I saw two great TV shows this week — The Big Bang Theory and the Ohio Democratic governor candidates’ debate.
One was about four nerdy guys who talked about a lot of complicated stuff and made snarky remarks about each other. The other one was about Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard.
Or you could say that one was based on a totally fictional premise with an unrealistic storyline and characters you would never run into in real life while the other one was about four friends on the faculty at CalTech who play out comical situations every week.
The Democratic candidates’ debate held at Bowsher High School on Tuesday was like being in a fictional universe, but in a good way. Democrats have been so nearly shut out of contention in statewide Ohio politics since 2006 that any pretense of being in competition for the governorship (or secretary of state, or auditor, or treasurer) can come across as political fantasy.
Ohio’s reality show is the one we saw Tuesday night on stage at Otterbein University where Gov. John Kasich gave his eighth and final State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly. Ohioans learned almost nothing about the state of Ohio, as far as the responsibilities of the governor extend, but they did get a refresher of Philosophy 101.
There was more said about the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, as interesting as they are, than about, for example, the flow of fertilizer runoff and livestock manure off Ohio’s farmland that is feeding the growth of toxic algae in Lake Erie.
Mr. Kasich’s personal habit of stopping in at the flower shop in Westerville to buy a daisy for a loved one got more time in his 54 minute speech than did possible legislative or administrative solutions to illegal gun ownership, which contributed to the fatal shootings last month of two Westerville police officers.
By contrast, discussion about policy relating to real problems was on tap on the stage at Bowsher where we heard from the four Democratic gubernatorial contenders — former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former federal consumer protection director Richard Cordray, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill. They wrestled for 90 minutes over a series of issues pitched to them by Viviana Hurtado and Tim Miller of WTOL-TV Channel 11 and Blade Associate Editor Wynne Everett.
Granted, they have their quirks, like Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard.
Mr. O’Neill came out swinging against Mr. Cordray — the man he previously strongly supported for governor. Halfway through the debate, he was answering questions by saying, “I agree with Richard.” He referred to Mr. Cordray as “Prince Richard,” because Mr. Cordray has supposedly been anointed the nominee by the party establishment.
Sheldon-like, Mr. Cordray’s reposte to that was he would prefer to be referred to as “Richard the Lionhearted.” According to Wikipedia, that Richard spent most of his adult life in France and devoted much of his reign to fighting the Crusades in the Holy Land.
And then there was Mr. Kucinich who pretty much wrote off all of eastern Ohio by proposing to ban fracking, the most promising economic activity in that part of the state. Mr. O’Neill proposed, interestingly, a registry of assault weapons, arguing that the Second Amendment didn’t make it illegal.
Mr. Schiavoni was kind of the Leonard of the group, well grounded, being the only one who is currently involved in Ohio government.
That being said, the hour-long debate was a feast of policy disputation. Discussed were Lake Erie, the opioid crisis, gun violence, legalizing marijuana, campaign finances, Syria, and assault rifles. There was a lot more ground to cover. Education could be a debate in itself but made only a fleeting appearance Wednesday night.
Republican candidates for governor have not met in debate. Attorney General Mike DeWine is choosing not to endanger his nomination and election in November by saying something embarrassing in a debate with opponent Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
What we saw Wednesday night in Bowsher High School was a political party with policy ideas. If the party they go up against continues to act like those problems don’t exist, voters may well choose the party that promises action.
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