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Ohio's Attorney General Race All About ECOT And Opioids

Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost and former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach are running for Ohio Attorney General.

Republican Dave Yost and Democrat Steve Dettelbach are both attorneys, and they both have a way with words, peppering their comments with colorful phrases like “that’s just horsefeathers” and “malarkey.” 

But Republican state auditor and the Democratic former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio disagree strongly on several issues – most notably, on what Yost could have done involving the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

Ohio’s attorney general is the state’s top cop, protecting Ohioans against shady business practices and crime on the streets. Whoever wins next week’s attorney general election will be among the five new statewide executive officeholders who will take over in January, and will determine the trajectory of state lawsuits on the opioid crisis as well as ECOT.

Dettelbach notes Yost met three times with a whistleblower who said the online charter school was inflating student attendance to get state money. He says Yost should have turned that over to law enforcement but didn’t because Yost received $29,000 in donations from ECOT founder Bill Lager.

“If, when I was U.S. attorney, if the people that I was investigating had come into my office like they did to Mr. Yost’s and said, ‘Hey, I know you were investigating, but you know what? Here's some checks for you for your campaign while you’re investigating me,’ I would have gotten on the phone. The FBI would have taken those guys out in handcuffs,” Dettelbach says. “It is outrageous for him to try to just muddy this up and not take responsibility. He ought to just take responsibility for what he did.”

Yost donated the ECOT money to charity after his audit was released. He says his office was following appropriate procedure in not turning things over to law enforcement right away.

“Do you think the Columbus School investigation on data scrubbing should have handed over to law enforcement? No, that’s Monday morning quarterbacking,” Yost says. “We did what we always do when we get a complaint. We investigate. We go after the information that's available. And when we find something criminal, as I did in the 2017 audit, I turn it over to the authorities at that point.”

Yost says almost everything that’s now known about ECOT comes from the work of his office, and that the online school was shut down. He says changes happened in the law on charter schools because of his team, but Dettelbach dismisses this claim.

Both candidates want to speed up work at the state’s crime lab. Both say they’ll look for objective criteria when it comes to hiring outside special counsel.

And they’re both passionate when asked about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Dettelbach says if he wins, there will be an investigation into Ohio’s clergy, something that bishops across the state have called for.

Yost says Dettelbach had a chance to do that and didn’t.

“He had the full resources of the federal government, the Department of Justice, federal grand jury, the FBI, and he didn't say a word about it until he was out of power and three weeks in front of an election,” Yost says. “Wow, that's demagoguery at its worst. I feel sorry for particularly the victims who are being put front and center on his little political play.”

Dettlebach says this is in the purview of the state attorney general.

“My opponent respectfully doesn't really understand the law,” Dettelbach says. “So, the state attorney general is responsible for regulating charitable organizations, including things like the church and sexual abuse cases. Rape cases are state cases… I have come up with a specific plan to use that civil investigative authority to see whether or not there's been systematic abuse.”

With 13 people dying each day in the latest official state numbers on the opioid crisis, the attorney general will play a key role. Both candidates have plans that involve law enforcement, treatment and prevention.

Both say that Issue 1, the statewide ballot proposal that seeks to prioritize treatment over prison for drug offenders isn’t the right way to fight it. Yost says Dettelbach was late on his criticism of Issue 1, while Dettelbach says he broke from other Democrats on it after doing independent research.