Cordray with President Barack Obama, 2012. Photo Courtesy of the Huffington Post.
Richard Cordray: The Man Who Could Be Governor Part II of II
Can the Jeopardy! Champion parlay his skills all the way to the Governor’s Mansion?
By John Corrigan
(COLUMBUS) Richard Cordray earned his first successful foray into elective politics where the voters rewarded him with another term, as Franklin County Treasurer in 2004. With the backing of some of Central Ohio’s political heavy hitters and a united Organized Labor front, Cordray sensed that Ohio voters were ready for a change, and that change catapulted him to win his first of two elected statewide offices.
The 2006 election did bring change to Ohio. Cordray set his target on vulnerable appointed incumbent Treasurer Jennette Bradley, the former Columbus City Councilwoman and Lt. Governor who Governor Bob Taft appointed to the Treasurer’s job in 2004. Cordray, correctly as it turned out, believed that Bradley did not command strong GOP support, nor had strong statewide name recognition. Republican Ashtabula County Auditor Sandy O’Brien ran against Bradley in the primary and defeated her.
The race was on. Cordray firmed up support among the establishment finance community constituency groups as well as donors. He put together a machine that bulldozed O’Brien who received no support from the State GOP and went on to a smashing victory in 2006, where ruling Republicans were routed statewide.
Cordray inherited the Treasurer’s Office and immediately set out to achieve his priorities. Among them were an increase in transparency in the office, as well as increase competitive bidding for the right to do business with the state. Ohio fell into recession in 2007-09, and all elected officials had to make due with less, so Cordray was able to manage the office, but not implement lofty goals.
While managing the day to day business of investing the state’s money, an opportunity came up for Cordray born in the misfortune of fellow Democrat Marc Dann, the former Youngstown State Senator who narrowly defeated Republican Betty Montgomery in 2006. Dann was forced from office after a series of scandals in May of 2008. Governor Ted Strickland appointed a caretaker Attorney General and the state Democratic Party structure quickly coalesced around Cordray as their standard bearer for AG, the job he had sought unsuccessfully a decade earlier.
Republican nominated little known lawyer and former U.S. Attorney Mike Crites and constitutional conservative Robert Owens made the November ballot as an independent. Cordray once again earned endorsements, money and organization. He ran an effective campaign, and voters rewarded him with nearly 57% of the vote in 2008, as they were electing Barack Obama to the Presidency. Richard Cordray finally had his chance as the state’s top lawyer.
Cordray set out to restore confidence in the Attorney General’s Office. Like Nancy Rogers, his appointed predecessor, Cordray reformed the hiring hall style political patronage machine that Dann had established, and sought to remake the staff with solid credentialed lawyers and government professionals. Cordray changed the culture of the office from the dirty boy fraternity of Dann to a professional atmosphere in two years.
But his niche was suing and being perceived as a crusading consumer advocate in the face of the financial meltdown that was facing the state and nation. Cordray aggressively filed lawsuits on behalf of Ohioan against financial institutions in the mortgage lending industry, rating agencies and subprime lenders. His recoveries went to people affected by the recession, including to pension funds that lost money in the stock market. Cordray was a regular on the circuit extolling the virtues of capitalism while pointing out how to curb its perceived excesses.
Cordray’s activism saw him draw an established political foe in 2010, former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), the Cedarville native who now squares off with Corday for the Governorship. Both men ran a spirited race in 2010, with DeWine’s built in name recognition advantage providing an edge along with his party registration. Voters were reacting to two years of the Obama Administration and a Democratic Congress and voted out all statewide Democrats in 2010 with Governor John Kasich leading the way. Despite his role as a consumer watchdog, Cordray was narrowly defeated by DeWine by two points. DeWine was back and Cordray had once again lost an election.
Then President Obama came calling. Obama had just worked with the Democratic Congress to establish the brainchild of former Harvard University Professor and Presidential Advisor Elizabeth Warren to establish a powerful new federal agency overseeing consumer finance. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established with broad executive authority to regulate and punish financial institutions. Warren brought Cordray on board as a staffer to help set up the bureau in 2011. Warren was and has remained a controversial and outspoken liberal and could not pass muster to be approved by the U.S. Senate. She was Obama’s first choice to lead the Bureau that she birthed. The President then turned to Cordray as the first Director of the Bureau.
His path would be blocked by the majority in the U.S. Senate made up of Republicans and some Democrats who had sought reforms to the agency’s role and powers before it could start up. Born of the massive regulatory web created by the Dodd-Frank reforms, the Bureau had a target on its back from the get go. Thwarted in any negotiation by Obama, who would not negotiate with Congress, Cordray’s nomination was filibustered and contentious. Cordray could not muster the votes needed to break the filibuster. Obama refused to negotiate with Congress on any reforms to the Bureau, but instead, installed Cordray as a recess appointment. However, Congress was not in recess, and a Federal Court over turned Cordray’s appointment. Obama again nominated Cordray, but refused to consider reforms to the Bureau, and his nomination stalled. Finally, as part of a deal between Senate Republicans and Democrats, a vote was taken on July 13, 2013, and Cordray was confirmed.
The nation’s first ever consumer cop was busy and hit the ground running. Regulating banks, lending institutions, short term loans, mortgages and credit cards provided Cordray with an opportunity to further develop his consumer chops as he had as Ohio Attorney General.
Cordray achieved several important victories in his four-year tenure with the Bureau. Among them: Reform of mortgage rules and mortgage paperwork transparency; hefty enforcement mechanisms including fines, fees, and forced settlements with financial institutions with money going to consumers; aggressive rules on short term loans – often described as pay day lenders (later rescinded) which would have hampered the industry’s base of consumers and ability to earn income from customers. Much of Cordray’s battle was just keeping the agency afloat amid the new Republican Congressional majorities determined to curb its all-encompassing power, the only regulatory agency of its kind without a governing board or a check and balance on its rule making authority.
Cordray had told associates of his desire to run for Ohio Governor. In 2014 and 2016, rumor leaked that Cordray was contemplating a run, and each time, partisan Republicans investigated him as a potential violation of The Hatch Act prohibition against Federal employees from engagement in partisan activities.
In 2017, with the new Trump Administration and a GOP controlled Congress, Cordray had enough of the D.C. partisanship, and announced a run for Governor. He partnered with former Congresswoman and primary opponent Betty Sutton to run as his Lt. Governor.
Cordray easily won the primary in May and earned a unified labor and Democratic establishment front. Cordray has sought to set himself apart from DeWine in many ways, carefully playing to supporters of Governor Kasich on issues like Medicaid expansion and JobsOhio, two of Kasich’s signature achievements.
Cordray’s announced agenda includes (from his campaign website):
Opioid Crisis: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/ohios-opioid-crisis/ Advocates for a ‘state of emergency’ and more resources at the state and local level.
Creating a Commission on Women and Girls: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/ohio-commission-on-women-girls/ Wants to elevate ‘women’s issues’ with an emphasis on government action to narrow the wage gap and create hiring goals or quotas so that women in state government equal the female population of the state, among other areas.
Universal Pre-Kindergarten Education: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/universal-pre-k/ A financial commitment to fund or find funding for early childhood learning programs.
Senior Citizens: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/seniors-and-retirement/ Make Ohioans more aware of government supported programs such as in home care, meals on wheels, and other programs to assist Seniors. Incentives for employers to provide pensions, boost life expectancy,
Clean Energy: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/clean-energy/ Increase mandates for wind and solar energy, while reducing regulation on these industries.
Restrict Access to Guns: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/reducing-gun-violence/ Requiring universal background checks and limiting access to certain types of weaponry such as bump stocks and high capacity magazines.
Health Care: https://cordrayforohio.com/issues/health-care-reduced-costs-reliable-coverage/ Increase Ohioans who qualify for the Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act.
Cordray and DeWine are in a close race for Governor, with public and private public opinion polls showing that both candidates have strong support. Insiders are saying at this point – the race could be decided with a coin toss.