DAYTON — Ohio’s major-party governor candidates were harshly critical of each other in a spirited first debate Wednesday, jabbing each other over contrasting policy positions on opioids, abortion and e-schools and poking the other’s record in public office as a failure.
The evening’s rapid-fire exchanges, attacks and one-liners contrasted with the race’s reputation as a sleepy contest between two boring politicians.
Democrat Richard Cordray, who served as consumer watchdog under President Barack Obama, set the tone at the University of Dayton seconds after shaking Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine’s hand.
Cordray, 59, criticized DeWine as a career politician who believes the governor’s chair is the next step up the ladder, then said he had failed to do enough to stop the state’s opioid epidemic as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
“I will face down the drug traffickers and the big drug companies to fix the opioid crisis, but, Mike, you have had eight years to deal with this problem and you have failed Ohio,” Cordray said.
DeWine, 71, said Cordray was “living in a fantasy world” by claiming DeWine had not used his office effectively to fight pharmaceutical companies, e-school corruption and gun violence. He said Cordray left the office in disarray. “You’re all talk and you’ve done nothing. You’ve been a failure at every job you’ve ever had,” DeWine said.
Cordray said he is proud of his record, including at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
But his primary aim was DeWine’s handling of the opioid crisis. He said taking advice from DeWine on solving the opioid epidemic would be like “asking for navigation advice from the captain of the Titanic.”
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.”
The two are vying to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s term-limited, in one of the season’s highest-profile governor’s race.
On abortion, Cordray said he would veto a so-called heartbeat abortion bill limiting the procedure when the first fetal heartbeat is detected. After he was prodded by Cordray to state his position, DeWine said he would sign the stringent restriction if it crossed his desk as governor.
The candidates’ positions also differ on Issue 1, a statewide ballot question that calls for reducing criminal sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
DeWine said their stances on the issue give voters a clear choice.
“Richard Cordray would put a star on Ohio and every drug dealer ... would come here,” DeWine said. He called Cordray’s support of the issue dangerous and “totally outrageous.”
Cordray called DeWine’s statement misleading. He said too many Ohioans are in prison for such offenses and there are more humane, productive and cost-effective solutions for drug offenders.
DeWine came out strongly against legalizing marijuana for recreational use and jabbed at Cordray for skirting the issue in his answer.
“You’re really a profile in courage,” DeWine quipped. “You’re not going to take a position on recreational marijuana?”
Cordray said DeWine was “living in the past.” Once pressed by DeWine, he said if recreational marijuana is back on the ballot, he would vote in favor of it — but he believes the question should be put to Ohio voters.
Cordray attacked DeWine for failing to do enough to protect Ohioans from the now-shuttered e-school ECOT, or the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which Ohio education officials say overbilled the state $60 million by inflating attendance.
When DeWine said he is fighting in court to recoup money from the school, Cordray said, “That’s not a protect-Ohio lawsuit; that’s a I’m-running-for-governor lawsuit.”
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