Democrats go after DeWine in gubernatorial debate

By: - March 30, 2022 3:55 am

John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, and Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, participate in the Ohio Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Debate at the Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Photo by Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission.

Two former mayors seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination shared the debate stage Tuesday, talking political corruption, energy policy, gun violence and more.

Rather than spar with one another, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley trained their words on incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine. Through an hour of back and forth, the two depicted DeWine as the ranking Republican in a statehouse thoroughly corrupted by corporate interests, and a kowtowing agent of the conservative right in his COVID-19 response.

More often than not, the two largely aligned on the issues, while perhaps differing on some of the finer points.

Both candidates repeatedly invoked House Bill 6 of 2019, which gutted Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, and bailed out coal and nuclear plants owned by Ohio utilities. FirstEnergy admitted to bribing both the former House Speaker (who has pleaded not guilty) and the state’s top utility regulator (who denied wrongdoing and has not been charged) in connection with the bill.

John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, delivers his opening statement in the Ohio Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Debate with Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton. Photo by Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission.

Cranley called for investing in renewable energy and offering $500 “energy dividends” to families earning less than $70,000. To pay for it, he’d increase the severance tax, which is paid by businesses who extract coal, gas and other minerals. Additionally, Cranley reiterated a scorched-earth proposal.

“Fire the utility commissioners,” he said, referring to the five who sit on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and set gas and electric costs.

Whaley, echoing prosecutors who called the episode the largest bribery scandal in state history, touted her more analytical approach. It calls for creating a Public Accountability Commission, boosting funding to preexisting ethics agencies, and working with the legislature to root out anonymous political spending.

On gun violence, both took after DeWine for signing a “stand your ground” law, which removes a requirement to seek retreat before responding to an attack with deadly force, and a permitless carry law, removing training, licensure and background check requirements to carry a concealed weapon.

Cranley said gun violence is a public health epidemic. While mass shootings tend to attract more attention, suicides and more-frequent smaller scale acts are the bigger problem. He called for universal background checks and “red flag laws” — allowing petitioned judges to temporarily seize the weapons of people experiencing mental health crises. He called DeWine’s votes on the two bills a “stain on his soul.”

Whaley too called for universal background checks. As the mayor of Dayton after a mass shooting in 2019, she saw a crowd shout down DeWine telling him to “do something.”

“Never in my worst nightmare did I think the thing he was going to do was to actually make it worse,” she said.

Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, delivers her opening statement in the Ohio Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Debate with John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati. Photo by Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission.

Abortion, a mainstay Democratic issue, revealed some daylight between the candidates. Both candidates described themselves as pro-choice. If elected, either would likely serve in a Republican-controlled legislature that has slowly marched over the last decade toward eliminating the procedure.

Whaley characterized Cranley as newly adopting a pro-choice stance for the primary.

“This is too important when [Roe v. Wade] is about to fall to have someone in the governor’s seat that just decided a few months before he announced for governor that he was pro-choice,” she said.

Cranley said he was raised Catholic and acknowledged he “started out in a different place” on the issue. He said a “personal, private fertility decision” with his family spurred the change, and pledged to veto any legislation that would undermine women’s right to access an abortion.

Both candidates managed to avoid directly revealing their positions on vaccine mandates.

On police reform, Whaley touted Dayton’s “alternative response model” that makes mental health providers available for 911 calls, as opposed to reflexively sending police. She didn’t directly answer when asked if Ohio should abolish qualified immunity, a legal doctrine used to shield officers accused of using excessive force while on duty.

Cranley said he wouldn’t nix qualified immunity. However, he emphasized equipping officers with body cameras that automatically activate and implementing “community oriented” policing.

Both candidates affirmed support for LGBTQ proposals like banning conversion therapy and prohibiting housing and employment discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.