As screams from the amusement rides filtered in and the aroma of deep-fried everything wafted from the midway, what organizers hope will become a new political tradition was unveiled Saturday at the Ohio State Fair.
Led by the pair of major-party candidates for governor, politicians seeking Ohioans’ votes mounted a “soapbox” — a small stage adorned with straw bales — to announce to fairgoers what they will do if elected Nov. 6.
The knots of people were treated to the largely typical stump speeches of the men who would be governor — Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine — at the event organized by Gannett’s USA Today Network Ohio, Ohio News Media Association and the state fair.
DeWine, who became Ohio’s attorney general after dumping Cordray from the office in 2010, pronounced, “Throughout my career, I’ve been someone who’s led … and solved problems we had.”
DeWine recounted his lengthy political career and what he considered his successes, in saying two problems will command his foremost attention if he becomes governor — downsizing the opioid epidemic and producing drug-free, trained workers to take jobs that go unfilled.
The attorney general said his recent announcement that he will retain the Medicaid expansion for the working poor will help treat addicts, and work requirements he would impose would “get able-bodied adults back in the game.”
Cordray touched on a broad range of policy points, but stressed, “What is on most people’s minds is concerns about their economic futures.” He said, on average, that the economy is doing well.
“But people don’t live in the averages, they live in their communities” and worry about health care, secure jobs and their children’s education.
The candidate emphasized his governorship would be one that would leave no Ohioan behind, saying the state’s residents “deserve better” than what has been produced by all-Republican rule of statewide offices.
“One thing when you look at Mike DeWine you can’t see is the future of Ohio; you just can’t see it,” Cordray said.
Cordray called for a more-diverse, more-welcoming state, saying businesses desire progressive communities when locating their workplaces. He recalled the North Carolina bill to require transgender students to use bathrooms matching their birth gender, causing businesses to balk at moving to the state.
“We’re one or two bills out of the (Ohio) legislature from being a North Carolina and not being welcoming,” Cordray said.
DeWine told reporters that he opposes a constitutional amendment headed to the fall ballot that would reduce low-level felonies for drug use and possession to first-degree misdemeanors and lead to the potential release of those now imprisoned for some drug crimes.
Though saying “there are legitimate issues regarding penalties” for some drug offenders, DeWine said the issue should receive examination for potential changes by the General Assembly. He dislikes the notion of the issue being written into the Ohio Constitution.
Cordray strongly supports the measure, saying he would work for its passage to divert addicts from expensive prisons to affordable treatment, leaving them without felony records and a chance at jobs and a future. He chided DeWine’s preference to hand the matter off to lawmakers, saying they have done nothing to address the issue.
The Ohio fair event, styled after the Iowa State Fair tradition of soapbox speeches by presidential candidates, was open to candidates for governor, attorney general, U.S. Senate and area congressional races.