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Dems vying to replace Kasich as Ohio governor hold debate

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    Democratic candidates for Ohio governor, from left, ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton met Tuesday in Martins Ferry for their first debate.

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    Whaley

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    Schiavoni

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COLUMBUS — The four Democrats so far seeking Gov. John Kasich’s job next year spent much of their first debate Tuesday in eastern Ohio’s Martins Ferry taking aim at him and at President Trump’s White House instead of contrasting themselves with each other.

The 90-minute, ticket-only debate, which was live streamed on the Internet and in which the candidates frequently repeated themselves, seemed more about giving potential voters — eight months before the primary election — a chance to get to know candidates who have little statewide name recognition.

The primary focus of the first debate was job creation and education, but the candidates also talked about Ohio’s drug epidemic and state tax cuts.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Youngstown area state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former Cincinnati area state Rep. Connie Pillich, and former Akron area congressman Betty Sutton stood on the stage of Martins Ferry High School on the West Virginia border some 120 miles east of Columbus.

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“This has been the worst year for jobs since 2009 in this state,” said Ms. Whaley, who is seeking re-election as mayor this year even as she runs for governor next year.

“2009 was the height of the Great Recession,” she said. “For us to be so behind in jobs in this state while (Mr. Kasich’s) out doing a lot of book tours and talking a lot about national issues, the work right here that needs to happen is to make sure we have hard working folks that are willing and able to go to work, and the governor and the Statehouse have not put the focus on making sure that they have the jobs and qualty of life that they need to have.”

Ms. Sutton, who pushed passage of the cash for clunkers program as part of President Obama’s auto industry bailout, addressed the problem of “brain drain” in which Ohio’s youth leave the state to find good-paying jobs.

‘”I’m going to create the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to work with local leaders right here in your community, so you capitalize on your strengths and overcome the challenges that we face,” she said. “We are going to invest in your schools and in your folks. We are going to fully fund public education so that your schools, and your children, and your community will have the future that is worthy of this great part of the state.”

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Mr. Schiavoni took aim at public charter schools, an issue he has focused on in the minority of the General Assembly.

“We have to make sure that we have accountability and transparency if we’re going to have their charter schools,” he said. “Everyone knows what happened to (the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow). Everybody knows that there are for-profit charter schools that are making millions and millions of dollars off kids while schools in this district and across the state are struggling.”

Ms. Pillich, who won election in a Republican majority state House district near Cincinnati, discussed the direction of the Democratic Party.

“I think we lost our way over the last few years,” she said. “Democrats have to reclaim our status as the party of workers, the party of young people, and, yes, the party of patriots. Because there’s nothing patriotic about sending jobs overseas just so you can fund a tax break for billionaires. Patriotism means investing in the middle class and making sure we have the jobs of the 21st Century.”

There was rarely a mention of the candidates on the Republican side. They are Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Attorney General Mike DeWine, and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth).

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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