Ohio Democratic governor candidates differ on key issues

2018-03-09 | The Columbus Dispatch

March 09--While the verbal sparks attracted the attention, several important policy differences emerged Wednesday as the Democratic gubernatorial candidates took swipes at each other on a Toledo debate stage.

It was the first official debate of the year, but the four contenders have been appearing together at forums around the state. And since they're all Democrats, it's not too surprising that they often say they agree with each other.

But not always. Some differences that came up Wednesday:

‒ Medicaid expansion -- All of the candidates support Ohio's expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the poor, a part of Obamacare that was undertaken under term-limited Republican Gov. John Kasich. But they have different views about what needs to happen in the future.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Judge Bill O'Neill said the next step is to make Medicare, the federal health-care program for the elderly, available to any American who wants it. Former Cleveland Mayor and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he wrote legislation in Congress and he'd push a state bill in Ohio doing just that.

"The people of Ohio should never have to worry about prescription copays, deductibles or going broke because of health care bills," Kucinich said.

Former U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray said Medicare-for-all sounds good, but he questioned whether the money could be found to finance it. He said the first job should be protecting the Medicaid expansion that's already in place.

"The (Republican-controlled) legislature is spoiling to take that away from Ohio and (Lt. Gov. and Republican gubernatorial candidate) Mary Taylor is behind them," Cordray said. Attorney General and Republican candidate "Mike DeWine is tongue-tied on that issue. He will not say that he supports the Medicaid expansion because he's afraid of his right wing in the primary."

Ohio Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said reimbursements to caregivers must be increased if the program is to be effective.

"Just because you're giving somebody a piece of paper saying that you have Medicaid doesn't mean anything unless the doctor's office takes it and the dentist takes it and the physical therapy after surgery takes it and home health care takes it," he said.

‒ Hydraulic fracturing -- Also known as "fracking" it's opened up portions of eastern Ohio to extract oil and natural gas. Many experts believe the latter substance is a relatively clean "bridge" fuel that can be used while viable alternatives are developed. However, the method has its drawbacks, including the potential for severe air and water pollution.

Kucinich has proposed banning the practice in Ohio, period.

"There are families in the southeastern part of the state who are sacrificing their land, clean water, the health of their children and the value of their property that the frackers have taken over," he said, adding that many of those doing the work have come from out of state.

Schiavoni said, however, that some people in his job-strapped northeastern Ohio community are making $100,000 a year driving trucks to service fracking sites.

Cordray went further, citing the future of the Democratic Party.

"Dennis has said he would ban all oil and gas production in Ohio," he said. "That is an extreme position that will lose us eastern Ohio for a generation and dismisses the fact that there are many small landholders there with an oil or gas well on their property (that) is their sole means of livelihood."

O'Neill said fracking not only provides jobs, it also decreases dependence on coal and foreign oil.

‒ Gun control -- Guns are back in the news, with 17 being killed in yet another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida. The Democrats set forth differing ideas for keeping it from happening yet again.

Kucinich is proposing a statewide ban on semi-automatic guns dubbed by some as assault weapons, such as the AR-15 used in the Florida school massacre. O'Neill, on the other hand, proposes a step short of an outright ban.

"I'm proposing that any AR-15 in Ohio will be required to have a permit issued by your local chief of police," he said. "My local chief of police (in Chagrin Falls) told me he had no idea how many AR-15s there are in a small town of 4,000 people."

Schiavoni said he supports requiring criminal background checks for sales at gun shows and he wants to discuss a possible national ban on assault weapons. And he wants to harden security at schools.

"The Second Amendment is vitally important, but so is the safety of our kids," Schiavoni said. "I have two little boys and when you drop them off at preschool you get that sick feeling in your stomach: What if something happens?"

For his part, Cordray has been taking heat for his refusal to repudiate the National Rifle Association. He didn't specify any measures he'd take, but he said he supported reasonable regulation.

"Everybody on this stage has recognized that in the wake of the shootings at Parkland we have to tighten our gun laws," Cordray said. "We have to tighten our gun laws to keep them out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill."

mschladen@dispatch.com

@martyschladen