STEUBENVILLE — Taking on injustices in redistricting, fighting the influence of money on the political process and governance of the state of Ohio and focusing state resources in an efficient manner to fight opioids are just some of what former congressman Zack Space hopes to do if elected state auditor in 2018.
Space, a Democrat, announced his candidacy in August and is making a swing along the Ohio River counties this week, starting on Monday in Scioto County and making stops at Ironton, Gallipolis, Gloucester, Cambridge, Bellaire and holding a meet-and-greet event at the Ville at the Fort Steuben Mall Wednesday evening.
Space said he knows firsthand about the influence of political fundraising and contributions on politics.
“You have to participate in this if you want to find success in politics, but we have allowed the political process to be dominated by the need to raise money and it is wrong,” he said. Space said legislators end up wasting time raising money instead of working on legislation and meeting with constituents.
“It is wrong because it influences legislation inordinately and improperly and it undermines people’s faith in the political process. We see it every day in Columbus and in Washington,” he said.
As a prime example of the influence of money in Ohio, Space speaks often of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow online school. He said with graduation rates of less than 40 percent, the state has dumped more than $90 million into a charter school that has enriched its owner. The state auditor, he said, can put the brakes on such spending.
“The auditor could and should declare the books of ECOT unauditable, when we’ve dumped $90 million into a for-profit management company over which we have no oversight. By declaring the books unauditable, the money would stop flowing,” he said. ECOT’s owner, Bill Lager, could then file a lawsuit and the uses of the state’s spending would come out, Space said.
He said better communication is needed between the auditor’s office and all the levels of state government and public universities to make sure best practices are being used in managing the public’s money. He said there could then be discussions about how to resolve deficiencies. He said the costs of state audits are a concern for rural governments and, with a more open line of communication, the auditor’s office could be sure local governments have tools and resources and training they need to be sure they are operating efficiently.
Space said that as the number of those who have died in the opioid epidemic since 2010 has topped 17,000 in Ohio, it’s time to focus state resources in a way that is more than just tossing money at the problem. He said he met school administrators in Galia County earlier this week and they emphasized the ramifications of the epidemic aren’t just about seeing drugs in school hallways, but the impact on students from families where parents are users or have overdosed and died.
“That impacts their ability to educate kids, and it is scarring these kids. The impact and effect of this scourge is deep and whatever Ohio is doing is not working,” he said.
Space said he would call on the governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state and the state treasurer to join him in bringing the full forces of the powers of the elected state executive offices to bear on dealing with the opioid crisis.
As for the extent of gerrymandering, Space noted lines were drawn around state prisons with more than 91 percent of the 50,000 state prisoners falling into Republican districts, even though prisoners cannot vote.
“Now, understand that if the Democrats held power, they’d do the same thing. If you give self-interested politicians the power to draw their own districts, they will do that. I intend to represent the people of Ohio, not the Democratic Party, even though I’m a Democrat,” Space said. He said he would use the auditor’s seat on the state redistricting commission, where the auditor serves with the governor, the secretary of state and two representatives from both houses of the general assembly.
“If anyone else intends to politicize the process, I will use my position to make sure everybody in Ohio understands what’s going on. They haven’t been at the table when the lines were drawn in the past. With me, they will have a seat,”he said.
Space’s public service career has included serving from 2006 to 2011 as Ohio’s 18th District U.S. representative as well as service as a public defender and Dover’s law director. He has been working with the Vorys Advisors firm since 2011.