Democrat Richard Cordray brought his brand new campaign for Ohio governor to Dayton on Wednesday as one of his rivals announced he won’t be pulling out of the race after all.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill on Wednesday backed off his pledge to drop out of the 2018 Democratic race for governor if Cordray entered the race.
Cordray, who last month stepped down as director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, announced Tuesday he will seek the Democratic nomination in the May 8 primary. Other Democrats in the race include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.
O’Neill, whose decision to stay on the bench after announcing his candidacy is controversial, now says he will only leave the race if one of the other Democratic candidates agrees to his anti-opioid addiction plan.
“I told Rich that I would not be leaving the race unless I heard that someone accepts my proposition that opening the mental hospitals and legalizing marijuana” is the solution to the opioid crisis, said O’Neill, who proposes funding the hospitals with $300 million in annual revenues he believes will come from legalizing marijuana.
O’Neill was criticized for not resigning from the court when he announced his candidacy on Oct. 29. The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to resign if they enter a partisan race, but O’Neill contends that he would only become a candidate officially when he turns in his nominating petitions by the Feb. 7 deadline.
“I have recused on all future cases, and on Friday I will be announcing my retirement date if my approach is not accepted by Rich,” said O’Neill, who plans to remain on the court until his term ends in 2019 if he withdraws from the governor’s race.
O’Neill ignited further controversy and calls for his resignation last month when he posted remarks on Facebook touting his sexual exploits with “50 very attractive females.” He subsequently apologized for the post.
“After his inflammatory, degrading sexist comments, I called on O’Neill to resign from the court,” said Whaley. “More than once, he has disqualified himself from asking - never mind demanding - anyone take up his platform.
Ryan Stubenrauch, spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the state already has six regional psychiatric hospitals.
“Mike DeWine has always been against recreational marijuana. The solution to a drug crisis is not adding another,” Stubenrauch said. “Mike DeWine is focused on fighting the opioid crisis and the drug cartels and the drug companies that are responsible for it.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor are also running in the GOP primary.
Cordray declined to comment on O’Neill’s remarks and said any position he takes on legal marijuana in Ohio will take into consideration that Ohio voters in 2015 rejected a ballot initiative to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. Last year the Ohio legislature legalized medical marijuana, but it won’t be available until 2018.
“I’m very concerned about the opioid crisis. It’s obviously the new crisis, like the foreclosure crisis was 10 years ago, that’s washing over the state,” Cordray said in Dayton.
He said the problem needs a bold approach.
“But my way to do it would be to have the state working closely with local officials, non-profit agencies who do so much good in our communities and the private sector on bringing everybody to bear on solving a problem that otherwise will not get solved and has not been solved,” Cordray said. “And by the way it has blown up over the last five years with no real attention and no effective solutions from Columbus.”
Cordray’s visit to Dayton was the second stop of the day on his “Kitchen Table Tour” of Ohio.
“The kitchen table issues will be my focus, issues of economics and how people can afford health care and they can afford the cost of college education for their children or further training or whatever it is that is needed to prepare young people for the workforce,” Cordray said during his speech in front of about 50 people at The Old Courthouse in downtown Dayton. “It’s about finding that better job, and it’s about providing for people’s retirement.”
Cordray served as Ohio treasurer and attorney general before being tapped by then-President Barack Obama to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He said he’s worked for 15 years on issues of economic insecurity.
Cordray touted his battle as attorney general to help Ohioans as the financial collapse and 2009 recession sent foreclosure filings skyrocketing, and his efforts at the consumer bureau, which was set up in the wake of the financial crisis.
“I’m willing to tackle big problems like the foreclosure crisis, like the Wall Street abuses and get results for (Ohioans),” Cordray said. “I think you look at the work that I did on behalf of all Americans at the consumer bureau, that’s the kind of work that progressives feel is important. People like Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Warren, she’s endorsing me today.”