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DeWine touts self as 'problem solver'

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COLUMBUS — Mike DeWine has held elected public office for 37 years and has served as everything from county prosecutor to U.S. senator.

In any other election, that kind of political pedigree would be seen as an asset. But in this era of Donald Trump, his opponent for the Republican nomination, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, has sought to make that “establishment” resume a liability.

“It would appear that anybody I will run against this year, starting with Mary Taylor, has long government service…,” Mr. DeWine said. “I don’t think that’s a factor. Elections are about the future and not about the past.

“Having said that, an indication of what a person can and will do does come from what they’ve done,” he said. “And now, for over seven years (as Ohio attorney general), I’ve been a problem solver.”

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Ohio Attorney General and former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, right, speaks alongside running mate and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in November of 2017.

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Over his many campaigns, Mr. DeWine, 71, has lost twice, both U.S. Senate races. In addition to serving as senator for 12 years, he has been Greene County prosecutor, state senator, U.S. congressman, lieutenant governor, and currently Ohio attorney general.

Recent congressional special elections elsewhere have tipped in Democrats’ favor, but any so-called Democratic wave has yet to register in early polling for Ohio governor.

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“I benefited from a wave, wind at my back, in 1994,” Mr. DeWine said. “I’ve had wind coming at me as I did in 2006, but a race for governor — I would not say is immune from that — but I would say it is different…Jon Husted’s and my job every day is to tell the people of the state of Ohio between now and Election Day where we want to take the state.”

Mr. DeWine has teamed with Secretary of State Husted to create a GOP power team that, as of the end of 2017, sat on a campaign war chest of $10 million. But first that team on May 8 has to get past Lt. Gov. Taylor, who has characterized Mr. DeWine as a disco-era artifact who compromised too many times while in Washington.

While he has the official endorsement of the Ohio Republican Party this year, there was a time when Mr. DeWine was the scourge of the right. Conservatives were angered when he, as U.S. senator, supported renewal of the federal assault weapons ban. 

“I really had a different job,” Mr. DeWine said. “My job as attorney general has been, in regard to guns, to have oversight in regard to concealed-carry licenses…. Our job is also to talk with other states and see if we can get (reciprocity agreements)…. We have been aggressive in that, and we supported a bill in the legislature to make that easier for us to do with other states.

“I think people look at that as pro-Second Amendment,” he said. “What you’re going to see from Mike DeWine and Jon Husted, when you talk about issues like school safety, is we’re going to put forward ideas that we think we can get passed, that will actually work, that will make a difference.“

He also angered some conservatives when he joined the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of senators that brokered a compromise over judicial confirmations.

But as attorney general he won the praise of conservatives when he took Ohio into the multi-state court challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act. While that challenge lost on the central issue of Obamacare’s constitutionality, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that a key component of the law, expansion of Medicaid, could not be forced upon states.

The expansion remains a key issue as Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican, voluntarily took advantage of what was then 100 percent funding from the federal government to expand the government-run health insurance of last resort to what is now more than 700,000 lower-income Ohioans.

Ms. Taylor has broken with Mr. Kasich, her boss, to vow she would end the expansion. Mr. DeWine has been less black and white on the issue, but he makes it clear the program would look dramatically if he was governor.

He won’t say whether a program based primarily on family income will still exist as the state’s share of the costs gradually increases.

“I don’t really have an opinion yet on that, but what I can tell you is, for those people who say status quo is just fine, they have not looked at the numbers,” he said. “If we do nothing, this is going to cost $1 billion out of Mike DeWine’s first (two-year) budget….

“That money will be taken away from education, mental health, and all of the other things that we think are very important for our future,” he said. “Governing is about making tough decisions, but it’s also about figuring out a better way to do things.”

A DeWine administration would seek waivers from the Trump administration to change the current program to focus more on providing addiction and mental health treatment in the face of the state’s opioid crisis.

The attorney general also said he would ask the General Assembly to give him authority to declare a public health emergency on the opioid issue. He has sued opioid manufacturers and distributors.

“We were the second state to do that,” he said. “Mississippi had filed. I looked at that for a long time…. But no other states were jumping in and filing lawsuits. I analyzed it and felt that if Ohio, a big state, filed against the drug manufacturers that every other attorney general in the country would at least have to take a second look. I was right about that.”

He points to his office’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of the state’s crime labs and eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits that had been collected over the years across the state. His office has also partnered with Bowling Green State University to create a curriculum and laboratory for the next generation of forensics scientists.

As governor, he said he would focus on improving the state’s education system, including expansion of pre-school options. He said he wants to address the concern of employers that they struggle to find employees with the right skills and the ability to pass drug tests in this day of opioid addiction.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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