Ohio’s incumbent attorney general, Republican Mike DeWine, is term-limited. So, as DeWine runs for governor against his opponent, Democrat Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, Ohio voters will have two fresh-yet-familar faces to chose from between for the state’s next attorney general: current State Auditor Dave Yost, the Republican nominee, and former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, the Democrat nominee. 

The Cleveland Jewish News spoke to both candidates and asked them the same set of questions about why they feel they are the more qualified candidate to become Ohio’s chief legal officer.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Yost got his Bachelor of Arts degree from The Ohio State University in Columbus and earned his J.D. from Capital University Law School, also in Columbus. He previously served as the auditor of Delaware County, as well as Delaware County Prosecutor. Yost was elected as the state auditor in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014, meaning he is now term-limited as auditor.

Dettelbach earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1988 and then earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1991. Dettelbach was the assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland from 2003 to 2006. Dettelbach was nominated to be the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in 2009, where he served until 2016.

WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN

Yost said the opioid epidemic is “on everyone’s mind” and the attorney general has both operational and leadership roles to play in the crisis. 

“We need to reduce the pathways to addiction,” Yost said. “We need to change the way we do prevention right now, because frankly, the system is just being overwhelmed. We need to rationalize the criminal code. Right now, possession under 10 doses of heroin is the same offense as selling under 10 doses of heroin, and there’s a huge difference between the harm an addict does to society and the harm a drug dealer does to society. A drug dealer is a virus, it replicates itself.”

Yost added Ohio doesn’t have good data collection on treatment, which he said isn’t necessarily a function of the attorney general’s office,  but said three out of four people who enter a 30-day inpatient treatment program will relapse within six months of completing it.

“We need to direct our resources and our money towards the treatment, modalities and programs that get results,” he said. “But right now we don’t even really have an effective way of measuring that, apples to apples.”

In addition, Yost said another pressing issue in the attorney general’s race was “the rule of law, the idea that the same rules apply to everyone.” In response to his latter issue, he noted he has held both Republicans and Democrats accountable in his career.

Dettelbach said the opioid epidemic needs to be addressed in a better way. He said he was one of the first people to praise DeWine for suing the drug companies for allowing so many opioid pills into the state and added that he’s sued drug companies before.

“I’ve recovered over $200 million from drug companies in part for actually pushing opioid into senior centers in our states, in violation of law,” said Dettelbach, adding the state also needs to challenge the insurance industry on covering non-addictive pain treatment. “I’ve talked to so many doctors and physicians all over the state, who tell me when they want to prescribe non-addictive pain treatment ... insurance companies give them the run around, that they won’t do what the doctor wants to happen because it’s cheaper to prescribe opioid pills.”

Dettelbach said another large issue is finding the candidate best equipped “to take on the corruption in Statehouse Square in Columbus,” and said the state’s current system favors donors over taking care of problems, which he said is hurting our state. He also cited gerrymandering and scandals such as the one involving the now-closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow as issues.

“We need a person in the attorney general’s job who is both experienced and independent to take that culture on,” said Dettelbach, adding that, if elected, he would open an investigation into ECOT on his first day in office. 

THEIR STANCE ON ISSUE 1

Ohio’s State Issue 1, which would lessen the crime penalties for possessing some drugs from felonies to misdemeanors and allow some inmates, with exceptions for those locked up for murder, rape or sexual abuse of children, to reduce their sentences by participating in prison rehabilitation programs, is a hot topic, and perhaps surprisingly, both Dettelbach and Yost oppose it, though each has different reasons for doing so.

Yost said, as proposed, Issue 1 “sweeps too far, will cause chaos in the courts and will result in more drugs coming into Ohio” due to the reduced penalties on possession. Yost said he favors a “personal use” law, which would make possession of three doses or fewer of heroin a misdemeanor. He said we don’t accomplish anything by sending an addict to prison but Issue 1 would make it a misdemeanor to have as many as “49 balloons of heroin.”

“No addict is carrying around 40, 50 balloons of heroin,” Yost said. “If they’ve got that much heroin, they’re either a mule (someone paid to move drugs) or a dealer.”

Dettelbach is one of the few Democrats to openly oppose Issue 1, which he said shows that he’s willing to act independent from his political party, but doesn’t necessarily oppose what the issue proposes.

“The reason that I’m voting no on state Issue 1 is I don’t believe the changes that are proposed should be in the Ohio Constitution because we can’t correct them or tweak them as times change and conditions change,” he said. “The people attacking Issue 1 by defending the status quo in this state and making it a political issue ... are hurting Ohio. The fact that state Issue 1 is on the ballot is an indictment on the lack of leadership in Columbus that has gotten us into this problem.”

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