Ohioans face a lucky choice in the race for governor this year. Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine are both fine public servants. They are both well-versed in the issues that face Ohio. They are both uncommonly thoughtful about those issues.
These are two good men. And many states are not lucky enough to have such a choice.
But Richard Cordray has earned The Blade’s endorsement because he represents change and Ohio needs change.
Ohio is becoming a poorer and a less populated state by the day. It has one of the worst opioid problems in the nation. Its infant mortality rate is unacceptably high. And Ohio government has failed to do much about any of these things.
Ohio government has also failed to reform and improve public higher education. It has failed to protect and begin a meaningful cleanup of Lake Erie. It has let cities like Dayton, Youngstown, Akron, and Toledo fend for themselves. It has let the smaller cities, like Lima, Mansfield, and Lorain, and the small towns, like Fostoria, Circleville, and Logan, languish. The state even took back local aid, only to build up a state surplus and rainy day fund. (Both are good to have. But at a certain point the state should have a large enough fiscal safety net and should help the local communities, where it has been raining for a long time.)
The Kasich Administration has failed Ohio. And the Republican Party has as well. The Republicans have mostly controlled the state for a generation — four of the last six governors since 1975 and most of the legislatures. And things have not gotten better. They have gotten worse during the long one-party reign. And few today would vote for four more years of Taft or Kasich.
Moreover, under those last two Republican governors there has been a culture of corruption.
Mr. Cordray will work hard to change the culture in Columbus and try new approaches — to reform higher education, for example, in particular by no longer handing out university trusteeships as if they are baubles. Many of our state universities have failed to live up to their potential for decades now. We need new leadership and new models. The University of Toledo is a prime example. And, here again, Mr. Noe’s name crops up, for the selling of university trusteeships and memberships on the Ohio Board of Regents to the highest political bidder.
Mr. Cordray will also work hard to save the lake, breaking with the Kasich approach of limply jawboning and turning environmental protection over to people who understand neither the environment nor protection.
Mr. Cordray said two remarkable things when he met with The Blade editorial board. First, he said that bringing relief and hope to Ohio’s forgotten small towns is his No. 1 priority and that if he fails in this he will have failed as a governor. Second, he said that he is not the same man or candidate now that he was in the Democratic primary. He said he’d grown because of the listening and traveling that he has done and that he will continue to learn, and listen and grow.
These are encouraging things to hear from a potential governor.
Sometimes traveling the state as a candidate for governor causes a candidate to fall in love with his state.
The worry with Mr. Cordray is that he is a hard leftist who will give away the store to public employee unions. Such a giveaway would be difficult with a Republican majority in the legislature, many of them “right-to-work” advocates, which Mr. DeWine is not.
As to leftist ideology, Mr. Cordray told The Blade he has never regarded government as the problem or the solution but as a practical tool. We will hold him to that. Ohio needs a pragmatist, not a doctrinaire person of the left or right.
And we will hold him to his promises on the lake, the cities and towns, and higher education.
Mr. DeWine is a fine man and he has given Ohio much, maybe his best. Trump voters may save him, but he is a “Never Trump” Republican of the establishment, free trade variety — the very free trade that has destroyed so much of Ohio.
And Mr. DeWine looks tired. His campaign was tired. His state party is tired. He has offered no new approaches to the state's problems, other than early childhood education, a position he shares with Mr. Cordray.
Mr. DeWine is bound, perhaps inextricably, to a failed past. One party rule is bad for any state. And the party that gave us Tom Noe, Coingate, and ECOT cannot lead Ohio to higher ground. Mr. Cordray could blow it. But he offers Ohio a chance to change it up – to begin anew.
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