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Guns, minimum wage top issues in Ohio Democratic governor primary

Four years ago, Ohio Democrats pushed hard for a gubernatorial candidate who looked good on paper and found one: Ed FitzGerald.

The campaign was soon run aground by scandal — including news reports that he had been questioned by police after they found him in a parked car in the early morning hours with a woman who was not his wife — and the Democrats lost a landslide election to Republican Gov. John Kasich.

This time around voters have half a dozen Democrats on the May 8 primary ballot and the Ohio Democratic Party is officially neutral.

VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Democratic candidates on the issues

Only four of the six appear to be serious contenders, and most observers see it as a two-person race between Richard Cordray, who has been on the statewide ballot five times; and Dennis Kucinich, a former Congressman turned FoxNews commentator.

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VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Republican candidates on the issues

In many ways Cordray and Kucinich are polar opposites. Cordray is known for his professorial style while Kucinich has a reputation for fiery rhetoric.

The sleeper candidate could be state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, an attorney and a former boxing champ who is currently sponsoring gun control bills in the Ohio Senate. But Schiavoni is barely known outside his Youngstown area district, and he’s running out of time to boost his name recognition before the May primary.

Also running is former Ohio Supreme Court justice Bill O’Neill, who is still trying to live down his November 2017 Facebook post when he boasted of sleeping with 50 beautiful women and brushed off the seriousness of the #MeToo movement. He has admitted he made a mistake.

The other two candidates on the ballot — Paul Ray of Alliance and Larry Ealy of Dayton — don’t appear to be actively campaigning.

The field doesn’t include a single woman. The three women who originally filed to run — Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and former Ohio Rep. Connie Pillich — all dropped out and are supporting Cordray. Sutton is Cordray’s running mate.

Although no single issue has dominated the campaign so far, Cordray and Kucinich appear furthest apart on the issue of guns, with Kucinich calling for far stricter limits on gunownership and touting his F rating from the National Rifle Association.

Early voting in the primary is already underway. To ensure that voters have the background they need on each of the candidates, we profiled the Republican candidates last Sunday and are doing the Democrats today. The winner in November will replace Gov. John Kasich, who is term-limited.

Related: O’Neill’s boasts bring calls for his resignation

Richard Cordray

Cordray, 58, is a familiar name to Ohioans, having won his first election — for a seat in the Ohio House — in 1990. He won statewide elections for Ohio treasurer and Ohio attorney general before losing to Mike DeWine in the 2010 AG’s race. Cordray was then selected to head the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a post he left nine months early so he could run for governor.

Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray answers a question during The Journal-News and WLWT-TV sponsored Ohio Democratic Party sanctioned debate for governor candidates hosted by Miami University Regionals Tuesday, April 10 at Finkelman Auditorium on the campus of Miami University Middletown. Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni and former congressman Dennis Kucinich were also in attendance. NICK GRAHAM/JOURNAL-NEWS (Nick Graham)

“(My running mate) Betty Sutton and I are focused on the kitchen table issues that affect families and are top of mind for them: how they’re struggling to secure their futures, access to affordable health care, better education and training, getting access to more and better jobs, and we have a track record that shows we can make a difference on those issues,” Cordray said. “We can get things done.”

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COVERING ALL SIDES

We reached out to the candidates in the local area who are on the May 8 ballot. Learn more about them and the issues in our interactive voters guide at vote.daytondailynews.com

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Cordray says he doesn’t see a need for tax increases but wants to re-prioritize where the state spends money — less for failing charter schools and more for local government to deal with issues such as the opioid crisis, he said.To combat the crisis, Cordray supports education and prevention, a drug take-back strategy, efforts to get illicit drugs off the streets and adding treatment and recovery programs.

Cordray said he wants to continue Kasich’s reforms, such as clamping down on over-prescribing of painkillers, and continuing Medicaid expansion, which extended health care coverage to 725,000 low-income Ohioans, many of whom suffer from mental health and addiction issues.

“Medicaid expansion is going to be key,” he said. “If we don’t keep Medicaid expansion, we’re going to have an even worse problem.”

He pledged to enforce the 10-year-old federal mental health parity law, which requires insurance plans to cover mental and drug abuse issues on par with physical ailments.

Related: State’s record enforcing insurance mandate is questioned

Cordray opposes efforts to make Ohio a right-to-work state where union contracts cannot mandate membership as a condition of employment and he supports boosting the state minimum wage to $15 an hour over time — a move that he says may require a statewide ballot vote.

When it comes to gun control, Cordray favors universal background checks and banning high-capacity magazines and bump stocks but he stops short of calling for an assault weapons ban or measures to remove guns from those who appear at risk of harming themselves or others.

“You know that I have always respected people’s 2nd Amendment rights and I’ve defended those rights in court,” he said. As attorney general, Cordray defended a state law that blocks local governments from adopting gun restrictions.

Cordray said he supports cracking down on abusive payday lending practices. “They’re high everywhere but it’s almost 600 percent (APR) in Ohio. Nobody can think that’s a responsible way to lend money to people or that it’s going to help them succeed in their lives,” he said.

Related: Payday lending bill comes to life as House speaker faces probe

Dennis Kucinich

Kucinich, 71, is the oldest candidate in the field, having started his political career in 1970 on the Cleveland City Council, and bills himself as the most progressive.

“I’m the real Democrat in this race. I’m a true-blue Democrat,” he said. “I think people want a governor who drives real change, positive change and not just be into incrementalism. Our campaign has been dynamic, energetic, passionate, forward looking, visionary — showing Ohioans what kind of state they could have. They could have education for all and health care for all and jobs for all and safe communities and where women’s rights are protected in an uncompromising way.”

Former congressman Dennis Kucinich answers a question during The Journal-News and WLWT-TV sponsored Ohio Democratic Party sanctioned debate for governor candidates hosted by Miami University Regionals Tuesday, April 10 at Finkelman Auditorium on the campus of Miami University Middletown. Former Ohio attorney General Richard Cordray, Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill were also in attendance. NICK GRAHAM/JOURNAL-NEWS (Nick Graham)

Kucinich pledges to veto bills the erode access to abortion, oppose right-to-work efforts and block executions on his watch. He also promises to issue executive orders in his first week on the job to mandate a $15 an hour minimum wage for all state employees and state contractors and to use the bully pulpit to push for it statewide.

When it comes to tax policies, Kucinich said he wants to eliminate the new provision that allows Limited Liability Companies, or LLCs, to pay no state income taxes on the first $250,000 in earnings. He said he supports a bond issue to raise money for infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding roads and bridges.

He’s made gun control a big part of his campaign, and favors banning assault weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and expanding background checks, school safety measures and safe storage of guns from children.

Related: Where do candidates for Ohio governor stand on gun issues?

When asked about Medicaid expansion, Kucinich said he favors a state-level single-payer health care plan that would cover all Ohioans, and he wants to legalize marijuana and treat drug addiction as a medical crisis, not a criminal crisis.

Kucinich agreed with Cordray that payday lending reforms are needed but he criticized his opponent for leaving his federal job early, where he had the chance to protect consumers in all 50 states.

“He walked off his post at a time when he was needed the most,” he said.

Kucinich’s opponents criticize his willingness to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people. Kucinich has met with Assad multiple times.

“I defend peace, I don’t defend people. I stand for peace,” Kucinich said of his meetings with Assad.

Bill O’Neill

O’Neill, 70, resigned from the Ohio Supreme Court in January — up until then he was one of just two Democrats holding statewide elected office in Ohio. (Sen. Sherrod Brown is the other one). His platform has one main theme: legalize marijuana and use the pot tax money to re-open state mental health hospitals to serve people with drug addiction.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill answers a question during The Journal-News and WLWT-TV sponsored Ohio Democratic Party sanctioned debate for governor candidates hosted by Miami University Regionals Tuesday, April 10 at Finkelman Auditorium on the campus of Miami University Middletown. Former Ohio attorney General Richard Cordray, Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni and former congressman Dennis Kucinich were also in attendance. NICK GRAHAM/JOURNAL-NEWS (Nick Graham)

When it comes to gun control, O’Neill supports banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines and instituting a “red-flag” law that would allow families to petition the court to remove guns from loved ones who appear to be at risk of self-harm or hurting others. He favors increasing the purchase age for assault weapons to 21 and requiring that they be registered with local police on an annual basis.

O’Neill opposes abortion, capital punishment and right-to-work. He favors increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour through legislation. And while he supports reforming payday lending practices, he maintains that the services are needed in Ohio.

When it comes to education, O’Neill said the school funding system has been illegal for 20 years because it relies too heavily on property taxes and results in inequities. He wants to outlaw for-profit charter schools and mandate a 40-percent cost reduction for students attending public colleges and universities over the next four years.

O’Neill points to administrative bloat and expensive athletic programs areas where universities could cut costs.

“I’m experienced. I’m a retired Army officer with a Bronze Star. I’m a registered nurse and I’m a former Supreme Court justice who brings focus to the race,” O’Neill said. “We need to do something real about the heroin crisis. We need to do something real about the for-profit prisons, like put them out of business. And we need to legalize marijuana to create jobs and save lives.”

Joe Schiavoni

At age 38, Schiavoni is decades younger than the other candidates, and the only Democrat in the field currently holding elected office.

Former Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni answers a question during The Journal-News and WLWT-TV sponsored Ohio Democratic Party sanctioned debate for governor candidates hosted by Miami University Regionals Tuesday, April 10 at Finkelman Auditorium on the campus of Miami University Middletown. Former Ohio attorney General Richard Cordray, congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill were also in attendance. NICK GRAHAM/JOURNAL-NEWS (Nick Graham)

He opposes right to work and favors increasing the minimum wage over a decade to $15 an hour, starting with a bump next year to $12 an hour. He supports abortion rights and believes the death penalty should be used in more limited circumstances. And he favors full legalization of marijuana if it passes a statewide vote and tax revenues from it are earmarked for a specific, worthy purpose, he said.

Although he has a B-plus NRA rating, Schiavoni is sponsoring a “red-flag” bill in the Ohio Senate to allow families and police to remove guns from people who appear to be a danger to themselves or others. And he says he is for banning bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

Schiavoni supports expanded Medicaid, and has long pushed to earmark 10-percent of the state’s rainy day fund for local governments struggling to deal with the opiate crisis. He said local authorities could use the money for education programs, first responders, foster care services, job retraining programs and recovery programs.

He supports efforts to crack down on payday lending. “We’ve reached a level where it’s a scam,” Schiavoni said. “It’s a rip off and it’s hurting our most vulnerable people.”

When it comes to education and job creation, Schiavoni is calling for universal pre-kindergarten for 3-year-olds, changing the school funding formula so Ohio is less reliant on property taxes, clamping down on for-profit charter schools and tying college loan forgiveness to home purchases as a way to get Ohio’s brightest and best young people to stay in the state.

No fan of massive tax cuts pushed by the GOP over the past 15 years, Schiavoni said the recent tax break given to LLCs needs to be rolled back. And Ohio needs to increase its severance tax on oil and gas extracted from the ground and boost the state gas tax by up to 5-cents per gallon to help fund infrastructure improvements, he argued. He pledged to push for renewable energy and clean water projects.

“I think we’re giving people something they’ve been clamoring for for years — somebody who is real, who is authentic, somebody who is willing to work,” Schiavoni said. “People are sick of both parties. All they want is somebody real, somebody who is going to deliver on their promises. That’s the stuff that I’ve been talking about.”

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