Highlights from first Ohio Governor’s Debate in Dayton

Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine debated for one hour at the University of Dayton, exchanging barbs — about each others records as state attorney general — and ideas — about drugs, the opioid crisis and state support for Ohio’s urban core.

The Wednesday night event marked the first debate for the major-party candidates. 

Cox Media Group Ohio, including the Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV and WHIO Radio, served as media partner for the debate at UD’s Daniel J. Curran Place, the former NCR Corp. world headquarters.

FULL COVERAGE: Cordray, DeWine trade jabs in first debate

Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

The candidates were testy with each other from the start

The evening’s rapid-fire exchanges, attacks and one-liners contrasted with the race’s reputation as a sleepy contest between two boring politicians.

Cordray, who served as consumer watchdog under President Barack Obama, set the tone at the University of Dayton seconds after shaking DeWine’s hand.

What about Dayton, urban areas?

Following the recent Frontline/ProPublica “Left Behind America” program, which has sparked heated conversation about the problems facing Dayton, the candidates were asked if the state government should do more to help urban areas rebuild.  

DeWine said, “I will be a friend of local government,” citing his working relationship with area chambers of commerce and local governments, and he talked about protecting Wright-Patterson Air Force base jobs.  

Cordray said the governor must do more to those who have not been part of the economic recovery. 

“There’s some very good things happening in this community and particularly at Wright-Patt,” he said, “but I’ve also been around the state and many people feel left out and left behind.”

Cordray went after DeWine on opioids

Cordray, 59, criticized DeWine as a career politician who believes the governor’s chair is the next step up the ladder, then said he had failed to do enough to stop the state’s opioid epidemic as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

“I will face down the drug traffickers and the big drug companies to fix the opioid crisis, but, Mike, you have had eight years to deal with this problem and you have failed Ohio,” Cordray said.

When you look in the mirror, why you?

Cordray, who was first elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1990, said the governor’s office is another rung on the ladder for DeWine, who was first elected to the Ohio Senate in 1980.

“I am motivated to stand up to people and fight back and make it right,” Cordray said, citing his time as state treasurer, attorney general and director of the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

DeWine rebutted by focusing on drug crimes.

“He is advocating — I want you to listen to this — something in the state of Ohio that is totally outrageous,” DeWine said, criticizing Cordray for support of Issue 1, which would, among other things, convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period.

DeWine says Cordray is ‘all talk,’ has ‘done nothing’

DeWine, 71, said Cordray was “living in a fantasy world” by claiming DeWine had not used his office effectively to fight pharmaceutical companies, e-school corruption and gun violence. He said Cordray left the office in disarray. “You’re all talk and you’ve done nothing. You’ve been a failure at every job you’ve ever had,” DeWine said.

Cordray said he is proud of his record, including at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But his primary aim was DeWine’s handling of the opioid crisis. He said taking advice from DeWine on solving the opioid epidemic would be like “asking for navigation advice from the captain of the Titanic.”

Cordray also took issue with DeWine’s proposal to appoint a drug czar if elected. “News flash: We already have an opioid czar,” Cordray said, meaning DeWine. “When you see him, tell him he’s doing a horrible job.”

The two are vying to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s term-limited, in one of the season’s highest profile governor’s race.

Abortion debate

On abortion, Cordray said he would veto a so-called heartbeat abortion bill limiting the procedure when the first fetal heartbeat is detected. After he was prodded by Cordray to state his position, DeWine said he would sign the stringent restriction if it crossed his desk as governor.

Issue 1 was front and center

The candidates’ positions also differ on Issue 1, a statewide ballot question that calls for reducing criminal sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

DeWine said their stances on the issue give voters a clear choice.

“Richard Cordray would put a star on Ohio and every drug dealer … would come here,” DeWine said. He called Cordray’s support of the issue dangerous and “totally outrageous.”

Cordray called DeWine’s statement misleading. He said too many Ohioans are in prison for such offenses and there are more humane, productive and cost-effective solutions for drug offenders.

Future of marijuana in Ohio

DeWine came out strongly against legalizing marijuana for recreational use and jabbed at Cordray for skirting the issue in his answer.

“You’re really a profile in courage,” DeWine quipped. “You’re not going to take a position on recreational marijuana?”

Cordray said DeWine was “living in the past.” Once pressed by DeWine, he said if recreational marijuana is back on the ballot, he would vote in favor of it — but he believes the question should be put to Ohio voters.

Who gets blame for ECOT failure?

Cordray attacked DeWine for failing to do enough to protect Ohioans from the now-shuttered e-school ECOT, or the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which Ohio education officials say overbilled the state $60 million by inflating attendance.

When DeWine said he is fighting in court to recoup money from the school, Cordray said, “That’s not a protect-Ohio lawsuit; that’s a I’m-running-for-governor lawsuit.”

- Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press

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