COLUMBUS, OHIO — Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Richard Cordray, facing a strong challenge from former Cleveland mayor and congressman Dennis Kucinich, struck a militantly populist tone Tuesday morning, telling a gathering of union leaders and county and city officials that he’s “outraged” about the “plundering” of local government budgets and services triggered by GOP tax cuts.
“They’re making themselves look good and leaving you holding the bag,” he said of Ohio’s Republican governor and legislature. “They’re always telling you to tighten your belts without touching their own.”
Sitting around a conference table in an ornate historic union hall, Cordray scribbled notes and listened intently as the group of school board members, teachers, city council members and firefighters described the woeful state of their counties’ courts, public schools and public transportation systems.
Cordray then slammed Republicans’ “mania” for cutting taxes — including the repeal of Ohio’s estate tax in 2013 — which he said has left local governments unable to provide basic services to their poorest residents.
“They’re making very calculated political judgements about who they can hurt and who they can help based on who are the Republicans and who are the Democrats, without regard for who are the citizens who we’re all supposed to serve,” he said. “They’re helping the folks at the top and hurting the folks at the bottom in very tangible ways.”
“As governor, I promise to work with you all. I won’t try to make the state look good at your expense,” he vowed. And if the legislature continues down its current path of tax and budget cuts, he added sternly, “there will be vetoes.”
Cordray, the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would in any other election year be considered the clear progressive choice. But leading up to the primary against Kucinich on May 8, he has fallen into the role of the establishment pick. Though recent polls have Cordray pulling ahead of Kucinich and he has far out-fundraised his opponent, more than half of Democratic voters remain undecided, and the state’s biggest newspaper’s decision to formally endorse Kucinich has party officials sweating — nervous that the bomb-throwing Kucinich could triumph in the primary only to lose the general election to the well-known Republican former Attorney General Mike DeWine.
With the primary just a few weeks away, Cordray has sought to highlight his progressive bona fides: campaigning on Ohio State’s campus with leftist darling Elizabeth Warren, announcing a plan for universal pre-kindergarten and free community college, and, in an interview with TPM, attacking the state and federal tax cuts that Republicans are running on in 2018.
“They’re going to blow up the deficit and it doesn’t build a darn thing in terms of infrastructure, and it’s going to get pushed down to the state and the local level,” he said. “That’s already starting to happen. You’re hearing Paul Ryan talk about cutting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. That’s been their agenda for 30 years. It’s not a good agenda for Ohio and I will stand up and fight it.”