MARTINS FERRY, Ohio (AP) — Democrats used the first debate among their four candidates for governor on Tuesday to take on Republican leadership in Columbus and Washington, D.C., and to highlight their party’s promises to do better at creating jobs, improving education and helping the middle class.
The contenders to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is term-limited, largely agreed on policy priorities as they met at Martins Ferry High School. But the event provided an opportunity for ex-U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni to try to distinguish themselves from their rivals.
Their town hall-style forum came as two other high-profile Democrats — federal consumer finance chief Richard Cordray and tabloid TV host Jerry Springer — mull whether to enter the race. Four Republicans also are vying for the job.
Sutton touted her record at local, state and federal levels of government as a distinction. She pledged to take on President Donald Trump if elected, including standing up for the Affordable Care Act, which she voted to support.
“I think it’s important that, as we go to the polls, we elect a governor who has the experience to get things done,” she said. “I think that the experience I have as a local legislator and the state legislator, a member of Congress, as well as a part of the Obama administration, the breadth and the depth of that executive experience and that legislative experience gives me the background that I’m going to need to take care of the rigged system in Columbus that is hurting working- and middle-class families.”
Whaley told the gathered crowd that she has championed successful initiatives as an executive officeholder that can be used as blueprints across the state. Noting her role as head of a new mayors’ coalition, she said Kasich and the Republican-led Legislature have left Ohio cities behind.
“The fact of the matter is that we want, as Democrats, for everybody to have a good-paying job,” she said. “We believe that if you’re willing to work and play by the rules, you should be able to get a job in this state. And, quite frankly, his ‘Ohio miracle,’ as he called it, is nothing more than an Ohio mirage.”
Kasich, who failed in a presidential bid last year, has said government leaders’ “greatest moral purpose” is to create an environment of job creation in which people can have work and can support their families.
Pillich, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said Democrats need to reclaim the label of patriots, which is not exclusively Republican.
“There is nothing patriotic about sending jobs overseas just so you can fund a tax break for billionaires,” she said. “Patriotism means investing in the middle class and making sure we have the jobs of the 21st century.”
Schiavoni highlighted his years as a senator, including bills he’s introduced to crack down on poor-performing charter schools and to keep young Ohio residents in the state including by offering financial incentives to college graduates who buy homes.
He said his proudest accomplishment was his role in the successful fight to back a law restricting public workers’ collective bargaining rights, a campaign in which the other candidates also said they were involved. He said jobs remain the state’s top policy issue.
“Every single day that gets brought up and I look out in crowds, whether I’m in an urban setting, suburban or rural setting, and everyone looks at me as if to say, ‘When is this going to stop?’” he said.
He said he’s introduced legislation to close tax loopholes and reinvest the money in local projects including revitalizing brownfields up and down the Ohio River.