Dems discuss issues during first gubernatorial debate in Martins Ferry

Photos by Scott McCloskey Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidates meet for their first debate Tuesday at Martins Ferry High School, from left, are former state Rep. Connie Pillich; Ohio Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman; Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton.

MARTINS FERRY — Ohio Democrats aiming to take back the governor’s office from Republicans met at Martins Ferry High School on Tuesday for the first in a series of six debates to be held across the state before the 2018


Taking the stage Tuesday were former state Rep. Connie Pillich; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman; former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton; and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Questions focused on jobs and the economy, infrastructure improvement, education and the opioid crisis.

“People just want things that matter to them today that can build for the future generations of Ohioans. They ask for simple things like good opportunities for jobs, to send their kids to a school that will prepare them for the future. They want to feel safe when walking in their neighborhoods, and they want to be able to go to the doctor when they are sick,” Schiavoni said in his opening statement. “These are the things politicians should be working on and these are the things I have been working on in the Senate … .”

Schiavoni emphasized his work in the General Assembly, introducing and supporting bills to increase accountability and transparency in the charter school business, expand broadband internet infrastructure, and deal with brownfield restoration, workforce development and neighborhood revitalization. He said he is pushing legislation that would close a tax loophole which is costing the state $1 billion each year that he said should be used for local infrastructure and community support.

Whaley said she believes she’s been successful as mayor of Dayton, and that she will “take a stand” to get things done in Columbus as she has done in her city. She said she created a manufacturing task force to improve economic development, and has brought good-paying jobs and worked with the community to “invest in a high-quality pre-K program” into the public schools.

“Politicians in Columbus rarely, if ever, come into contact with the people they serve. They would rather take the word of a lobbyist or a CEO than listen to you,” Whaley said. “This governor and the Statehouse crowd have turned their backs on families, turned their backs on communities and turned their backs on creating jobs. To them, you are invisible … but you are not invisible to me.”

Sutton said she believes the policies of the past eight years have been “unfair” to workers in Ohio, and that all people need is a “fair shot and a fair shake.” She described politics in Columbus as being a “rigged” system that as governor she would alleviate.

She said no matter what office she’s held, from city council to the U.S. House of Representatives, her fight has been the same, “making things work in the state for workers and Ohio families.” She said as governor, she would propose creating a new state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity that would “focus on strengthening wages for workers and opportunities for everyday Ohioans.”

Pillich said her No. 1 priority as governor would be to create good-paying jobs in Ohio using a five-point plan. The plan includes educating the workforce to attract good jobs, rebuilding infrastructure, growing the startup business culture, helping small and mid-sized businesses grow and helping to grow such industries as “advanced manufacturing” and renewable energy.

“We need to make smart investments,” Pillich said.

All four candidates said they believe the opioid crisis must be attacked from all sides including prevention, treatment and enforcement, and the fight against it must be adequately funded.

Sutton deemed Attorney General Mike DeWine’s lawsuit against drug companies to help combat the opioid crisis “too little and it’s a lot late” in coming.

“We not only have to sue the drug companies, we also have to approach this and fight it on all fronts, with education and prevention, and reforms in the medical community, fulfilling our responsibilities to our first responders, giving them the tools and the help and the resources that they need,” Sutton said. “We need more beds for rehab and for treatment. We have to deal with this in the near term and in the long run.”

All four candidates also said they believe job creation and expanding economic opportunity will help the current drug crisis, because it will help create hope for individuals trying to recover from addiction.

“Having hope for the future is going to be key for those folks who are struggling to get their lives on track, and to keep others from going down that path,” Sutton noted.

Innovation Ohio CEO and President Janetta King moderated the debate, which was livestreamed on Three questions were taken from the public via social media, and an “issues poll” was tracked on Twitter during the 90-minute debate.

Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Phil Wallace, former Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede and Ohio Rep. Jack Cera gave brief remarks to introduce the debate.

“The importance of this next election can’t be overstated,” Cera, D-Bellaire, said. “We’re in a situation where we’ve been heading down a wrong path for several years. When you’re leading in things like opiate deaths, and trailing in things like job creation and per-capita income, I think it’s time for a change.”

The Ohio governor’s office has been in the hands of Republicans since 1991, with the exception of Ted Strickland’s term from 2007-11. Gov. John Kasich is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said the party chose to kick off its series of debates in Belmont County because “the current formula (in Columbus) is not working for eastern Ohio. By any measure, the state is failing the people of this area, and eastern Ohioans know it. We want to focus on a new direction.”