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Democratic Gubernatorial Debate Highlights Opioid Crisis

Former state Rep. Connie Pillich, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton participate Sunday in a Democratic gubernatorial debate. (Andrew Keiper)
Former state Rep. Connie Pillich, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton participate Sunday in a Democratic gubernatorial debate. (Andrew Keiper)
October 31, 2017

By Andrew Keiper
Kent State-Ohio News Connection

Four hopeful Democratic candidates for governor took part in the hour-long debate in Columbus on Sunday. The quartet answered questions submitted by Ohioans on issues like tax reform, jobs, healthcare and the opioid epidemic.

Among the candidates currently holding office in Ohio were Sen. Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Former state representative and Air Force veteran Connie Pillich and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton rounded out the four participants. The debate was moderated by Scott Light of WBNS-TV.

The first issue broached by the candidates was the use of data and analytics in combatting the opioid epidemic.

Whaley was the first to respond, and she said she’s pushed for better transparency and data from the state before pivoting to Dayton’s lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies.

Her response was pushed back on by Schiavoni, who highlighted legislation he introduced that would provide immediate rehabilitation and relief to the public.

“Suing the drug companies is all well and good, but it’ll take years and years,” Schiavoni said. “It’s about putting out a real plan that’ll help real people today.”

Sutton gave a unique response to the issue by promoting a jobs program as a solution to the epidemic. Pillich agreed with the other candidates, but also called for a hardline stance against drug dealers and increased funding to police and first responders.

When she was asked about Medicaid expansion, she said she would strengthen the program to improve access for rural Ohioans. She also supports a public option, which would allow citizens to choose the health care they want to buy into to, including insurance available to elected officials.

“If it’s good enough for the politicians, it’s good enough for the people,” Pillich said.

Schiavoni said he would fight for federal investment into Ohio’s healthcare and ensure the state acted as an example for the proper ways to use that funding. Whaley discussed how hospitals acted as job engines in rural communities and promised to use Medicaid expansion to further that growth.

The candidates also grappled with issues of access and affordability of birth control. Sutton said she would “lead the march” against efforts by Republicans to infringe upon women’s rights. Pillich talked about her experience as a patient of Planned Parenthood as a young mother and her support of the organization as a politician.

Whaley pledged that as governor she would ensure that the Department of Health would have a doctor as the head of the organization. Schiavoni touted his record in the Senate as a supporter of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and similarly vowed to veto any attempts to step on reproductive rights.

The candidates were also probed about tax reform and abatements, which proved a tricky response given that Ohio is a home-rule state, which allows local municipalities to pass laws to govern themselves.

Whaley used her response to push back on the Kasich administration, which she said hasn’t been transparent in its Jobs Ohio initiative. Schiavoni, as he often did during the debate, called upon his jobs plan as a way to renovate and alleviate residential blight while building a business-friendly environment in Ohio.

Sutton and Pillich both attacked Republican-led tax loopholes and cuts to local government funding.

Also speaking at the event were U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. An Ohio Democratic Party official said about 1,100 were in attendance and tickets for the dinner and debate sold for $100. All of the proceeds went to the state party.

A debate has not yet been scheduled between the four current Republican candidates for Governor: Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Congressman Jim Renacci (D-16), and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH