Governor Kasich Faces Challenge with Democrat FitzGerald

Madeline Stocker, News Editor

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald arrived at Oberlin last Thursday, addressing an audience of students, faculty and community members in regards to his candidacy. FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate, is attempting to unseat Ohio Governor John Kasich in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

“Oberlin has a reputation that’s as long as any university in the country in terms of civic activism,” FitzGerald said in an interview with The Morning Journal. Joining him onstage were Janet Garrett, write-in candidate for the fourth congressional district and State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Ohio. Both executives expressed support for FitzGerald, describing him as a figure capable of bringing much needed change to Ohio, with specific focus on public education and taxes.

Oberlin College Democrat Eric Fischer also expressed his support, citing the passion with which FitzGerald delivered his speech.

“He wasn’t afraid to talk about the issues with income distribution in Ohio, claiming that the state government, in cutting the budget, is saving money only for themselves and not for people across the state who need it,” Fischer said in an email to the Review. “He talked about early childhood education as a priority, which I was excited to hear about. He was very passionate about talking about having a diverse administration and very sincere in his disdain for discrimination of people in the LGBTQ community, as well as the income gap with women … and reproductive rights too! He was not afraid to speak in a well-informed way about the issues.”

In an exclusive interview with The News-Herald, FitzGerald discussed four of his campaign’s major platforms: public education funding, restoring local government funds, the future of college funding and same-sex marriage.

“A lot of teachers have been laid off, [and] a lot of programs have been cut, and a lot of local property taxes have had to go up to make up for [what originally was] $2 million in state cuts,” FitzGerald said in regards to public education. “At the exact same time, for-profit charter schools have been getting more money even though they’re not held accountable the way the public schools are. I just think that is completely backwards.”

Should he be elected governor, the candidate said, he would attempt to improve the state’s low college enrollment rates by establishing a government-sanctioned trust fund for every kindergartener in Ohio.

“Ed FitzGerald recognized that education, from pre-K through college, is essential to growing Ohio’s economy,” Lauren Hitt, FitzGerald’s press secretary, said in an email to the Review. “As County Executive, he had the largest college affordability effort in the country, and now every kindergartener in Cuyahoga County starts school with $100. Children who have money saved for college are seven times more likely to attend than their peers with no savings — that has more influence than nearly any other factor, including parental income. As Governor, Ed will focus on programs like these and invest in our public schools, unlike Governor Kasich who has cut over $500 million from Ohio’s public schools over the last four years.”

FitzGerald also made sure to mention the incumbent’s shortcomings.

“Basically for 80 years or so there’s been this understanding that the state, when they collected taxes, would reserve a certain amount for local government services. Every governor that we’ve had has respected that… until this one. Governor Kasich basically balanced the state budget by taking those funds away from local communities, and it [has] really hit local communities hard. It’s resulted in local tax increases, local cuts to teachers, police officers, firefighters … it was a disastrous policy and it’s something I’d like to reverse when I’m successful.

If anything can be gleaned from FitzGerald’s political track record, it’s that he is accustomed to taking on difficult jobs. When he first entered office as the Mayor of Lakewood, FitzGerald was faced with the largest deficit in the city’s history. Several years later, FitzGerald became the first executive of Cuyahoga County in the midst of a landmark corruption case involving his opponent, former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. In both cases, FitzGerald effectively navigated the potential crises.

Fischer said he thought that FitzGerald would be successful in bringing similar change to Ohio.

“The Kasich administration has been criticized for being all-white and mostly male, and his ultra-conservative policies benefit mostly those at the top. His not taking medicaid funding for Ohio is a political, not practical, calculation. We need a new governor whose policies are in touch with the reality that more and more people in Ohio are making relatively less and less,” said Fischer.

Some, however, remain unconvinced.

“‘Much needed change’ is a vague term thrown around too often in electoral politics. At this point in time, FitzGerald’s lack of clarity in his platform makes it difficult to tell exactly what change he plans to bring,” Taylor Reiners, Conservatory senior and President of the OCRL, said in an email to the Review. “His support of same-sex marriage should energize many voters, especially young adults. Once he clarifies what his stances are on gun laws, medical marijuana, abortion and so on, we should have a clearer picture of his other strengths.”

Economics professor Garrett Roth agreed that FitzGerald would benefit from such transparency, especially regarding the legalization of marijuana.

“He was preaching to the choir. Why would you elect a Democrat except to legalize marijuana? I mean, I’m all for that. But he wouldn’t even commit to that. What the hell good are you if you’re not going to commit to legalizing marijuana? Obviously you should legalize marijuana,” said Roth.

“It’s all unicorns and rainbows. If you can convince me that you have a true social liberal who’s going to legalize marijuana and do all the good things that I expect to be done when you elect a Democrat, then amen,” Roth said. “But if you’re just going to be cagey and slithery about legalizing marijuana… You could see in the crowd that there was this overwhelming, like, “Can we legalize pot already? Can we legalize pot already? Can we legalize pot already?” Yes, you should. And if a Democrat is going to be slithery about it, then he’s hopeless. If you can’t tack down a Democrat for legalizing marijuana, then what the hell is the good in electing them? To my perspective. A libertarian.”

Roth, who was one of several people to ask questions at the convocation, also challenged FitzGerald’s stance on minimum wage.

“Living wage means different things to different people. I’ve lived on what amounted to minimum wage for about five years… I had plenty of cigars, had plenty of whiskey and saved money. It’s called economizing. It’s called finding out how much you have and spending less than that. If you’re a single mother with fifteen kids, look, it’s your own fault you have fifteen kids. It’s not my fault. It’s somebody else’s fault. Er, it’s your fault. If you have fifteen kids,” said Roth.

“As a single person with no bastard children, I’ve managed to save money and live [at] a reasonable level at what amounted to minimum wage. If you make really bad decisions and you want me to pay for them, look somewhere else. Because it’s not my problem,” he added.

The Ohio gubernatorial election will take place on Nov. 4, 2014. Although Kasich began the race with low approval ratings, he is currently ahead of FitzGerald across the majority of county polls.

“Current polls put FitzGerald within five points of Kasich, which is incredibly close given that it’s this far away from the election,” Fischer said. “The other factor that hasn’t been tested much in the polls is that a Libertarian candidate, Charlie Earl, has the potential to draw votes further from Kasich. It’s gonna be an exciting race.”