GOP governor hopefuls outline visions for Ohio at forum


Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch



WESTERVILLE (TNS) — Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor talked of the pain of her adult sons’ still-raw recoveries from opioid addiction.

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci wants to make Ohio a right-to-work state — and tighten its spending.

Attorney General Mike DeWine will swear in a cabinet-level opioid “czar” on his first day in office.

And, Secretary of State Jon Husted says Gov. John Kasich has frustrated Republicans by “undermining” President Donald Trump.

The four Republican candidates for Ohio governor, one after the other, shared the same stage for the first time on Sunday evening before an audience of hundreds at a forum sponsored by Citizens for Community Values at Genoa Baptist Church north of Westerville.

Each candidate answered questions from Republican pollster and Fox News focus group guru Frank Luntz, who concluded at the end of the evening that Ohioans would be well served with any of the four occupying the governor’s office.

The candidates talked of the importance of faith in their lives and the role of religion in the decisions they make while showing a personal side — Renacci choking up at mention of his father’s death, Taylor’s somber tale of her sons and Husted becoming emotional in introducing his adoptive parents.

Luntz prompted Taylor to speak about her personal experience with Ohio’s opioid crisis. “My boys are both addicts,” she responded. “I have lived the nightmare … we have been through a lot of trauma.”

Michael has been in recovery for nearly two years, while Joe has been sober but six months, Taylor said. Joe overdosed for a second time in January, a dose of Narcan saving him after Michael found him.

“It helps me have a different passion about running for governor,” their mother said. “Government does have a role to play in this crisis. Government is not going to solve the problem. It’s going to take all of us.”

To another question, Taylor said she would not ban the bump fire stock that allowed the Las Vegas killer to convert his semi-automatic weapons to effectively full automatics. Discussion should center, she said, on “what was wrong with that individual. What allowed that individual to do that heinous act?”

The lieutenant governor also went after the Ohio Department of Taxation for treating people “like criminals” and imposing potential back taxes and penalties. “That’s wrong,” she said, adding she would ask lawmakers to adjust tax policy.

Renacci, the fourth-term congressman from Wadsworth, stressed his business experience and promised a pro-business agenda in the governor’s office, including adopting a right-to-work law that would make union membership optional in what are now “closed shops” where paying dues are mandatory.

He also said he would get a handle on state spending on his first day in office. “I’m actually going to put on a freeze and I’m going to veto any bill that increases spending in Ohio to give taxpayers a break,” Renacci said.

Ohioans are taxed too much by too many governmental jurisdictions, Renacci said, suggesting he would “bring them together and consolidate them and bring costs down.”

The Trump-backing congressman also crossed swords with Trump-critic Kasich — who was not a crowd favorite based on Luntz’s questioning of the audience — saying, Kasich “lost some of those (Republican) values. … We cannot have a governor who comes in with Republican values and who goes out with Democrat or independent values.”

DeWine, the former congressman, lieutenant governor and U.S. senator, took the stage as the party patriarch and was gentler on Kasich than his opponents, saying “by and large, he’s done a very good job,” although there are things DeWine would have done differently.

DeWine singled out Ohio’s opioid crisis as an issue he plans to pursue relentlessly from day one by creating a cabinet-level position near his office to “focus every single day on opiods and the drug problem. … There needs to be a sense of urgency,” he said.

The attorney general also said he wants to improve job-training programs and educational opportunities, such as school choice, for dysfunctional Ohio families. “Unless there is some intervention in their lives, most of these kids will not live the American dream.”

DeWine and all the candidates promised to take the high road in their campaign and not sling mud at the others. DeWine, though, had perhaps the closest adviser and critic. His wife, Fran, he said, will review every political advertisement before it airs.

Secretary of State Husted stressed he would be consistent voice for conservatism in the governor’s office and never retreat from his religion-formed values. His experience as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Husted said, gives him ability to work with lawmakers and the opposing party.

Husted said “the role of government is to go fight for the people,” adding he plans to improve job and educational opportunities while stressing that vocational programs hold great promise of allowing people a comfortable working wage without having to incur college debt.

The secretary of state also joined other candidates in pointing out what they saw as missteps by Kasich as he refused to endorse or vote for Trump and remains a regular critic on TV news shows.

When Kasich decided to run for president, “he took his eye off the ball a bit in Ohio,” Husted said. Ohioans have become frustrated with the governor “for not supporting the president and maybe undermining him on occasion,” Husted said.

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Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch

Reach Randy Ludlow at rludlow@dispatch.com or on Twitter @RandyLudlow.

Reach Randy Ludlow at rludlow@dispatch.com or on Twitter @RandyLudlow.