By: Kourtney Husnick
In the midst of heavy advertising for Ohio’s gubernatorial election approaching on Nov. 6, Cleveland State University became the location of the third and final gubernatorial debate.
Held on Monday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m., the debate was organized by the Ohio Debate Commission, a new organization formed by “a group of civic and media organizations joined with colleges and universities,” according to their website. Monday’s debate was the organization’s first, and their intended audience was clear: students.
Unlike the commission’s debate organized for Sunday, Oct. 14, tickets were not available online. Instead, for those who did not hold student status – and one of the limited tickets distributed to students — their website suggested watching the live stream.
“Although our tickets have been allocated to students for this debate, there will be many ways for everyone to watch,” the website said.
However, many Cleveland State students were completely unaware that the debate was happening on campus at all – even the same day it occurred.
“They usually do huge stuff. I didn’t see anything,” Camille Ferguson, a sophomore, said about advertising for the debate.
Ferguson explained that she checks her email semi-regularly and usually notices events that are advertised well on campus. Her not seeing any information about the debate makes sense.
There were no flyers. There were no emails specifically about the debate until Monday afternoon at approximately 2 p.m., and not all students received them. The debate was also not included on the Orgsync calendar or the university’s main events calendar.
Only one email mentioning the debate was sent to everyone at Cleveland State. On Sept. 10, the Office of the President’s monthly update included a brief statement about the debate.
“CSU has been selected to host the last of three Ohio gubernatorial debates – and the only debate in Northeast Ohio – between candidates Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine on Monday, October 8, at 7 p.m. in the Student Center’s Glasscock Family Foundation Ballroom,” the email said. “Stay tuned for further details.”
For most students, further details never came. Taylor Novak-Freier, a junior, went looking for more information on her own.
“It was fruitless. I looked online, checked the Viking News Letters every week, reached out to [my] bosses who had informed us about the debate,” Novak-Freier said. “There was legitimately no information being provided anywhere aside from the date and the fact that it was at CSU.”
Samia Shaheen, president of the Student Government Association (SGA), had a similar experience.
“From the very beginning, the only thing that I was aware of was that the student government office needed to be reserved for one of the campaigns,” Shaheen said. “SGA really wasn’t made aware of the distribution [of debate tickets].”
SGA, along with some other student organizations and departments, received an email offering the opportunity to attend the debate only hours before it was set to begin. Starting slightly before 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, some students were made aware of the situation based on their involvement and employment status on campus. Department heads and student leaders forwarded an email from Catherine Tiesling with the details.
“As you may have heard, CSU is fortunate to be hosting the final debate between Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray. The debate is tonight at 7 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom,” Tiesling’s email said. “Student Affairs just received some tickets returned by one of the parties, and they now [have a] very limited quantity available to distribute to students.”
The email went on to explain that tickets were free and in high demand. For the first time, the number of seats was announced to students – a total of 150. Interested students were instructed to email Tiesling, as the tickets would be given out on a first-come-first-serve basis.
They were also told that “100 percent of our seats need to be full, zero exceptions.”
Novak-Freier, as a Resident Assistant, was one of the students who had this email forwarded to them from a university department. It was the first detailed piece of information she had received.
“There were no seats available upon us actually receiving real information about the event, hours before the debate,” Novak-Freier said. “We were offered to go on a ‘standby’ list, but it felt like a gesture rather than a real thing.”
Students are not alone in the confusion. Jill Zimon, of the Ohio Debate Commission, explained in a phone call that the tickets for the debate were out of the commission’s hands. According to Zimon, the tickets were given to Rob Spademan to distribute to students.
When The Cauldron asked Spademan for an interview, Will Dube, the director of communications and media relations at Cleveland State, responded by saying, “A limited number of tickets for the gubernatorial debate were allocated to CSU students. Those tickets were distributed by the gubernatorial campaigns to students they selected. Given the limited capacity in the room, unfortunately, no additional seats were available for students.”
Shaheen, along with several other SGA members, was one of the students who managed to receive a ticket after Tiesling’s emails. She sympathized with the confusion surrounding the debate and agreed with the general sentiment felt among students that organization with tickets could have been handled better.
“We’re students, and we go to school here, so I feel like we should know [about the debate] as well,” Marlene Dietrich, a freshman who had been unaware of the debate until Monday afternoon, said.
The gubernatorial debate began at 7 p.m., but the preparation on campus began much earlier in the day.
At 11 a.m., SGA was required to vacate the office for one of the campaigns, according to Shaheen.
At 5:30 p.m., Betty Sutton, Cordray’s running mate, spoke out against DeWine in the Student Center Atrium with Cleveland-area doctors by her side. The brief “call out,” as the Cordray-Sutton campaign referred to it, focused on protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
Sutton discussed what the campaign called DeWine’s “attacks on protections for Ohioans with pre-existing conditions,” citing his effort to sue as Attorney General to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his support for President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal the ACA and the protections it includes and DeWine’s refusal to join a lawsuit to defend pre-existing condition protections in federal court, according to a press release by Cordray for Ohio.
DeWine responded to the Cordray-Sutton campaign’s claims against him by explaining that he voted in favor of covering pre-existing conditions seven different times while in the Senate from 1995 to 2007. His running mate, Jon Husted, also referenced DeWine’s voting history in the press room before the debate.
Sitting at a roundtable with Cleveland State mugs in front of them, candidates Cordray and DeWine answered 11 questions over the course of 1 hour posed by moderators Karen Kasler, Jackie Borchardt and Jerry Revish.
Each question focused on a different political issue, ranging from Medicaid to net neutrality. To break down the 60-minute debate, here’s where candidates stand on those issues:
The Issue: Medicaid Expansion and Pre-existing Conditions
DeWine said that he supports pre-existing condition coverage. He also said that he supports to Medicaid expansion, but he wants there to be a work requirement “try to get people back into the game.”
Cordray did not go into details regarding his stance, but instead, chose to combat DeWine’s statements about supporting protections for pre-existing conditions.
“There’s only ever been one law in this country that protected people with pre-existing conditions, and it was the Affordable Care Act,” Cordray said. “Everything else [DeWine] has done was ineffective to protect people in that situation, as shown by the fact that we had to have the Affordable Care Act in 2010.”
DeWine responded by saying that the ACA is not the only way to have protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He also cited reasons he believes many people in Ohio do not like the ACA, such as the individual mandate and limited choices for physician visits.
The Issue: The Rainy Day Fund
The rainy day fund, or the state’s budget stabilization fee, “is supposed to be used as a cushion against hard economic times in Ohio,” according to Revish in the second question. The amount in the fund is currently at almost $3 billion.
Cordray explained that the fund is almost at the maximum amount possible and his belief that
“it is time for us to consider what investments we will make to strengthen Ohio’s future.”
Among the plans he has in mind, he listed early childhood programs, strengthening the foster care system, developing the workforce, fixing infrastructure and supporting small and medium-sized businesses.
Cordray began his answer by claiming that he does not intend to raise taxes and that Ohio has already been functioning with a surplus of funds.
“If you total up all the money that Richard says he is going to spend, there’s absolutely no way that you could do this without raising taxes,” DeWine responded. “It’s abundantly clear that he wants to raise taxes if you look at some of the comments, also, that he has made about that.”
DeWine continued to say that he believes it would be irresponsible for him to say exactly what he would do because he does not know what the economy will be like in regard to local government. Instead, he said that he “will be someone who will listen.”
The Issue: Net Neutrality
“We should be standing for net neutrality, and everybody who uses the internet understands that they should not be discriminated against merely because some people have market power and others don’t,” Cordray said.
He committed to joining Montana, New York and New Jersey is not doing business with companies that won’t follow net neutrality principles.
DeWine’s plan includes opening up areas to private companies to come in to “lay the fiber down so that we can reach every single part of the state of Ohio.”
Both Cordray and DeWine discussed public schools’ access to technology with support for the idea. However, DeWine did not specifically mention net neutrality and changed the conversation to issue one.
DeWine does not support Ohio Issue 1, while Cordray does support the issue.
“Issue 1, which he supports, and he’s very lonely out there. There’s hardly anybody else out there besides [Cordray],” DeWine said. “It will cause more fentanyl to come into the state of Ohio.”
A recent statewide survey completed by Baldwin Wallace University, however, reveals that approximately 48 percent of voters support the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative, with about 31 percent opposed and about 22 percent undecided.
DeWine continued to say that there will be no jail time at all for possession of 20 grams of fentanyl. Cordray later responded by saying that an amount that large would be considered drug trafficking, an act that would not receive sentence reductions or reduced penalties with the adoption of Issue 1. DeWine disagreed that the situation would be considered as trafficking and that the issue would “kill our drug courts.”
Reclassification of drug possession similar to the proposed change with Ohio Issue 1 has been a big topic of disagreement for the candidates, but Ohio is not the first state to consider this initiative. Utah, California, Alaska, Oklahoma and Connecticut have all enacted similar changes, possibly providing some examples for what the adoption of Issue 1 could look like for Ohio.
The Issue: Education
Cordray and DeWine agree that there needs to be less standardized testing. Both candidates mentioned talking to teachers about testing, and they want to change the attitude in classrooms to be more focused on learning.
Both candidates also expressed an interest in early childhood education programs. The main difference for education occurs with Cordray’s belief that money should be brought back to public schools from charter schools.
DeWine also mentioned a plan to deal with school shootings. This includes a mental health specialist in every school provided by the state and monitoring students’ social media activity.
The Issue: Reproductive Rights
Cordray made a commitment to protect reproductive rights and to veto bills with restrictions.
“A woman’s right to choose and to make her own health decisions is something we should be protecting in Ohio, and I will protect it,” Cordray said.
He said that he would prefer to focus on maternal health issues rather than “the obsessive, manic obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood.” These issues include prenatal care, postnatal care and infant mortality.
“I believe that the central function of government is to protect the most vulnerable members of society,” DeWine said. “That includes the unborn.”
DeWine’s plan includes increasing home visits for pregnant women and protections for fetuses. He began by saying that he is anti-abortion and that he values human life.
“We agree about taking care of kids early on. Where we don’t agree is [his] extreme agenda that, even in cases of rape and incest, a woman could not exercise her right to choose,” Cordray said.
Cordray and DeWine also discussed their stances on public transportation, law enforcement reform and the economy, among other topics.
The debate was the last of three debates agreed upon by both candidates before the election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. It can be watched in full on the Ohio Debate Commission’s website.
The Green Party candidate, Constance Gadell-Newton, and the Libertarian candidate, Travis Irvine, were not included in the debate.
Registered voters who plan to vote via an absentee ballot should check with their county’s board of elections for due dates for application and ballot submissions. In Cuyahoga County, the due date for applications is Saturday, Nov. 3, at 12 p.m., and the ballots must be submitted by 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 6 or postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service by Nov. 5.