3 big takeaways from Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial debate

Final preparations are made for the second official Ohio Democratic Party gubernatorial debate at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. WILL GARBE / STAFF
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Final preparations are made for the second official Ohio Democratic Party gubernatorial debate at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. WILL GARBE / STAFF

Ohio’s Democratic candidates for governor met Sunday night as the 2018 election heats up.

The official Democratic candidates — former state Rep. Connie Pillich, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton — joined each other on stage for their second debate of the day.

MORE: Read live coverage from Ohio’s Democratic debate

Here are the top three takeaways from Sunday night’s debate in Columbus.

1. The most talked about candidate of the night wasn’t there

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill announced a run for governor Sunday, hours before the other Democratic candidates met for the day’s second debate.

“The Democratic Party has always been the party of ideas, but we have somehow lately become the party of careful consultants who advise, ‘Don’t do anything that is going to annoy anyone,’” O’Neill said in prepared remarks.

MORE: Ohio Chief Justice issues warning to Justice O’Neill after he announces run for governor

While Whaley and Pillich welcomed O’Neill to the race, Schiavoni blasted the 70-year-old justice, who must retire from the court when his current term ends in January 2019 because of age limits.

“I think if he was serious about running, then he should be here and he should have asked to be part of this debate in front of thousands of people who are going to be watching online and a thousand people in the room,” Schiavoni said. “If he wanted to run for governor, he should have announced this before today and got involved in the events today so he can explain his ideas to voters rather than having a press conference at the same time as the debate in a different city.”

After this outlet tweeted about Schiavoni’s remarks, O’Neill tweeted that he “Informed (the Ohio Democratic Party) and (Chairman David Pepper) on Tuesday. Wasn’t invited.”

This outlet tweeted back “Did you ask to attend?” O’Neill, who launched his campaign Sunday outside Cleveland, didn’t respond, but the Ohio Democratic Party told this outlet that O’Neill is being “vetted.”

“We’ve stated publicly on many occasions and to potential candidates that any candidate that wants to participate in our sanctioned debates and forums must commit to going through the same vetting process as the other four candidates currently in the race and our down-ticket candidates,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Kirstin Alvanitakis. “Justice O’Neill has made the request to be vetted, and we will now initiate that process.”

2. The candidates who did show up didn’t separate themselves much…

The (Toledo) Blade's Jim Provance wrote "Once again, the four candidates on stage … largely agreed with one another as they played to the party faithful."

Cleveland.com's coverage of the debate included the headline "The Democratic gubernatorial candidates have yet to separate themselves on the debate stage."

Reporter Seth Richardson recounted how Whaley at one point said “At the risk of sounding redundant, I think that’s exactly right,” when following up Sutton’s support for protecting access to abortion.

“Through three debates, where is the daylight between the Democrats?” wrote Richardson. “The candidates on the debate stage … are apparently still on a ‘Nice to Meet You’ tour of some kind, since they have yet to actually debate anything.”

3. … except over Dayton’s lawsuit against drug companies.

One small area of contention surrounds Whaley’s support for the city of Dayton’s lawsuit against drug manufacturers, distributors and pain specialists. Whaley’s primary opponents said the lawsuit is “not enough” to combat the opioid crisis.

Whaley said she has been “working constantly” on the opioid crisis, as Dayton is one of the hardest hit cities in the nation. The city filed the lawsuit in June, alleging the parties caused the opioid crisis that has killed thousands of Ohioans.

The city filed the lawsuit one week after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a similar lawsuit brought by the state. DeWine, a Republican, is also running for governor in his party’s primary.

MORE: City of Dayton sues drug makers for role in overdose epidemic

Whaley touted Dayton was the first city in Ohio to sue the drug companies, something her opponents argued is ineffective, or insufficient.

“Suing the drug companies is all well and good, but that is going to take years and years,” said Schiavoni.

Added Sutton, “I agree with suing the drug companies … it is not enough and it is too little, too late.”

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Offstage, Pillich said she hadn’t read the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it.

Also speaking offstage, Whaley said the lawsuit is only one part of the city of Dayton’s approach to fighting the opioid crisis, after first declaring an emergency in 2014. She has also proposed attaching a “surcharge” on opioids.

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