Democratic candidates for governor John Cranley and Nan Whaley engaged in collegial debate Tuesday night, agreeing on several points and taking mutual shots at Republican incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine.
Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, and Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, are competing in the May 3 partisan primary. Tuesday was their only in-person debate.
No debate is scheduled between the four Republican primary candidates: DeWine, former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, Joe Blystone and Ron Hood. First DeWine and then Renacci backed out, and Hood reportedly did not respond to organizers’ calls.
Cranley and Whaley avoided attacking each other, instead touting their own records to position themselves as the best candidate to take on DeWine in the fall. They did not mention any other Republican candidate.
Both Democrats pounded House Bill 6, the legislation at the heart of the FirstEnergy corruption scandal. Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is awaiting a federal bribery trial on charges related to HB 6, which included a $1.2 billion bailout for utilities.
Whaley blamed many of Ohio’s problems on 30 years of control by wealthy political donors and lobbyists. She vowed to change that.
“I will make sure your pay goes up, your bills go down, and we finally have a state government that’s working for you,” Whaley said.
Cranley said that under his administration, Cincinnati became the state’s only major city to reverse years of decline. He said he could do the same for Ohio as a whole by legalizing marijuana and taxing it to fund development of clean energy jobs.
The Ohio Debate Commission sponsored the debate at Central State University in Greene County. Central State is Ohio’s only historically Black public college or university.
Lucy May, host of Cincinnati Edition on 91.7 WVXU-FM, moderated the hour-long event in Central State’s Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center. She asked questions submitted in advance by Ohio residents.
Asked how to bring Ohioans together, Whaley said she had to do that with all parties in Dayton to improve education and child care. As president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, she headed the group’s push to support the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act that will bring about $11 billion to Ohio.
On the same question, Cranley detailed his plan to pay for broadband internet expansion, wind and solar power projects with taxes on legalized marijuana.
Cranley said he would fire Ohio’s public utility commissioners on his first day, replacing them with clean energy advocates. He promoted giving Ohioans a natural gas dividend of $500 annually to each family that makes less than $75,000 a year.
Whaley said she would invest in renewable energy and battery technology development.
Cranley said he’d “absolutely” support a temporary reduction in the state gasoline tax to offset high fuel prices. Whaley dodged the question, saying instead that she urged DeWine last winter to cap prices for compressed natural gas.
The two candidates agreed in their opposition to DeWine’s recent approval of permitless concealed carry of handguns. DeWine signed that legislation despite opposition from some law enforcement groups.
“Mike DeWine has basically said it’s open season on the cops,” Cranley said.
Whaley denounced DeWine as a political weakling on gun laws, COVID-19 precautions and legislative redistricting.
“He does what is convenient at the time politically,” she said.
Cranley didn’t directly answer a question on mandates for COVID-19 vaccinations and mask-wearing, but said he would beef up public health funding and infrastructure.
Whaley said Dayton was the first city in Ohio to require face masks, before COVID-19 vaccines became available; and that mask requirements were essential for keeping students in school.
Asked their positions on abortion privacy and access, Whaley said she has fought for those throughout her career and has been endorsed by major pro-choice groups. Cranley, she noted, had only “joined us” on support for abortion rights a few months before launching his gubernatorial campaign.
Cranley acknowledged changing his opinion in the past few years, but said he now supports abortion privacy and access. He would use his veto as governor to preserve those rights in Ohio, he said.
On the hot-button issue of police reform, the candidates were asked if they would issue an executive order to end qualified immunity from prosecution for police.
Whaley didn’t answer directly, saying instead that people interacting with police deserve to be treated with “dignity and respect.” Following the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Whaley said, she recognized that police-community relations needed improvement and brought together community partners to implement many recommendations for change.
Cranley said he would not issue such an order, but would sign an order requiring police to be licensed. That’s an idea DeWine promoted a year ago but which has not been implemented.
In Cincinnati, following a 2001 boycott of the city after police killed several unarmed Black people, changes in transparency, use-of-force policies and community-oriented policing led to a drop in shootings along with a 50% decline in overall arrests, Cranley said.
Asked how to protect children from sexual abuse, Cranley said he would lift the statute of limitations on prosecution for rape. His running mate, state Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, led the effort to classify prostitution involving a minor as rape, he said.
Whaley said she would raise the statute of limitations on rape and related crimes, but that sex trafficking is often linked to drug addiction. She would fund addiction services, especially for areas too poor to afford them on their own, she said.
Both candidates announced firm support for the LGBTQ+ community. Whaley said she officiated at Ohio’s first same-sex marriage, and Dayton was the first city in the state to ban “conversion therapy.” But, LGBTQ+ people still need housing and employment protections from discrimination, she said.
Cranley said he thought Cincinnati was the first Ohio city to ban “conversion therapy.” It’s particularly important to stand alongside the transgender community, as trans people are being demonized nationwide, he said.
Cincinnati banned “conversion therapy” in 2015. Dayton did so in 2017.
In closing remarks, Whaley announced she would support a $15 an hour state minimum wage, seek to provide universal preschool, cut medical costs and attack “rampant corruption” in state government.
Cranley put in another plug for his clean-energy infrastructure plan, predicting it would create 30,000 jobs paying $60,000 each. Democrats have the same goals, but the race should come down to the candidates’ records, he said.