Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
For every lump of coal or cubic foot of natural gas taken from Ohio’s underground, John Cranley wants to give some of the wealth back to the people at the surface.
A former Cincinnati mayor now running for governor as a Democrat, Cranley proposes raising the severance tax — which is paid in Ohio by companies based on the volume of natural resources they extract. Following the lead of Alaska and a similar model in North Dakota, he’d use the proceeds from the increased tax as a $500 annual “energy dividend” to families earning less than $75,000 per year.
“When I go to Appalachia, when I go to the Mahoning Valley, I hear from people all the time who see these energy companies that came here for coal for 150 years,” Cranley said.
“They were out of state. They took our wealth, took our resources, not a whole lot was left. Some people got rich, but a lot of people didn’t. Here, a dividend will help everybody equally. I think that Republicans would be hard pressed … to oppose it. And if they do, I’ll take it to the ballot.”
It’s one idea of a lengthy piece of Cranley’s platform, shared in an in-depth interview ahead of the looming May 3 primary.
After the worst year on record for gun deaths in Ohio, Cranley proposed closing a loophole that allows for firearms sales at gun shows without buyers undergoing a background check. He said he also supports a “red flag” law, which allows family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily seize people’s guns if they’re experiencing a mental health crisis.
However, these plans face long odds in a Republican-controlled, gun friendly legislature. So Cranley has other ideas that don’t require state lawmakers. For one, he’d enter Ohio into a consortium of other governments to use their aggregated buying power to drive gun manufacturers to adopt “smart gun” technology (which only fire for verified users, sometimes via fingerprint) and to conduct background checks on all buyers.
Additionally, most gun violence manifests itself as suicide. To address this, Cranley proposed adding new Federally Qualified Health Centers — safety net health care providers offering a wide range of care for uninsured or underinsured people — spanning all 88 counties.
“Gov. Rhodes famously promised to put an airport in every county — well I’m going to put a Federally Qualified Health Center in every county to bring medical services, including mental health services, closer to people who need it the most,” he said.
In a split from his primary election opponent, Cranley declined to commit to supporting a law requiring public school students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as a term of enrollment, as Ohio requires for measles, polio and other communicable diseases.
State health department data shows just 30% of 0-19-year-olds are vaccine-started. While Cranley didn’t rule out the mandate, he said he wanted to wait until federal regulators fully approve the vaccinations for all age groups and recommend states require them.
“Until we have more science established, I would say, let the schools decide on COVID,” he said. “Maybe, over time as the science becomes clearer, it could become like the other vaccines. Someday it could be required but let’s let the science play out a little bit longer.”
A native of Price Hill, a Cincinnati neighborhood, Cranley studied at John Carroll University before graduating from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School. He founded the Ohio Innocence Project in 2002, which has fought for the release of 34 wrongfully convicted Ohioans who collectively served 665 years in prison. (As a candidate, he cites this work as part of his plan to abolish the death penalty.) He lost two congressional races in 2000 and 2006 before winning a mayoral race in 2013 and again in 2017.
Nan Whaley, a former Dayton mayor and current rival candidate, calls herself the only “non-millionaire” in the race. Loose financial disclosure requirements don’t necessarily reveal Cranley is a millionaire but show a man with a good deal of personal wealth. In 2021, he reported ownership of six businesses, most with no apparent public profile.
Besides his mayoral income ($122,000), he reported 65 investments of at least $1,000 each at some point during the year, ranging from Amazon, Tesla and Kroger stocks to earnings from Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange. He also reported ownership of 67 properties in Dayton and Miamisburg. He said he owns a stake of about 3% in the investment group that owns the properties.
Throughout the interview, he said the primary election boils down to Dayton versus Cincinnati, and the general election boils down to the winning city versus the state — all in terms of population growth and poverty reduction. Citing census data, he said population has increased in Cincinnati during the decade while shrinking in Dayton and growing at a slower pace statewide.
“If we want to fire a Republican, we need someone whose growth and jobs records is better than the status quo,” he said. “Cinci’s is better. Dayton’s is worse.”
Some ideas of his ideas are conventional in Democratic circles. Despite running as an anti-abortion candidate in the 2000s, he said he has come around on the issue and pledged to veto any restriction that lands on his desk. Likewise, he called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, albeit phasing in the increase over a few years.
Some are less conventional. He wants to fire the five members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio — who are appointed to five-year terms by the governor — given the frequency of unanimous votes behind former chairman Sam Randazzo, who received millions from electric utility FirstEnergy Corp. as a bribe, according to the company’s admission to the U.S. Department of Justice. Randazzo has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing.
Several pieces of the platform trace back to a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio, and use that revenue alongside other JobsOhio funds and other monies allocated in the state budget to make large scale investments in infrastructure and broadband. He claims his plan can create 120,000 jobs over his four-year term with a pay of at least $60,000 per year.
Recreational marijuana — a linchpin for the plan — has stalled in the current General Assembly and faces a veto threat from incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine. Cranley insists there’s a path forward with new leadership.
“A Democratic or supportive governor changes the calculus,” he said.
An earlier version of this report misstated when Cranley was first elected mayor.
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