Rich Cordray

Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray talks with OU students and others about his campaign during an event hosted by the OU College Democrats in this March 2018 file photo. Photo by Conor Morris.

Former Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Director and Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, a candidate in the Ohio Democratic Primary for governor, spoke to Ohio University’s College Democrats and others on Friday.

Cordray spoke to a small group of students and concerned citizens at OU’s Baker Center about why he’s running for governor and responded to some criticisms of his campaign.

Cordray, who was the CFPB’s first director from 2012-2017 (he was appointed by former President Barack Obama), announced his candidacy later than other Democratic candidates, and joined an already-crowded field. After several candidates withdrew, he now faces the former U.S. Rep. and Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich; Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni; Paul Ray; and Larry Ealy. The winner of that race will face either Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (whom Cordray lost a narrow re-election race to in 2010) or current Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

On Friday, Cordray made his case for why he believes he’s the best candidate for Ohio’s highest office.

“I got into this race because I think we can win the governor’s office this year and we can change Ohio for many years to come,” Cordray said, noting that if the Democrats don’t win the seat, Republicans will control all of Ohio’s government for the next 10 years.

He touted his record at the CFPB, saying he was “aggressive” in litigation against for-profit colleges; helped push through new regulations for student loan servicers; and cracked down on “discriminatory” auto-loan practices. 

Cordray said that his campaign is based on several “kitchen table” issues that are important to most Ohioans.

Some of the biggest issues he mentioned wanting to tackle include:

• Access to affordable health care. He said he would fight to keep the Medicaid expansion that current Ohio Gov. John Kasich put in place but that Ohio’s conservative Legislature has indicated it wants to roll back.

• Spreading out economic growth and opportunities across Ohio, not just in “certain parts of the state.” Cordray said he wants to encourage green-energy and wind-farm development; put in place an anti-discrimination law in Ohio on the basis of sexual orientation for employment, housing and public services, and a state-wide anti-sexual harassment law for public agencies and companies that work with state government; and invest in job training and re-training program to help out-of-work Ohioans.

• Supporting public schools. Cordray said he wants to reverse the trend of Ohio’s public schools losing funding each year from the state. He noted that some of that money was siphoned from Ohio’s public schools to support charter schools like the controversial, now-shuttered Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow (ECOT). 

CORDRAY WAS ASKED ABOUT his views on gun control during the meeting. He’s been under attack by opponent Kucinich lately for the support he’s received from the National Rifle Association and others (he received an “A” ranking from the NRA in 2010 for his position on gun rights; he’s also previously been endorsed by the Buckeye Firearms Association, although DeWine was endorsed by that group this year). Cordray also defended the state of Ohio when he was AG against a lawsuit by the city of Cleveland that challenged a state law prohibiting local assault-weapon bans.

Cordray responded that the NRA has “never funded” his campaign despite that ranking. He added that while he does not support a statewide ban on assault weapons, he does support “tightening gun laws in other ways.”

“I think we need universal background checks which we’ve never had, and I want to try to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and domestic abusers,” Cordray said.

He added that he supports a prohibition on anything that takes a firearm and turns it into a “high-capacity” weapon, like bump stocks. He added he also has a proposal on increasing school safety and “reducing gun violence in our communities” but didn’t go into detail on that plan.

Cordray was asked by local environmental activist Andrea Reik about his position on horizontal hydraulic oil-and-gas fracturing (fracking) and drilling wastewater injection wells. Cordray responded that he’s not for banning fracking out-right or an end to oil-and-gas drilling in Ohio, as his opponent Kucinich has suggested. He called that position “too extreme.”

“That (fracking) is a source of a lot of economic opportunity for a lot of people,” Cordray said.

However, he said injection wells are a different matter.

“Whether we want people to be trucking waste into our state from other states, that’s a different matter,” Cordray said. “Those are things we should look at, and I would love to hear about it.”

Cordray added that he believes oil-and-gas drilling is losing ground in the marketplace to renewable energy sources, and said that further support from the governor’s office for those businesses will help encourage renewable energy jobs to come to Ohio.

Hannah Burke, women’s affairs commissioner for OU’s Student Senate, questioned Cordray about why his campaign website doesn’t list his policy positions. Cordray called that a “fair criticism,” but explained that while he was with CFPB, he was prohibited by the federal Hatch Act from campaigning for political office (he stepped down from the CFPB in late November). He’s still playing catch-up on some things, he said.

Zach Reizes, an OU student and local activist, added to Burke’s concerns about the lack of policy positions on Cordray’s website, saying it had been more than 80 days since he had announced his candidacy for governor.

Reizes also asked Cordray why he joined the race when three “well-qualified” women were already running for the Democratic nomination – former state Rep. Connie Pillich, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – all three of whom ended up dropping out of the race. Cordray noted that he had no problem with any of those candidates, and said that Sutton has been added as his running mate, while both Pillich and Whaley have endorsed Cordray. 

Cordray said that he joined the race because he thought he could win, and Ohio desperately needs a Democrat as its governor (especially one with close ties to national Democratic bigwigs like Obama and Elizabeth Warren).

“That’s my judgment; I think I’m the only candidate who can win,” he said.

Cordray added that DeWine only beat him in the 2010 Ohio AG race by “one point” (about 50,000 votes), and noted that it was a down-tempo year for Democrats with it being midterm elections halfway through Obama’s first term.

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