Ask Mike DeWine why he's running to be the next governor of Ohio, and the first thing out of his mouth is the issue that's dominated headlines during his time as the state attorney general: opiate addiction.
“It’s a horrible situation," DeWine says. "In Ohio, we’re losing 10 people a day. Our jails are overflowing with people who are detoxing. Our children’s services…they have more kids than they can deal with.”
DeWine has received both praise and criticism for how his office has dealt with the state's opiate epidemic. Earlier this year, he filed suit against several drug manufacturers for their purported role in the crisis, but his office has yet to file any legal claims against drug distributors like Dublin-based Cardinal Health, which was targeted by officials in West Virginia.
That's drawn attention from Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who has filed suit against some distributors.
"We are actually continuing to look at that and review that," DeWine says when asked if his office plans to go after drug distributors.
DeWine says the opiate crisis is also putting more stress on small businesses and other employers already struggling to find qualified workers. And growing the job market, he says, should be the Ohio governor's "number one job."
"The number one complaint I hear from businessmen and women is, 'I can't find people who will work here, who can pass a drug test, I can't find people who are qualified. So getting in front of this drug problem, I think, is essential as we look at job creation in the state."
DeWine talked to WOSU's Steve Brown to discuss his fight against the opioid epidemic, his plans for job creation and how he stands apart from other Republican candidates.
Steve Brown: Why run for governor now?
Mike DeWine: You know, for the last six and a half years I've really been working as attorney general, and it seems like many times, while we have solved a number of different problems, it seems like we're sort of picking up the pieces after the wreck. And I sort of want to get in in front of some of these problems, the opiate problem is a prime example.
Number one job of a governor is jobs. You know, I will be a very aggressive governor of this state in regard to job creation in Ohio and going after companies that are in other states. But really, the most important thing the governor does is to try to set a very, very good pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda and climate in this state so that the businesses that are already here have the opportunity to grow and expand.
That means, in my opinion, it's keeping taxes low, keeping regulations low. The number one complaint, though, that I hear from businessmen and women is, "I can't find people who will work here, who can pass a drug test, I can't find people who are qualified." So getting in front of this drug problem, I think, is essential as we look at job creation in this state.
Steve Brown: You mentioned opiates as a major issue facing the state. This issue has exploded during your time in office. Is this something that other candidates - Mary Taylor, Jim Renacci, John Husted - can use against you?
Mike DeWine: Well, you know I suppose anybody can use any issue they want to use, but the reality is, from the time I became attorney general, we were attacking this problem. And you know I was out there, it seemed like by myself for a while, talking about the opiate problem and how difficult it was, and we needed people to understand it and to be able to really fight back. One of first things we did when I became attorney general is run after the doctors who are nothing more than drug dealers, and we took the licenses away of over 100 hundred medical doctors in the state of Ohio.
Steve Brown: Your office still has not gone after distributors, the drug distributors like Dublin-based Cardinal Health. Is that something you still plan to do?
Mike DeWine: We have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers.
Steve Brown: But not distributors.
Mike DeWine: We have not done the distributors. We are actually continuing to look at that and review that. We haven't finished that review yet.
Steve Brown: What else do you do to stand apart? You're in a crowded GOP field. Gov. Kasich has endorsed his lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor. What do you do to stand up apart from candidates like Mary Taylor?
Mike DeWine: Well, I think ultimately that voters vote for who they think will, you know, improve life for them and their family in the future. And I think people can judge me by my past. I've been really a problem solver. As an attorney general for the last six and a half years, we fixed our state crime lab.
We solved that problem. We went after the old rape kits that were sitting around the state, where there was, you know, 13,000 it turns out, old rape kits and we've tested almost all of them now and got matches on 38 percent. That never would have been done, you know, except for the fact that I said, "Look, we need to go do this. This is the right thing to do." So I think the past can inform people as far as their vote for the future.
Steve Brown: President Trump won Ohio at least in part because he was an outsider, he wasn't a politician. You've been in Ohio and national politics for decades now. How do you tap into this frustration when you are part of the establishment?
Mike DeWine: You know as I went around Ohio during the presidential campaign and talked with people, one of the things that seem to be a common refrain, particularly among the Trump voters, was, "Look, government doesn't work. People aren't getting things done. You know, I just wish things would start getting done."
So I think there is a great frustration, and yes, there was a frustration of people who were in office. There certainly is. That's absolutely correct. But I think the bigger frustration just was, they can't get anything done. I'm a problem solver. I've been able to make things happen in every single office that I've ever held.