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State's Political Party Leaders Debate Ohio's Issues

Ohio two political party leaders spar over the state's biggest issues.
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Last week Gov. John Kasich announced he’s running for president. Next week the top 10 Republican candidates will debate in Cleveland. These two big political events are keeping the state’s two major political parties busy.

It’s easy to understand why Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges is looking forward to the debate: two new polls suggest that Gov. Kasich will make the cut. But Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper said he’s excited about the debate too, and the opportunity it will bring his party to talk about Kasich.

“We’re going to be the truth tellers about some of the challenges in his record, and I think as people watch closely," Pepper said. "They’ll see that the record here is frankly, not very good on issues like jobs and education, which are two of the most important issues you’re going to see anyone talk about in this campaign."

Borges scoffs at Democrats’ dismissals of Kasich’s five-and-a-half years in office.

“When we hear from the other side about the successes of our governor somehow aren’t true, I’d just remind you that marijuana hasn’t been legalized yet,” Borges said.

But the presidential campaign isn’t the only one the two major political parties are working on for next year. There’s a US Senate race, and right now, there are two Democrats who want the nomination. The ODP has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland, but Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is also in the contest. Pepper says that’s no big deal.

“The good news is, we’re united around our candidate,” Pepper said. “Of course [Sittenfeld]’s still in the race, and he has every right to run. I’ve said that many times. But if you ask most Democrats it’s clear who they’re with and we’re united, and he’s up in the polls. People know him. He’s up with independents.”

When the chairs appeared at a forum in February, before Strickland entered the race, Borges said he’d be happy to pay Strickland’s filing fee – and he stands by that now, even as Strickland has been leading incumbent Republican Rob Portman in recent polls.

“Trust me when I tell you that we’ll remind voters about Gov. Strickland’s record when he was governor of Ohio – if he makes it through the primary process,” Borges said. “It’s an interesting concept of the word ‘united’ behind their candidate. I’ll tell you what ‘united’ is – united is behind what I believe is the best Senator in the United States in Rob Portman and our party came out unanimously and strongly to support him.”

And this fall, Ohio voters will see a ballot issue with big political implications – a constitutional amendment to change the way districts are drawn for state lawmakers. Borges notes the Ohio Republican Party has endorsed the proposal, but the Ohio Democratic Party has not.

“What appears to be happening – what I think is very evidently happening – is that the Democratic Party is rolling the dice once again and seeing if they can win these apportionment board elections in 2018 so that they can draw the maps,” Borges said. “That is exactly what voters are sick and tired of.”

Pepper says many Democrats are indeed for the plan, but the party wants more time to review it.

“The current map is the most gerrymandered map in the history of Ohio – drawn by Jon Husted, Matt Huffman and the Republicans who are for this,” Pepper said. “So forgive us if we’re going to take a little time to do the homework to make sure that this reform and the very specific criteria – this is the constitution of the state that we would be changing forever.”

Pepper says the ODP will vote on whether to endorse the redistricting amendment in the next few weeks.