Meet Richard Cordray, Former Federal Watchdog Returning To Ohio Politics

Dec 14, 2017

Richard Cordray stepped down from his position as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November. But as he ramps up his campaign for governor, he's pointing back to those years as proof he can serve Ohioans.

Cordray was appointed by President Obama to the Bureau in 2012, after serving as Ohio's Attorney General and Treasurer. But his position as a financial watchdog was long criticized by Republicans, and his decision to resign drew rebuke from fellow Democrats, who worry about the bureau's future under President Trump.

"I think we see a lot of conflict, a lot of division, a lot of pitting people against each other, scapegoating, coming out of Washington, D.C.," Cordray says. "And by the way I think we see a certain amount of it here in Ohio."

Though Ohio went overwhelmingly Republican in the 2016 election, Cordray wants to focus his campaign on the economic issues that helped propel Trump to victory here.

"The financial issues that keep people and their families up at night," Cordray says. "Worrying about paying the bills; worrying about managing the ways and means of their lives; how they afford health care; how they can look for and find that better-paying job, get the education and training they and their families need, and be able to save a bit put some aside for retirement."

Facing Cordray is one of the most crowded primary fields Democrats have ever seen: state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, former state Rep. Connie Pillich, and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill. On the other side, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Rep. Jim Renacci are all vying for the Republican nomination.

Codray talked to WOSU's Debbie Holmes about his experience in state and federal government and how he wants to improve Ohio's workforce.

Debbie Holmes: Why do you want to run?

Richard Cordray: I have served this state as Attorney General and as state Treasurer. I look and see the fights that are being waged in Ohio right now. I see a lot of division and conflict. That's not my way, that's not the Ohio way.

While still head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cordray spoke at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati.
Credit Andy Chow

When I was in state office, I put people together to solve problems like the foreclosure crisis that was besetting our communities all over the state, and we saved thousands of people's homes. The last seven years, I've been serving our country as the first director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, focusing on the financial issues that dominate people's lives, the kind of "kitchen table" issues I'll be talking about in this campaign.

And that's going to be why I want to be governor, and I'm going to be a problem-solver for people on those issues that matter most in their lives.

Debbie Holmes: What are some of those issues, then, that you'd like to help Ohioans deal with?

Richard Cordray: So for me, it's the issues I've been dealing with at the Consumer Bureau, the financial issues that keep people and their families up at night: worrying about paying the bills; worrying about managing the ways and means of their lives; how they afford health care; how they can look for and find that better-paying job, get the education and training they and their families need, and be able to save a bit put some aside for retirement.

Those are the issues I think people care the most about. That's been my focus for 15 years, and I'm a problem-solver on those issues.

Debbie Holmes: And a lot of it, I think, goes back to having good jobs available for people to, you know, be able to work in.

Richard Cordray: Yes, it is.

Debbie Holmes: What would be your plan then to get better jobs in Ohio?

Richard Cordray: The term for that across the country now is "workforce development." We have a significant skills gap, where we have lots of jobs that are open but we don't have the people to fill them because we don't have the right match of skills to the job requirements. That's something that I think we can do much better on.

It has to do with fitting the educational system to the needs of the employment base. It has to do with vocational training and apprentice programs. And it has to do with advanced training such as I saw in Marion the other day at the Ramtec center, where they're training young people on advanced robotics, which allows them to get into jobs at $25-30 dollars an hour, which are very, very well-paying jobs.

But they need those skills. And if nobody has them, those jobs go unfulfilled and those companies can't move ahead.

Governor candidate Richard Cordray visits Ramtec of Ohio, a robotics and manufacturing training center.
Credit Richard Cordray / Facebook

Debbie Holmes: Many voters last year in Ohio voted for Republican Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again platform. How do you plan to attract those voters?

Richard Cordray: Again, what people who are looking for is somebody who cares about the issues that matter most in their lives, not some some agenda that has nothing to do with life in our communities, or life at the kitchen table where they make the kind of hard decisions that really affect their futures. And so I think I have that background. I have that focus.

I have a track record on those issues from holding to state offices and now serving our country in Washington. And I believe that I'm a person who can appeal to those voters as well as all others.

I think we see a lot of conflict, a lot of division, a lot of pitting people against each other, scapegoating, coming out of Washington, D.C. And by the way I think we see a certain amount of it here in Ohio. I think we see a state legislature that has waged war on local governments for years.

Local governments often are the ones who deal face-to-face with people and their situations and improve quality of life in our communities. It doesn't help move the state forward if the state government is undermining local government at every turn, making it more difficult for them to do their jobs, and then to face new crises like the opioid crisis, which is a new problem we're facing in our communities.

Debbie Holmes: What would you do to deal with the opioid crisis? What has been lacking?

Richard Cordray: So I would say that, like the foreclosure crisis that washed over the state 10 years ago, and was not in anybody's job description to deal with and was a very hard problem, we put people together - state and local officials - that's what I did.

Some of our great nonprofits, who do such great work in our communities, and people from the private sector who wanted to step up and deal with the problem, and we saved thousands of people's homes. Similarly, the opioid crisis is going to require all of us to pull together if we're going to make a dent in it.