The Republican and Democratic candidates for governor met for their second face-to-face debate, this time taking questions from an audience and via social media at Marietta College.
The candidates were asked about energy, education, the environment and ECOT, the online charter school that closed earlier this year owing millions of dollars to the state for overinflating student attendance.
Democrat Richard Cordray said when he was Attorney General. before Republican Mike DeWine, he got a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court that said officials of failing charter schools could be held personally accountable for money that was lost.
“(DeWine) should have used that decision,” Cordray said. “But he hasn’t. And why? Because he got tens of thousands in contributions from ECOT officials. And his running mate got tens of thousands of dollars from ECOT officials. And those have not been returned.”
ECOT has been a big talking point in this campaign for Democrats. DeWine was ready for the question.
“I’m the only person on this stage who’s taken any action against ECOT. Mr. Cordray was the attorney general before I was the attorney general, " DeWine said. "There was an audit done by the auditor of this state that showed that there could be a conflict – he took no action. We took action in the appropriate time.”
DeWine also said that it was Cordray and not him who got donations from ECOT founder Bill Lager when the two faced each other in the attorney general’s race in 2010, and that Cordray hadn’t returned the money. Cordray said the total was $600 and he’d given it back to his local school district.
Throughout the debate, Cordray touted his proposed infrastructure bond issue, and DeWine talked up his early education plan.
The two were asked about a so-called “right to work” law banning requiring that workers pay union dues as a condition of employment. And they agreed – sort of.
DeWine said he would veto such a bill.
“This is not a debate or a fight that we need. Ohio has many issues and many challenges that Mike DeWine and Jon Husted want to deal with when we take office. We do not need the divisiveness of a fight like this that would take place," DeWine said.
Cordray also said he’d veto it, but then went further.
“What Mr. DeWine did not say, and he will not say, is that he would also like to see this be put on the ballot and let the people of this state decide. I don’t agree with that – Ohio is not a right to work state, should never be a right to work state. This was on the ballot 60 years ago and we voted it down," Cordray said.
The two tangled over health care issues such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions and over how to fight the state’s deadly opioid crisis.
DeWine blasted Cordray for his support of Issue 1, the constitutional amendment that would lower some prison time and penalties to relieve overcrowding, with the savings going to incentivize drug treatment.
“Even the Democrat nominee for attorney general is against state Issue 1. State Issue 1 is more drugs, more fentanyl. And if you live in Marietta, Ohio or on the border, they’re going to be coming over from West Virginia and other states. That’s what’s going to happen," DeWine said.
Cordray shot back that DeWine has been what he called a “grotesque failure” on fentanyl.
“What I want to see on that issue is some sort of change. We can’t just maintain and double down on the failed status quo of Mike DeWine. We have to do something different. It could be Issue 1. It could be a legislative package. I’m for any change that will make progress on that issue," Cordray said.
There were a few exchanges like that, but in answering a question about civility, both stressed they plan to be bipartisan in their approach as governor.
At two watch parties in Columbus, observers said this debate did have a less combative tone than the first one.
At a Democratic gathering, Catherine Girves said she likes the tone she’s heard.
“I appreciate knowing where people are, I appreciate thoughtful conversation, and crazy shenanigans are not helpful," Girves said.
Abby Dreiss is a junior at Ohio State, and watched from DeWine’s campaign headquarters.
“I do think Richard Cordray always does take some shots at Mike DeWine especially and I see that from him more so than Mike DeWine going at Cordray, but I think Mike DeWine has class all the time and really keeps it nice and civil,” Dreiss said.
The candidates will meet for one final debate in Cleveland next Monday.