It’s tempting for voters to pay attention only to the big races like U.S. Senate and Ohio governor and do little homework on the down-ticket races, such as state treasurer.
But over the past 15 years the Ohio treasurer's office has seen multiple criminal probes, scandals and episodes of self-promotion at taxpayer expense.
So there is a solid case for digging into the details on who is running to be the guy in charge of overseeing Ohio’s $21.5-billion portfolio, picking banks to invest tens of billions of dollars in public pension assets and collecting $64 billion in state revenues.
Running to replace incumbent, term-limited state Treasurer Josh Mandel are state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, and Cincinnati area attorney Rob Richardson Jr., a Democrat.
Both say they’ll protect Ohio taxpayers, though neither is prepared to say who they’ll hire as their second in command.
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“You need to put some good measures and protocols in check in order to make sure that you have some accountability,” Richardson said.
Sprague said his experience as a state lawmaker, city auditor and private business consultant positions him as a watchdog. “That type of knowledge base allows you to run the office well and make sure no one is stealing under your nose.”
Who is Rob Richardson?
Richardson, 40, a divorced father of one, is a securities litigation attorney and former marketing official for the Laborers Employers Cooperation and Education Trust. He holds engineering and law degrees from the University of Cincinnati, where he also served nine years as a UC trustee.
Richardson finished third in a three-way primary for Cincinnati mayor in May 2017 and announced his candidacy for state treasurer in September 2017.
President Barack Obama endorsed 16 Ohio Democrats running for statewide, congressional and legislative seats this fall but left Richardson off the list.
It’s a blow for Richardson, who is the only African-American on the Ohio Democratic Party’s slate for statewide executive office. Plus, Richardson’s second cousin is married to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a key player in the Obama administration.
Democratic insiders said they are confident Richardson will get Obama’s backing in the next round of endorsements.
So far, Richardson is just ahead of Sprague when it comes to campaign fundraising.
Over the past three years, Sprague has raised $1.39 million, including $500,000 from his hometown of Findlay and $123,000 from the Ohio Republican Party. Over the past two years, Richardson has raised $1.55 million, including $917,000 from organized labor sources, $135,000 from the Ohio Democratic Party and $276,000 from his hometown of Cincinnati.
Richardson’s father, Rob Richardson, Sr., is president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP and the long-time vice president of Laborers’ International Union of North America.
While Ohio-based unions contributed $465,000 to Richardson’s campaign, another $452,000 rolled in from organized labor in 19 other states, including $12,000 from tunnel, caisson and subway workers in the Bronx, $1,000 from the Road Sprinkler Fitters Local 669 in Columbia, Md., and $25,000 from the California State Council of Laborers.
Richardson said he has a strong reputation for fighting for workers over the course of his career. “Those folks know my values,” he said of his union contributors.
On the campaign trail, Richardson has promised to:
- Focus on criminal justice reform, including analyze how other states have reduced their prison populations while protecting the public and pressure Ohio's public pension systems to divest from private prison corporations.
- Push the pension funds to have more diversity in who they hire to handle investments.
- Expand a low-interest loan program for college students and provide incentives to keep college grads in Ohio.
- Deploy broadband technology across Ohio.
- Find ways to get companies to invest in ways to solve the opioid crisis.
Who is Robert Sprague?
Sprague, 45, is a married father of five who has been a state lawmaker since 2011. He is a former business consultant and former Findlay city auditor and treasurer. He won a GOP primary in May against Sandy O’Brien, 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent. He holds an engineering degree from Duke University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina.
In the Ohio House, Sprague worked on legislation designed to shut down pill mills and end doctor shopping, allow Good Samaritans to call 911 for a drug overdose without fear of facing charges for minor offenses, and expanding access to Narcan, the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an overdose.
Earlier this year, he embraced the political endorsement from Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, who in 2017 said his deputies would not carry Narcan.
“He and I aren’t going to agree on 100 percent of everything,” Sprague said when asked about Jones’ position on Narcan.
On the campaign trail, Sprague has promised to:
- Offer a $1 million social impact bond through the private sector to seek new, more effective heroin addiction treatment. If the new methods are more effective, the state would pay back the bond with interest — and save taxpayer money now spent on criminal justice, child services and Medicaid.
- Hire experienced financial experts for the office.
- Leave investing up to the public pension systems but retain control over which banks land contracts to be the custodians of retirement system money. "I think it's a mistake to weaponize and politicize the money of the pensioners," he said.
- Offer financial literacy programs for high school students and encourage some to enter skilled labor training so they avoid crushing college loan debt and can find jobs.
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