Ohio’s political roundup: The 2018 governor’s race heats up

Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Laina Yost

Gov. John Kasich, Ohio’s longstanding Republican leader, will soon be out of office, clearing the path for a wide-open gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

Without the challenge of taking on a well-known incumbent, candidates along both sides of the aisle are lining up to take their shot at his seat.

As it stands now, eight candidates from both parties have officially declared their gubernatorial candidacy. Some have statewide recognition, while others are relatively unknown.

All candidates currently or have previously held an elected office in Ohio.

For many undecided voters, the list below serves as a primer for the candidates.

Democratic Candidates

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. and Kent State alumna Betty Sutton describes herself as a “leader who works for Ohio.” Sutton stresses jobs and workplace development in her campaign, promising that she will bring change around as governor.

She released a plan to create a new state agency, the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which is dedicated to creating new jobs and working with educational institutions. The proposal is a cornerstone of her nascent campaign.

“If we are to create opportunities for Ohioans to obtain the jobs that will dominate the economy in the 21st century, we must ensure that our public schools, community colleges and universities like Kent State have the resources they need to prepare students in every part of our state for them,” Sutton said.

Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, emphasizes community within her campaign. Whaley, an Indiana native who moved to Dayton, is a University of Dayton and Wright State University graduate.

Whaley holds pharmaceutical companies responsible for the heroin epidemic, and said they must be held accountable. She’s pledged to do so as governor.

Whaley claims that she will move Ohio forward like she did Dayton, through public service, educational opportunities and workforce development.

Whaley’s record, however, is marred by poor education grades on the most recent report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education. Dayton City Schools received an F in both graduation rate and Ohio’s standardized testing, although the schools did earn an A in progress under her watch.

Whaley, who is running for Dayton’s mayoral election in November, is not permitted to use funds raised by her committee until the mayoral election has passed. Whaley has raised more than $455,000 for her gubernatorial campaign through the PAC Friends for Nan Whaley, according to a campaign finance report filed in July.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, the youngest candidate in the race at 38 years old, is a Youngstown native and a former Senate minority leader.

He’s been a state senator for eight years, and stepped down as minority leader to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

In Schiavoni’s statement announcing his candidacy, he criticized the Republican field for their actions. He touts strong relationships with various labor unions, and the bulk of his fundraising for his 2014 senatorial campaign came from such organizations.

Schiavoni said he wants to focus on Ohio’s infrastructure, public education system and the opioid epidemic. He’s taken particular issue with a Repbulican-led small business tax cut, which kept around $1.1 billion from state coffers in 2016, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

“I have said for months that tax cuts should not be a priority when our schools are not adequately funded and our state is facing the worst public health crisis in decades,” Schiavoni told The Toledo Blade.

Schiavoni released a job growth plan he would implement as governor that would repeal the small business tax cut put in place by the GOP.

Schiavoni has also introduced a plan in the Senate to invest $50 million in public transportation and work with educational agencies to develop programs to meet workforce demands.

Former Democratic State Rep. Connie Pillich is promoting her experience as an eight-year military veteran in her run for governor.

Pillich laid out her plan for health care, which she calls “Medicaid-for-All.”

In it, she offers two options on the state exchange — one that offers Medicaid and the other that offers coverage under the state health insurance plan available to state employees and lawmakers.

It would make government health care available to all Ohio citizens who opt to buy into the program.

“I got the best leadership training in the world serving on active duty for eight years,” she told WOSU Radio. “So I have leadership to offer our state and to make this dream a reality.”

Pillich, who is running on a progressive Democrat platform, explained in a campaign video that she can improve Ohio’s schools, rebuild infrastructure and bring back industry jobs.

She was one of the earliest candidates to declare her campaign. In 2014, she lost a bid for state treasurer to incumbent Republican Josh Mandel.

In campaign financials, Republicans lead the way with almost $4 million combined for money raised. Pillich has raised $547,060.87, giving her the highest number on the Democratic side, while Schiavoni and Sutton trail with $341,755.00 and $275,048.87 respectively.

Republican Candidates

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine has focused much of his campaign on the opioid epidemic. DeWine, as attorney general, sued Ohio drug companies for their role in the opioid crisis.

The move drew mixed reactions from the other candidates, but DeWine said the industry mislead patients about the dangers of drug overdoses. Whaley and Schiavoni both said that the lawsuit was a move in the right direction.

DeWine also created a $1 million grant for foster care to help recruit new families to take in children whose parents were addicts.

“There is a growing chasm between the number of available foster families and the increasing number of children who enter the child welfare system because one or both of their parents are drug addicts,” he said in a press conference.

DeWine made a $1 million loan from himself to his campaign, which made him the candidate with the most money on hand.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has stirred some controversy in his gubernatorial campaign.

Questions arose when a $1 million donation was received by Ohio Conservatives for a Change — a pro-Husted committee. As secretary of state, Husted cannot make his own super PAC.

Husted opposed DeWine’s move to sue drug companies, and said a lawsuit would require too much time that Ohio doesn’t have. 

He served as both a state representative and senator before his time as the top election official. In 2012, Husted came under fire for enforcing a rule limiting in-person early voting.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. Ultimately, Husted acquiesced, allowing early voting the weekend before the election.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor decided to run with the backing of Kasich.

Taylor has already developed a tax plan for if she became governor, one she said is simple enough to fit on a postcard.

“We have listened to our business and individual taxpayers and proposed changes they have told us will move the needle for Ohio,” she said in an interview with the Blade.

Taylor said she is different than the other candidates because she describes herself as the “true conservative” in the race.

“It’s not just my words — everybody says they’re conservative, my opponents are saying it — but my track record proves it. My record in the legislature. My willingness to challenge the status quo and take on my own Republican Party because I refused to vote for a tax increase,” Taylor said during a Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Republican Rep. Jim Renacci is hoping to capture the same anti-establishment sentiment that pushed Ohio toward President Donald Trump in 2016 in his run for governor.

Renacci, a wealthy business owner from Wadsworth, is positioning himself as a political outsider with business acumen.

“When people say, ‘We don’t know who you are,’ that’s good, because if they’d know who I was I would be part of the problem,” he told Dayton Daily News. “I’m not part of the problem.”

Renacci has shown strong support for several of Trump’s policies and plans, including the defunding of sanctuary cities and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Renacci staffed his campaign with multiple former Trump campaign members in Ohio. He is endorsed by the NRA, Citizens for Trump and Bikers for Trump.

In recent polling done by Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, DeWine has come out on top of fellow Republicans and Sutton has topped among the Democrats. However, the majority of pollers responded they were undecided as of yet.

The election for a new governor will be held on Nov. 6, 2018.

Laina Yost is an enterprise reporter. Contact her at [email protected].