Pillich Offers Pragmatic Choice for Ohio Voters

Ezra Andres-Tysch and Harris Walker

Although it seems that the last election cycle only just ended, it is already time to start thinking about the upcoming races this academic year. While smaller in scale than the presidential race we all just endured, these elections are incredibly important — especially in such a politically fragile time.

This is why the Oberlin College Democrats, in partnership with local grassroots activist group Lorain County Rising, have invited every candidate for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination to speak at Oberlin leading up to this spring’s primary. These forums are an opportunity for Oberlin students and community members to engage with candidates for governor in a race that will not feature current Governor John Kasich for the first time since 2010.

The first candidate in the series, former Cincinnati-area State Representative Connie Pillich, spoke and answered audience questions in Dye Lecture Hall last Thursday. Pillich — a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a former public defender, and a three-term Ohio House Representative for the 28th district — sold herself as a strong leader ready to fight President Donald Trump’s policies on a state level.

“With [everything] that’s going on up in Washington, it’s apparent it’s up to the states to protect the people and issues we care about,” Pillich argued.

Pillich discussed how she plans to prevent Trump’s agenda from taking hold in Ohio. In response to the United States’ exit from the Paris Climate Accord, she proposed entering Ohio into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states attempting to meet the requirements of the Accord without the assistance of the federal government. She proposed writing equal pay protections into state law to counter Trump’s rollback on such measures. As the battle over health care heats up in Washington once again, Pillich also came out in support of a public option and Medicaid for all in Ohio.

While Pillich clearly has a strong vision for how she wants to see Ohio shift direction under a Democratic governor, some of her responses to questions were disappointing. Ohio is among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic — in 2016, 86 percent of overdose deaths in the state were caused by opioids. Therefore, any gubernatorial candidate in Ohio must be prepared with a comprehensive plan for keeping illegal drugs out of the state, and ensuring prescription opioids are not disseminated at unnecessary rates. However, when Pillich was asked how she plans to tackle this issue, she responded by saying that if she knew what to do, “she would be God.” She emphasized her desire to provide law enforcement with effective tools to combat drug cartels, but offered few solutions for those who suffer from prescription drug addiction.

Additionally, when faced with a question about tax breaks for the Cleveland Clinic, it was unclear if Pillich is focused on the issues that the neighbors of the Cleveland Clinic — the state’s second-largest employer — face. As a hospital, the Clinic is tax-exempt, but the sprawling medical complex is far more extensive than the typical hospital. It covers 165 acres of land and saves over $35 billion per year by not paying taxes. This exemption has taken a serious toll on the surrounding community, which does not receive taxes from a business that takes up so much space. Pillich promised that she will not raise taxes and will instead focus on closing tax loopholes, but did not show much desire to take on big businesses at a time when taking on Wall Street is a major discussion point in Washington.

All that being said, Pillich is a compelling candidate for governor, particularly considering the Democrats’ imperative of putting forward electable candidates. Pillich was able to flip Ohio’s 28th State House district — a seat that has historically been held by Republicans. In 2014, a disastrous year for Ohio Democrats, Pillich ran for state treasurer, and although she fell short, she outperformed nearly every other Democrat in the race.

Pillich’s appeal to moderates and voters in southern Ohio, the traditionally more conservative region of the state, makes her a candidate to be reckoned with. Despite providing some less than satisfactory responses during her event at Oberlin, she is one of the more progressive voices in Ohio politics, has a strong reputation as an advocate for liberal policies, and is a leading voice for Ohio’s veterans.

Over the course of the fall semester, three other Democratic gubernatorial candidates will be speaking on campus. Hopefully, students will take advantage of the opportunity to engage with these events to make an informed decision come the spring primary.