray said he’s committed to working with small businesses, which employ 46 percent of the state’s workforce.
Both candidates lauded the importance of community colleges in training Ohio workers for jobs without the debt of four-year universities.
Cordray said he supports having a number of pathways to employment that includes certificates, apprenticeship, two-year and four-year universities. DeWine said as governor he will make all state colleges commit to four-year tuition guarantees.
DeWine said he has a 17-point education plan that he encouraged voters to read. It focuses on less testing, more career tech options, better technology and improved college affordability.
Issue 1 divisive
Issue 1 was the topic of much heated back and forth between the two candidates.
The ballot measure would convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period.
DeWine argued that this would allow drug dealers caught with deadly amounts of fentanyl to face no penalties and would cause Ohio to become a safe haven for drug traffickers.
“Richard Cordray would put a star on Ohio and every drug dealer … would come here,” DeWine said.
RELATED: What is State Issue 1?
Cordray called that claim misleading because the measure would keep drug trafficking crimes as felonies with the same jail sentencing guidelines that are currently in place.
“Drug traffickers will meet harsh penalties,” Cordray said. “There will be no difference for fentanyl.”
Issue 1 would also prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment. DeWine said this provision will destroy the state’s drug courts because judges need “both the carrot and the stick,” to motivate people to stick with drug treatment.
Cordray said too many Ohioans are in prison for drug offenses related to addiction. There are more humane, productive and cost-effective solutions for drug offenders, he argued.
Both candidates said they will maintain Medicaid expansion, which covers rehab and medically-assisted treatment for thousands of Ohioans facing drug addiction.
DeWine, however, said he’d make some changes, including the addition of a work requirement.
Studies have shown that about 60 percent of the non-disabled, working-age adults receiving Medicaid are working full time.
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