Luntz Moderates A Grand Old Job Interview
No Blood Flowed, Candidates Scored Points with Gentle Jabs.
By John Corrigan
(WESTERVILLE) In the city that gave an OSU graduate named John Kasich his start in politics, the first joint appearance of the 2018 Republican primary season kicked off on a warm October Sunday night. Sponsored by AM 880/104.5 FM of the religious themed Salem Network and Citizens for Community Values (CCV) before the day began, The Columbus Dispatch accused CCV of being a “hate group” http://www.dispatch.com/news/20171008/is-hate-group-sponsoring-tonights-gop-gubernatorial-forum according to the now discredited Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449476/splc-dangerous-lies-alliance-defending-freedom-no-hate-group .
With prayer and patriotic music as an opener, moderator Frank Luntz, the polling guru, Mike DeWine – Ohio’s current Attorney General; Mary Taylor – Ohio’s Lt. Governor; Jon Husted- Current Secretary of State; and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-16) strode on to the stage to wage combat in front of a packed house of worship. CCV made light of The Dispatch’s chop job in their opener, calling Central Ohio’s largest paper, “fake news.”
The format was different with the candidates allowed to show premade videos of themselves, and then subject themselves to questions from Luntz. “Together for Ohio” had invited all candidates of both parties, but only the Republicans attended.
Up first was Renacci, whose opening video shared a story of a working- class Pennsylvania upbringing featuring his mother. Renacci referenced his wedding anniversary on October 8th. He was asked if he was someone who could get things done. He answered that “I am somebody who will fight, not give up my principles and values, and still get things done.” Renacci says he frequently meets with Democrats, and has been effective, passing 15 bills into law.
Renacci stated that he would freeze expenditures, re-examine the amount of taxing authorities, do away with Medicaid expansion, support a “right to work” law, and asserted that the state is losing people, losing revenue, going backwards, and will put a freeze and veto any bill that increases spending.
“Communities have to come together, take their principles, and push them out.” The greatest thing I see when I go to Washington is right above the Speaker’s chair, ‘In God We Trust’”
In a telling exchange, Luntz asked what was bothering Renacci about the state? Luntz first asked the crowd about the performance of Governor Kasich and by applause and boos, overwhelmingly claimed to have an unfavorable view of the popular Republican Governor. Renacci got emotional thinking of Kasich’s sympathy at the loss of Renacci’s father. “John started out perfect…. but the problem is that about 1 ½ years into his governorship, John started running for President, he lost those values, those Republican values and says he is not sure he is even a Republican. John lost his way, this is problematic, he came in with Republican values, and is going out after 6 ½ years, with Democratic values. You can do the right thing when you keep your principles.”
Renacci closed by saying, “…The Federal Government took my dealership. Those 53 employees would stand behind me today and say that I was a fighter who fought for them all the time…. Talk to the people who know me best, they’ll tell you.”
Next up was Mike DeWine, introduced by his wife Fran in his video introduction that focused on family and a tough on crime message.
DeWine started his time in the sun by discussing his early days as a victim advocate as Greene County Prosecutor. “Every job I have held, I have really made a difference…. I made it better.” His biggest impact? DeWine related a story about the grandfather of a boy killed by a drunk driver, and how State Senator DeWine went to work looking at laws from all around the world. He claims that he was scoffed at, and MADD helped him. “We passed it, and a lot of lives have been saved. A lot of focus in my career, Frank, has been about kids and how to help them.”
Why are people so hostile to government? “Folks have every right to be upset about what is going on in Washington.” “By and large, the Governor has done a very good job. When I am sworn in, the first thing I am going to do is appoint someone who is a Cabinet level designation, to focus every waking moment on the opioid crisis” said the Attorney General.
DeWine was impassioned, “Half of all kids in foster care are there because one or more of their parents are drug addicts. Let’s focus a lot more on prevention.”
He continued, “Every single year, we should be doing something with every child in Ohio that is age appropriate, to educate them about the drug crisis.” What can government do about the breakdown of the family? asked Luntz.
“The truth is that there are kids growing up today, through no fault of their own, in very dysfunctional families, families that just don’t work.” He referenced a charter school parent who is doing something about the circumstances. “Most of these kids will not live the American Dream” declared DeWine. “The good news is that we know now what works for these kids, what fundamentally changes the outcome for kids.” Will he expand parental choice in education? “I am a big believer in school choice” stated the former U.S. Senator, who went on to say that school choice was a critical option for every parent and child.”
“When you have a child in a failing school, the DeWine Administration is going to look at ways of providing more choice for more schools in Ohio.” DeWine frequently mentioned former President Obama by stating that he would not usurp local authority. DeWine would not commit to merit pay to teachers, stating that it was a local issue for school boards to decide.
“Single moms and single dads, God bless them, they are doing The Lord’s work. We are going to give you the ability to make decisions about where your child goes to school in terms of choices. Single moms are often locked into a system that locks a child into a failing school.” DeWine said he would like to expand school choice, and do something about unaffordable college tuition.
DeWine said that he would look at a religious freedom amendment to the state constitution, but would have to review the language before making a commitment.
When asked about negativity in campaign advertising, DeWine joked “Fran will look at every ad before it goes up!”
Without a video, Lt. Governor Taylor was welcomed to the stage by reading her accomplishments touting her as the most conservative candidate.
Asked about that moniker, Taylor said, “If you compare voting records, you will see that my voting record compares to anyone’s in terms of being the most conservative.”
Taylor was pointedly asked if Governor Kasich was conservative. “I cannot answer that totally, but the decision to expand Medicaid was not very conservative.” She did tick off a series of Kasich initiatives that were conservative including: tax reform, eliminating the estate tax, creating the CSI – Common Sense Initiative- that cracked down on regulation.
Luntz asked Taylor about conflicts with ideology and success, “you can’t always get what you want,” so when do you compromise? “Never compromise your principles.” Said Taylor emphatically. By way of follow up, Luntz asked if she would allow a government shut down? Taylor responded with a hypothetical about tax policy which would be an appropriate compromise that “keeps my conservative values….and getting something done.”
Define conservative values? “Fiercely pro-life, no exceptions. A strong supporter of our 2nd Amendment rights.” Luntz interrupted with a question about the Las Vegas shooting. Taylor said she would not change gun and ammunition laws. “What allowed that individual to commit that heinous act?” Taylor responded an individual’s state of mind was important in these matters.
Regrets as Lt. Governor? Taylor thought for a moment, “Probably like most things in life, you regret the things you didn’t do vs. what you did.” Taylor said she was there to serve the people not the other way around. She did not reference a specific regret.
Taylor said she wanted to streamline tax policy, replace Obamacare with a market based health care system, fix our public education system, and others that she will roll out soon. When asked why she had not done these things as Lt. Governor, Taylor responded that there were two differences of opinion between her and the Governor, and that Obamacare first had to be repealed as part of a state solution that she would advocate for. She defended the Governor’s priorities in the prism of the history of the Administration. “Stubborn problems have not been solved” she noted.
Asked what specific program would she cut? Taylor responded by stating that she would hold the agencies accountable. “I will stop the retroactive rulemaking of the Department of Taxation that is wreaking havoc with small business. We are going to look at ODE, we are not allowing local control for innovation in the classroom, and fully supporting choice in the classroom for parents.” “The more local control, the better the issue is to find.”
Luntz spoke of Taylor’s position as a mother and challenges with children, referencing the revelation about her son’s addiction problems. What can be learned about it? “Both boys are drug addicts…. I have lived the nightmare that you read about or see on T.V. It destroys lives.” She said that her boys were now sober, although there had been two overdoses with the boys. Taylor was poised while she described the trauma, and how the addiction brought them together.
Does government have a role to play in the opioid crisis? Yes, but that will not solve the problem countered the Lt. Governor. “The church can be a great place to provide the community support for any individual to get or stay sober.”
The Secretary of State narrated his opening video himself by touting his adoption as a young child in NW Ohio, his pro-life beliefs, and thanking his adoptive parents.
John Kasich, great Governor? “There have been 3 phases to his Governorship. His first phase, he did some great things that needed to be done.” He went on to criticize Kasich for “taking his eye off the ball” during the Presidential campaign, not going to the GOP Convention in Cleveland in 2016, and since that election, not being as engaged on Ohio issues.
“Faith, Family. Freedom, are they in conflict with one another, Luntz asked? The crowd mostly chose faith, and so did Husted. “It starts with faith, if your connection with God is right, and you’re living a life that focuses on what He has called us to do, you’ll get the other ones right.” Said the former House Speaker.
“What can you get good at if you don’t practice it?” said Husted about his religious beliefs.
When asked about his political heroes, Husted referenced President Ulysses S. Grant. “Lincoln and Grant united us as a nation and brought about the end of the scourge of slavery. Lincoln ended the war, and Grant lead us through Reconstruction, what can be harder than that? asked Husted.
What is Husted’s greatest fear for Ohio? “For some folks, they feel they are losing the American Dream. People in my hometown of Montpelier have lost 25% of their earning value over the last many years.” The cost of a college education has gone up by 200%, their wages have only gone up by 59%, that is why they are frustrated.”
Income inequality? “It is the role of government to fight for those people when you get elected.” “Technology is coming very fast. States that are prepared to compete and win are going to be the future. A Governor has a responsibility to do something about that.”
“I am uniquely qualified as former Speaker of the House to get things done.”
Husted referenced the EdChoice Scholarship, everyone who was attending a school that was failing now has a choice, thanks to policy that he helped set into place. “If you want to lift people up so that they will have more hope, we have to give them the skills they need to compete.”
We are emphasizing too much that you have to go to college to get ahead in the world, and vocations…. You can get a job right out of high school through the trades that can pay you, $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, even $80,000 with skilled trades.”
Husted opined, “It is easy to say things, it is harder to do them.”
Husted got emotional when he spoke about his adoptive parents, who were recognized by the audience. Luntz saluted them as well. “For those people who live paycheck to paycheck, 53% and a higher percentage here in Ohio, what do you do?” asked Luntz. Husted claimed to live paycheck to paycheck at one point in time in his life. “You don’t quit on your kids.” Why is he in politics? “I see things that I want to change. I was always taught to not quit.”
Husted closed by stating that he considered all the candidates friends, that he respected them, and that a vigorous debate did not involve taking the low road. “My reputation means more to me than being Governor.”
The evening concluded as a conversation, not a true debate, with candidates sounding similar themes, but different paths to achieve policy goals. The two hour event included audience participation as only Luntz can accomplish, and no candidate scored a grand slam, but all had solid hits and scored. No strikeouts, not forced errors, and all the campaigns will continue to forge on to convince Ohioans that they are the best choice to succeed Kasich, who is term limited.