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DeWine and Whaley paint different pictures of economy, COVID response as election nears

DeWine Whaley collage.jpg
DeWine campaign/Daniel Konik
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Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Governor candidates: Mike DeWine, Republican incumbent, and Nan Whaley, Democratic candidate and former Dayton mayor.

The race for Ohio governor, between Democratic candidate Nan Whaley and Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, has seen the candidates carry out two different strategies.

Ohio could make history by electing a woman governor for the first time if Whaley, and her running mate Cheryl Stephens, were to win.

DeWine, and his running mate Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, have a double-digit lead in nearly all of the public polls. After 40 years in politics, DeWine has high statewide name recognition, which Whaley lacks.

Traditionally, gubernatorial candidates let voters know where they stand on issues through public debates, but not this year. DeWine has refused to debate Whaley in a televised, statewide event, despite her continued plea for at least one forum. DeWine has also refused sit-down interviews with most statewide reporters since he won the May primary.

There are two issues that are dominating discussion by the gubernatorial candidates this election. DeWine mainly focuses on the economy while Whaley spends much of her time focusing on the future of legal abortion in Ohio.

The economy

As gas hovers just under $4 a gallon and inflation is on the rise, many Ohioans are looking at their budgets. Polls show most voters list economic issues as the main factor in their decision this November.

DeWine said at the Intel semiconductor plant groundbreaking earlier this year that if Ohio stays on track, it has a bright future.

“This is a great victory and it is just the beginning," DeWine said at the celebration that featured Intel executives, state leaders and Democratic President Joe Biden, who had recently signed a bill into law that gave Intel and other manufacturers of computer chips incentives to produce more of them in the United States.

But DeWine isn't just touting Intel. Honda, Ford, GM’s Lordstown Motors, and Google are a few of the other big companies expanding and creating new jobs in Ohio. DeWine said that’s because he and the majority Republicans have made Ohio attractive for businesses.

DeWine talked about those changes in his State of the State speech earlier this year.

“We slashed state spending at the point of the pandemic by a whopping $1.2 billion dollars. And we cut taxes by more than $3.6 billion dollars, creating Ohio’s lowest taxes in more than 40 years,” DeWine said on March 24.

Whaley, who would be dealing with a Republican-dominated legislature, has a different approach, which she has discussed during multiple news media interviews and public forums around the state.

Whaley's “One Good Job” plan, focuses on creating workforce opportunities statewide. Whaley said she wants to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

To help Ohio families deal with inflation, she said she'd give working Ohioans rebates of $350 or $750 from the $5.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds that came to Ohio. The state still has $1.8 billion in ARPA money to spend.

In a recent sit-down interview with Statehouse News Bureau Chief Karen Kasler, Whaley said other states are doing that.

“States like Florida and Indiana have done this so we aren’t talking about blue states for sure," Whaley said.

Whaley said Ohio families are hurting and there’s more that DeWine should be doing.

“Really stopping price gouging. You know Ohio is one of the few states in the nation where it is still legal for corporations to gouge consumers without any repercussions. That’s affecting us on prescription drugs, utility costs, example after example. The governor could do that right now with an executive order and still won’t do it," Whaley said.

Whaley also said, while companies coming into and expanding in Ohio is good news, there’s too much emphasis on development in central Ohio. She said DeWine has a poor record of being accountable when it comes to what the state is giving up to lure those businesses.

“Mike DeWine likes to go to the ribbon cutting but he is always scant on details. You know just ask the folks in Wood County who were excited that they had a Peloton manufacturing facility coming with 2,000 jobs. Mike DeWine was all there with the big ribbon cutting. When it was announced the jobs weren’t coming, he was nowhere to be found. And we see that an awful lot across the state — big announcements, no details," Whaley said.

DeWine has been making a lot of announcements over the last year about the money he’s spending — and mentioned that in one of his own campaign ads.

DeWine has used federal American Rescue Plan Act money to pay off a $1.5 billion federal loan to the unemployment compensation fund, to expand broadband services and to do other things he’s taken credit for — while criticizing the federal government for what he calls “reckless spending."

Whaley called DeWine a “hypocrite” for an ad where he slams her for supporting the American Rescue Plan Act, which wouldn’t have happened without Democrats, since no Republican members of Congress or Senators voted for it.

Gun reform

DeWine and Whaley differ on their thoughts about gun reforms. They haven't always disagreed on the issue.

Back in 2019, after a mass shooting in the popular Oregon district near Dayton, people who gathered there in the days that followed drowned out DeWine when he tried to speak at the rally. The crowd chanted "do something."

And just weeks later, he did. DeWine stood, alongside Whaley, who was the mayor in Dayton at that time, as he proposed a 17 point gun reform plan that included, among other things, better background checks and variations of a red flag law that could prevent guns from being in the hands of people who could be dangerous.

But that plan immediately faced opposition from DeWine's fellow Republican colleagues in the legislature. DeWine tried to convince them to pass at least parts of the bill and hinted he wouldn't approve future gun rights legislation if lawmakers didn't address some of the parts of his gun reform plan first.

About the same time, backers of gun reforms talked about putting an issue on the statewide ballot to give voters the opportunity to enshrine some gun reforms into the Ohio constitution. Whaley supported that too though DeWine never came out in support for it.

Majority Republicans in the Ohio Legislature continued to push for their own bills to expand gun rights as DeWine continued to push for reforms, even trying to put some of them in the state budget. His effort to do that failed.

Eventually, without getting approval from lawmakers on any of the key parts of his gun reform bill, DeWine signed into law what is known as Ohio's "Stand Your Ground" bill, another that gave Ohioans the right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and another bill that allowed teachers to be armed with a handgun in their classrooms with what many consider minimal training.

Whaley blasted DeWine for signing those bills and for not fighting harder against his fellow Republicans to get gun reforms passed. And she said if she was elected governor, she'd work to get those reforms in place once and for all.

The nuclear energy bailout

In 2019, DeWine signed into law a massive bill known as HB 6 that provided a $1 billion bailout for Ohio's two nuclear energy plants, protected some coal-fired operations in Ohio and one in Indiana and gutted Ohio's alternative energy standards. Environmentalists were opposed to the bill and there was a failed attempt to repeal the law.

In 2020, following a federal investigation, Republican former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges, former lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes, and former Republican operative Jeff Longstreth were indicted on federal charges that, in some cases, included bribery.

Since that time, Cespedes and Longstreth have worked with the feds in the investigation. Clark died by suicide last year. Householder and Borges will stand trial next year. And that bill has only been partially repealed.

And while there has been no accusation yet that DeWine has done anything wrong in connection with the scandal, recent texts released in court documents indicate he and his lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, had some knowledge of negotiations with those who have admitted to or are thought to be involved in wrongdoing.

Whaley has called on DeWine to release more emails. Whaley has hammered DeWine for the way he has handled the bailout. She's proposed an ethics plan of her own to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.

Republicans have pointed out Whaley herself was questioned by federal officials in connection with a corruption scandal in Dayton in 2018 but Whaley said she did nothing wrong and no charges were filed against her.

COVID-19 response

Like many leaders, the pandemic put DeWine in a difficult position. In the early days of the pandemic, he was cautious and was criticized by many in his own party for closing down businesses, requiring masks be worn in public and taking other steps to maintain public health.

His then health director, Dr. Amy Acton, supported those measures and regularly stood beside DeWine as he explained his decisions. But in the summer of 2020, Acton resigned and DeWine's approach to the pandemic changed.

He started dropping many of the restrictions that were still in place at that point. Whaley has criticized DeWine for those changes, saying he doesn't have the will to stand up to members of his own party on issues of life and death.

In the gubernatorial race, DeWine has raised three times more than Whaley and he came in with millions of dollars left over from former campaigns. Whaley also spent much of her money during a tight primary race.

DeWine is airing ads statewide for himself and against Whaley but he's not alone in that effort. Outside groups have also been airing similar ads. Whaley is not getting the same financial support from outside groups, and her ads — most of which have been 15 seconds long — have paled in frequency.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.