The Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General said he supports a legal action made by the sitting Republican Attorney General.
Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said the lawsuit DeWine filed against five pharmaceutical companies was the right course of action if the allegations in the suit are true. Dettelbach is a Democrat seeking to succeed DeWine, a Republican, who is term-limited and running for governor. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is the presumptive Republican candidate for attorney general.
“People have to stand up and fight against these pharmaceutical companies to protect the people of Ohio, and I’ve been working on it for a long time, others have been working on it for a long time,” Dettelbach told the Journal-News while attending the Butler County Democratic Party annual dinner. “This lawsuit, this recent lawsuit is a new effort but I think if the facts are true, then we ought to support the idea of bringing actions to fight for people who are being victimized.”
Dettelbach, 51, had spent two decades as a federal prosecutor fighting against drug trafficking, terrorism and corruption, and would plan to attack the opioid crisis with an “all of the above approach.”
“Thousands of our neighbors are dead because of what happened here,” said Dettelbach. “We are out billions and billions of dollars in this state, and it’s not asking too much that if people didn’t follow the rules that they’re held accountable and that they help clean up the mess that they made.”
The solution to combating the opioid crisis in Ohio, which has been deemed a part of the epicenter of the crisis in the country, involves partnerships. There were 3,050 Ohi0ans that died from drug overdoses in 2015, and that record-breaking number is expected to increase when 2016 figures are released, according to the Associated Press.
“We’re not going to arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem alone,” Dettelbach said. “We have to engage the health care community. We have to try to make sure we’re getting a hold on the literally millions of opioid pills that are being shoveled and funneled into our community. We have to do a better job on treatment.”
Dettelbach’s position on the lawsuit is more favorable than the Ohio Democratic Party’s comments last week when the lawsuit was announced. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said DeWine’s lawsuit “is acting on a suggestion that Ohio Democrats have offered on multiple occasions, going back years. To solve this crisis, Ohio needs leaders who are ahead of the crisis, not years behind in their response.”
It’s clear that Dettelbach is not a politician — which he touts — and is a long-time prosecutor, said David Niven, a political science professor for the University of Cincinnati.
“I think it reflects his background,” he said. “He spent a lot of time trying to serve people.”
But Niven said Dettelbach “is going to learn quickly that genuine answers are rare for a reason in politics.”
“It’s an odd moment,” he said. “It can be refreshing to voters that this guy is going to give you a straight answer that isn’t political.”
Though, Niven said, “You can’t get too close to Mike DeWine in the Democratic Party.”
Miami University Regionals political science professor John Forren called it “a politically smart move.”
“It allows him to stake out a claim that he will act forcefully on an issue of high importance for lots of Ohioans,” he said. “It also allows him to establish a public image as someone willing to act independently of his party. That positioning — as a ‘problem solver’ who is willing to depart from the positions taken by others in the party — has proved to be quite beneficial for other candidates in recent elections.”
Most notably President Donald Trump, who during the 2016 presidential campaign feuded with the Republican Party, including U.S. Sen. John McCain and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Dettelbach said he’s running because he believes in the rule of law, and he’s worried there is a growing population that believes the system is rigged.
“I’ve really been devoted to the idea that there’s just one set of rules that applies to everybody. One set of rules to protect everybody, no matter how vulnerable, and the same set of rules to hold everybody accountable no matter how powerful they are,” he said. “A lot of people in this state and in this country are worried that there’s not just one set of rules for everybody … that the people who have wealth, who have power, who have position have one set of rules and that everybody else has another set of rules — and that just can’t be.”
Michael D. Pitman has been a reporter in southwest Ohio since 1999. He's covered local governments in Warren and Butler counties, as well as state and national issues. He currently covers the cities of Fairfield and Hamilton.