One month before the GOP primary for governor, Attorney General Jim Petro knows he is the underdog in his race against Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
"Over the course of the campaign we've consistently been a little bit behind and the amount that we are behind varies," Mr. Petro said during an interview with The Blade last week. "We know we are the underdog a little bit, but at the same time, we are getting our message more and more out there."
Multiple polls released in recent weeks show Mr. Blackwell leading Mr. Petro, and a Wall Street Journal Zogby Interactive Poll released Friday shows Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Petro trailing U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic front-runner, in head-to-head matchups.
Still, Mr. Petro said he remains "very upbeat" - despite the polling numbers and a bitter campaign in which he has faced criticism for his handling of Ohio's rare-coin scandal and allegations that he punished lawyers who did not contribute to his campaigns by pulling their state legal business.
Before time runs out, Mr. Petro said he still has faith that voters will believe he is their "best choice."
Here are highlights from the interview with Mr. Petro:
Q: Why are you a Republican?
A: I've always had a conservative nature. I believe that smaller government is best. I believe that we should encourage local governments because local governments are closer to the voters. I really do express a high degree of fiscal conservatism in my advocacy and in my actual practice."
Q: What's the centerpiece of your platform in your campaign for governor?
A: In a campaign of this magnitude the candidates should be expressing concrete workable ideas to reduce the size of the state government, to make Ohio competitive with effective tax reform, to begin to reallocate resources to allow for tax reform to occur, to foster competition, and to enhance education and the opportunities for our young people.
Q: What's the key to fixing the state's problems with K-12 education?
A: The state needs to continue to take on a larger proportion of total funding. Currently, the state funds 52 percent of K-12 and I think we need to continue to move that number up so that more state support is directed at K-12 education. I hope to get, within four years, to 55 percent.
Q: If you are the governor and the legislature passes an abortion ban similar to South Dakota's, would you sign it?
A: I would sign an abortion ban that had an exception to protect the life of the mother. I think 35,000 abortions a year in Ohio are a travesty.
Q: What's your critique of Ohio Gov. Bob Taft?
A: I think Bob Taft is a very decent man. And I have respected his stable viewpoints. I believe that Ohio is at a point in its history where we need to take some risks and manage substantial change in the way we operate and the way we tax our citizens, and in the way we prioritize government's principal purposes.
Q: Considering Gov. Bob Taft's criminal convictions on ethics charges, does he still deserve to be governor?
A: He was elected to be governor of the state until January, 2007.
Q: What are the biggest lessons from the rare-coin scandal?
A: There always need to be a strong measure of fiduciary oversight in every area of public funds investment. The Bureau of Workers' Compensation did not create the oversight structure that would have caught specific investments that may be less than reliable. Clearly a decision to invest in a coin fund is not a prudent investment.
Q: Is there an ethics problem in state government right now?
A: There is a perception that contributors get favored treatment. I don't know that's always the case. I think that most public officials that I've worked with, certainly in the offices that I've run, the first criteria in making decisions is the quality and record of performance of those people who will be working with state government.
Q: You've proposed a ban on contracts for contributors. Is that the best way to fix appearances of impropriety?
A: Since the appearance always amounts to political support for the officeholder that is made or offered by vendors to that office, I think that just a flat prohibition on vendors contributing to the officeholders that manage the offices that they are doing work for or providing goods to, is a very appropriate solution that leaves no loopholes and is a simple statement that the purchase of goods and services is not influenced by political contributions.
Q: The role of "special counsel" has emerged as key issue in the campaign. Is there a problem with contributors being rewarded with the state's legal work?
A: I don't believe there has been any problem in this administration. Historically lawyers have contributed to attorneys general candidates. Lawyers do support lawyers; they do it for a variety of reasons, and that includes support for a lawyer who may recognize the quality of what a contributing lawyer may be able to provide in serving the state.
Q: What's your critique of your opponent in the GOP primary of governor, Mr. Blackwell?
A: I have not seen much substance in his campaign. It seems to revolve around the TEL amendment that has so many flaws, so many mistakes in its drafting, it potentially creates paralysis, especially in local governments. Ken's inability to put forth ideas on what he will do to really change Ohio, to improve the climate for economic growth, to inspire the creation universities that keep young people in Ohio is troubling.
I'm also troubled by Ken's record. He is in reality the biggest spender in state government, yet he portrays himself as a fiscal conservative. I think his record doesn't match his rhetoric and his rhetoric that revolves around gimmicks that won't solve Ohio's problems.
Q: Is Mr. Blackwell trustworthy?
A: I don't know that that's a fair question.
Q: How do you respond to critics who allege that your positions have changed too much over the years?
A: I have always been consistently fiscal conservative in all that I've done. On the issue of abortion I came to be very concerned that this state was too actively involved in the abortion of our children, and I became a convert to the pro-life cause in the late 1990s.
Q: What's your biggest obstacle to becoming governor?
A: Getting my message out to voters of real, substantive change and reform.
Contact Steve Eder at: email@example.com or 419-724-6272.