Governor Mike DeWine and rival Jim Renacci discuss jobs, education and COVID policy during editorial board meeting

COLUMBUS, Ohio—For months, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci has pushed to fight incumbent Governor Mike DeWine on a primary debate stage.

On Monday, Renacci, a former congressman from Wadsworth, got as close as he could get to his goal in this primary campaign, exchanging arguments and policy points with DeWine during an online meeting with The Plain Dealer/ editorial board. DeWine previously turned down an invitation to a debate with his Republican rivals ahead of the May 3 primary.

During the more than hour-long meeting, Renacci criticized DeWine for his record on the state’s economy, the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the FirstEnergy scandal, educational curricula and other things. DeWine defended his record as governor and took a shot or two back at Renacci.

The Plain Dealer/ invited the other two Republican gubernatorial candidates, Columbus-area farmer Joe Blystone and former state Rep. Ron Hood, to attend the meeting, but neither showed up.

Here’s more on what DeWine and Renacci talked about:

ohio economy

DeWine has been promoting Intel’s decision to build a massive $20 billion semiconductor plant near Columbus. The governor said Monday that Intel’s presence in Ohio will not only create thousands of jobs in central Ohio, but also create a “domino effect” across the state by attracting suppliers to the huge semiconductor complex.

The governor also said Ohio’s bond rating is at its highest level since 1970, citing reports such as Forbes magazine. ranking Ohio second in the nation when it comes to quality of life.

But Renacci criticized state incentives of more than $2 billion offered to Intel to come to Ohio.

“One of the worst ways to build business in the state is when you have to pay to bring in business,” Renacci said. “It’s one of the reasons we can’t compete, because we’re still using the 20th century policies of buying companies to attract them instead of using economic drivers to attract them.”

Renacci added that while DeWine signed a balanced budget for the state, a large amount of federal coronavirus relief money “helped us fill the bucket of the deficit that would have been there without” the aid. He also cited a number of his own studies and rankings indicating Ohio has fallen, including a Republican National Committee list showing that Ohio is in the bottom 30 among states in terms of economic recovery from the pandemic.

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“The post-coronavirus recovery has been horrible,” Renacci said.

DeWine responded to Renacci: “It’s interesting that Mr. Renacci hasn’t mentioned anything he’s going to do; he simply criticizes what we have done. We have a long, long list of what we’ve done to help people be productive, to help people live the American Dream.”

coronavirus policy

Renacci also said he was concerned the governor was “not listening to the people” as he closed businesses, imposed a curfew and unilaterally established other important rules in the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis in 2020.

He also criticized DeWine for trusting Dr. Amy Acton, the state health director at the start of the pandemic, stating that “we could never find the statistics or studies to prove what she was saying” (Renacci did not say specifically what statistics or studies to which he was referring).

“She scared people,” Renacci said, referring to Acton. “I talked to the elders, who told me: ‘I’m scared to death.’ These are the kind of policies that I don’t think are good.”

DeWine defended his response to the coronavirus, saying he made decisions based on the best data he could get at the time.

“I think we take a middle ground on the balance between lives and livelihoods,” the governor said. “And I’m proud of what we did.”

Specifically, DeWine noted that in 2021, he successfully lobbied nearly every school superintendent in the state to sign a pledge to resume in-person classes by March 1, suggesting he would not begin teacher vaccinations in districts. that they did not agree. That expedited the reopening of Cleveland schools, which had previously planned to resume in-person learning in early April.

DeWine said his administration brought together business leaders from various sectors to establish protocols for reopening, a plan emulated by some other states.


DeWine defended his decision in 2019 to appoint Sam Randazzo as chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. Randazzo resigned in November 2020 after the FBI raided his Columbus home after FirstEnergy Corp. made public that it fired CEO Chuck Jones and two other top executives over a questionable $4 million payment made to a company controlled by Randazzo. In 2021, FirstEnergy admitted that it bribed Randazzo, though the longtime utility attorney denies any wrongdoing.

The governor said he chose Randazzo as president because he had a background in public service. DeWine said it was “no secret” that Randazzo worked for FirstEnergy in the past, but said it was also no secret that he also worked for power buyers.

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DeWine said attorney JB Hadden, an attorney and longtime friend who worked for AEP Ohio, another state-owned electric utility, tried to warn him and management staff about Randazzo’s suspected ties to FirstEnergy. But DeWine said Hadden only offered information that was already public knowledge, adding that every time he makes an appointment at PUCO, he hears arguments from critics about why he doesn’t pick the person he prefers.

“Obviously, if I had known then what I know today, we certainly wouldn’t have cast Sam Randazzo,” DeWine said. “But we didn’t know those things.”

Renacci noted that FirstEnergy was the third largest donor to DeWine’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

“That doesn’t mean it’s illegal, but this governor has used pay-per-play skills to really get around for the last 45 years,” Renacci said. “It’s one of the things I said that I’m going to end up as governor.”

Death penalty

Ohio has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty while DeWine has been governor, as the state has had ongoing problems obtaining the lethal injection drugs needed to carry out executions.

DeWine noted that public opinion has moved away from support for the death penalty, but said his job as governor is to enforce the law. He noted that he previously urged state lawmakers to choose a different method of execution in Ohio, something lawmakers have refused to act on until now.

Renacci agreed that, as governor, he would follow Ohio’s death penalty law. But he said that if a bill to eliminate the state’s death penalty came to his desk as governor, he would sign it.

“As a faithful Catholic, I believe that life begins at conception and ends with natural death,” Renacci said.


Renacci said that on “day one” as governor, he would ask state lawmakers to eliminate teaching critical race theory and social-emotional learning in schools, as well as block comprehensive sex education between kindergarten and high school. third degree. Critical race theory is not currently part of the school curriculum in Ohio.

“That’s a position you haven’t heard from the governor,” Renacci said. “It’s one of the reasons Republicans aren’t comfortable with him.”

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Renacci also said she favors expanding school vouchers and would support Ohio House Bill 61, which would ban transgender girls and women from playing girls’ and women’s sports in high school and college.

DeWine said he has “already stated” that he is against critical race theory. “As for sex education, I don’t know anyone who thinks that first, second and third graders should get sex education in school,” the governor said, adding that he is also against “men competing against women. ”

The governor said his administration has “significantly expanded” school voucher options. “We are believers in school choice. You know, we know it works.”


When DeWine was asked why he hasn’t played a bigger role in finding a solution to the months-long redistricting fight, the governor compared his role to former President Ronald Reagan’s tactic of working with lawmakers between backstage to reach agreements.

“That’s what a governor does, instead of fighting, and a lot of times losing, overriding the veto, sometimes … you try to work these things out and find common ground of where things will work best,” DeWine said.

The governor added that “no one is particularly happy” with how Ohio’s new redistricting process has worked out in practice.

DeWine added that personally, “the most alarming thing” has been that outside cartographers “highlight fewer competitive districts” when drawing legislative district lines. The cartographers based their plans on several Ohio Supreme Court rulings that rejected maps approved by DeWine and other Republicans at the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

“That’s not what anyone intended,” the governor said, adding, “I think we have to rethink this (redistricting) process going forward.”

Renacci said he “appreciated” what DeWine said. “But he should have been saying that the whole time,” Renacci said, saying the governor “failed” as a leader.

Renacci also said the decision to have a legislative primary at a later date than the regular May 3 primary as a result of the redistricting deadlock was “a backroom deal” that will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

“It would be very easy to say, ‘Look, the only thing we should do because we failed, regardless of whose fault it is, is we shouldn’t put the burden of money on taxpayers,’” Renacci said. DeWine, Renacci added, “didn’t say that. He should have been saying that.”