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Seven Months Before Primary, Four Candidates Meet For First Democratic Gubernatorial Debate
Connie Pillich, Nan Whaley, Joe Schiavoni and Betty Sutton debated in the first Democratic debate in Martin's Ferry.

There are nearly seven months till the primary for governor next year. But the four announced Democratic candidates for governor proceeded as if the race is well underway as they met for their first debate last night in Martin’s Ferry on the West Virginia border.

As in every debate, there was some self-congratulation - by Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman), who said, “I was the first one in 2011 to stand up and say, this is insane what we’re doing with charter schools.”

Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Copley near Akron said she’s “stood up to big drug companies for a lot of my life.”

Former State Rep. Connie Pillich of Cincinnati said, “I’m the only candidate on this stage who has ever won and won a Republican seat, and I’ve done it three times.”

And Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said, “I’ve worked with every community in Dayton. And only because I’ve worked with every community in Dayton have we been able to accomplish so much.”

And there was lots of bashing of Columbus – which of course means Republicans who’ve been in charge of state government for the last seven years. Whaley suggested lawmakers were out of touch: “All of a sudden, the folks running in Columbus have woken up. Woken up to charter issues, woken up to the opioid addiction while the people on the ground in the local communities have been fighting these issues for years.”

Pillich stressed transparency and accountability in government, especially with charter schools.  “We’ve got to stop this profit making scheme that’s taken money out of our public schools and just putting it into the pockets of the wealthy corporations who run those charter schools. And I’m telling you right now, if you’re running a charter school and it’s failing, I’m going to shut you down,” Pillich said.

Schiavoni called out his colleagues in the Statehouse. “This campaign is going to be tough and being the governor will be even tougher. I’ve worked in the General Assembly for the past seven years, so I know the players down there,” Schiavoni said.

But only Sutton referenced one of the Republicans running for governor – the candidate largely considered the frontrunner. “You may have heard that Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing the drug companies now, and yes, I think we should. But it’s too little and it’s a lot too late. He’s presided over the eruption of this crisis,” Sutton said.

On the opioid crisis, Pillich stressed funding for prevention, treatment and enforcement. Schiavoni brought up his bill to put 10% of the state’s $2 billion rainy day fund into the crisis. Whaley noted that Dayton was the first Ohio city to sue the drug makers and said others will join soon. And Sutton said lawsuits should be funding programs now and the long-term goal of creating jobs in the future.

The candidates’ answers were similar at times. But they each had points to make. Sutton repeatedly mentioned the new state agency she wants to start up. “I’m going to create a Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to work with local leaders right here in your community to capitalize on your strengths and to overcome the challenges that you face.”

Schiavoni talked about legislation he’s proposed like this: “If you graduate from an Ohio university, within five years of graduation and you purchase a home in one of these targeted zones that the state dictates is a revitalization zone, then we knock off half your debt.”

Whaley promised communities will have more local control and more money. “We are tired of the state constantly taking the money from Columbus and never bringing it back home to the places that need the investment. When I’m elected governor, local communities will have local control to create local jobs,” Whaley said.

Pillich talked up her jobs and education plans, but also had this thought. “We’ve lost our way over the last few years. Democrats have to reclaim our status as the party of workers, the party of young people and yes, the party of patriots,” Pillich said.

The next debate date hasn’t been announced, but two more are expected by the end of the year. And if other candidates join – such as talk show host Jerry Springer or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray – they could be included as well.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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