Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine tussled over healthcare, drug sentencing laws and support for local government in their third gubernatorial debate Monday night.
DeWine, Ohio’s Republican attorney general, criticized Cordray for supporting Issue 1, which would reduce penalties for drug possession. Cordray, the Democratic former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director, assailed DeWine for suing to block the Affordable Care Act.
But the two men also found a couple of areas of agreement, saying students face too many standardized tests and pledging to increase state support for early childhood education.
DeWine portrayed Cordray as “isolated” in his support for Issue 1, which the attorney general called a “total disaster.” Cordray replied that he saw the proposed constitutional amendment as one possible route for criminal justice reform, but not the only one.
“We will have a hard time on criminal justice reform the way he’s demagoguing Issue 1,” Cordray said. “You’d think Issue 1 was the only issue in this race. There’s many issues in this race.”
Cordray said DeWine’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, if successful, would have rendered useless the government’s rules against denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.
DeWine argued that he did support coverage for pre-existing conditions—but not the Affordable Care Act.
“Rich, you just think that Obamacare is so wonderful,” DeWine said, “and that that’s the only way anyone could have coverage of pre-existing illness. That’s simply not true. Many Ohioans didn’t like Obamacare in regards to taking away the rights to pick your doctor, the individual mandate.”
Asked about Ohio’s abundant rainy-day fund, DeWine acknowledged complaints from local governments that state cuts had hurt them. But the attorney general stopped short of saying he would restore the assistance that the Kasich administration had reduced.
“We will be a good partner, we will work with them,” DeWine said of local leaders later in the debate. “What I’m not going to do is come in here and do what Mr. Cordray has done, and that’s promise everything in the world to everybody.”
Cordray reiterated a long-made Democratic promise to reverse the cuts.
“I can’t even really follow Mike’s answer there,” Cordray said. “He’s going to be a good partner, but it rings hollow, because he’s not willing to make any commitment.”
The debate moderators also asked the candidates about an issue that’s weighed on Cleveland in recent years: public transportation.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has been struggling with financial problems, and officials in Northeast Ohio have often urged the state to give transit more money.
DeWine said he would listen to local officials.
“We will listen to what the leadership of Cleveland, for example, says about that,” DeWine said. “One of the big problems that we see is people who live in one area, but their jobs are in another, they are poor, they do not have transportation.”
Cordray promoted an infrastructure plan.
“We will put a bonded finance package on the ballot for the voters to approve,” Cordray said. “They’ve approved infrastructure four times in the last 30 years. Revolutionary, for the first time, we will support public transit as part of that.”
The Green and Libertarian parties protested their exclusion from the debate stage in Cleveland. Brett Joseph, the Green candidate for lieutenant governor, showed up at CSU’s campus with several supporters.
In a brief interview, Joseph said the party was concerned about the corrosion of public discourse.
“But the solution is not to go by the same playbook, to use the same kind of fear tactics, like, ‘If you don’t vote for me, the other guy’s worse,’” Joseph said. “That’s the zero-sum, lesser-of-two-evils proposition that voters across the states are getting wise to and starting to reject.”