Celina -- Two attorneys seeking top positions in the state government railed against what they described as a culture of corruption and incompetence in Columbus.
Steve Dettelbach, a candidate for attorney general, and Zack Space, a candidate for state auditor,
delivered fiery stump speeches on Thursday night at a packed Celina Eagles hall, whipping attendees of the Mercer County Democrats’ spring dinner into a frenzy.
The two keynote speakers, whose grandparents had come from overseas to pursue the American Dream, played as a tag team, each decrying pay-to-play politics, gerrymandering, and for-profit charter schools and vowing to foster a fair playing field in Ohio government.
Dettelbach over the course of two decades has served as a civil rights attorney and federal prosecutor. “I was proud to serve as a presidential appointment in the Obama administration as a United States attorney,” he said.
Nobody in that administration was perfect, he admitted. “But we look pretty good now, don’t we?" he said to wild applause.
Dettelbach said his grandparents had nothing when they came to this country.
“The reason that we’re here in Ohio is because they got on a train in New York and this is where
we ran out of money,” he added.
He said his father worked as a real estate appraiser by day while attending night school to get his law degree so he could help working people who were injured on the job.
Dettelback was drawn to the profession himself because he believed in the idea of one set of rules for everyone.
“That means that the law is supposed to protect every single person no matter how vulnerable
and hold everybody accountable no matter how powerful,” he said about the ideals he had learned from his father.
Ohio no longer operates under one set of rules, and the people who have been sent to Columbus and Washington, who were supposed to be fighting for the people, have rigged the system, Dettelbach argued.
Dettelbach pointed to several examples, including the payday-lending industry that on average charges a 591 percent annualized interest rate, “that can buy a speaker, evidently, with a trip to Europe.”
The “gang in Columbus” rented a hotel room a few blocks from the statehouse for 90 days where they gerrymandered the state, cutting it up like a steak Dettelbach said. They also, he claimed, allowed a for-profit charter school industry to take billions of dollars away from Ohio’s children.
Dettelbach promised to make the attorney general’s consumer-protection division the best in the
Continuing his criticism of current office holders, Dettelbach noted how local government funding has been cut by 55 percent over seven years, hurting the frontline responders to Ohio’s opioid epidemic and treating them as if they were the enemy.
The only rule in the state house is the one-party rule, he said. The party that governs has become too cozy and too greedy and the symbol of that broad culture of corruption in Columbus is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Dettelbach said.
ECOT overbilled the state $8 million over two years, money that was taken from the top line of traditional public schools, Dettelbach maintained. The people who were supposed to be watching out for the people were in bed with ECOT, he said.
Ohioans must demand better of their government, so excellence, not incompetence, is the norm
Space, who served as Dover’s city law director, a U.S. Congressman and in a private law firm, has a similar background to Dettelbach’s in that his own grandfather left an island in Greece under Turkish rule to come to a democracy, he called a beacon of hope.
“Because everybody mattered, because every vote mattered,” Space said, drawing attention to
his father Socrates, an 87-year-old Korean War Marine veteran and former county chairman, whom the aspiring state auditor credited for teaching him everything he knows about politics.
The basic and fundamental principles of democracy, Space insisted, have been compromised by the forces of corporate money and political ambition.
"And we see it everyday in Columbus, and believe me, nothing is sacred when it comes to pay-
to-play politics in Columbus,” Space said. “Most recently we’ve seen the speaker of the house resign in disgrace because he’s allowed the payday-lending industry, which makes its living by exploiting the poor, dictate his decisions and those of his members.”
“We’ve seen it with for-profit charter schools, compromising the education of our children for
pay-to-play politics,” he continued. “We see it with private prisons. We see it with pharmacy benefit managers. We see it over and over and over again."
The worst thing that can happen in a democracy is for the people to lose confidence and faith in the institutions of politics and government, Space said. When that happens, they turn to authoritarian figures.
Space said he’s not worried about Donald Trump because he thinks the president’s "demons and
profound incompetence" will be his own undoing. What does frighten him, though, is the “problems with our process that created Donald Trump, that created Cliff Rosenberger, (that) are not going with them.”
“We will be revisited by this loss of confidence and faith in our process,” he said.
Political greed is manifest most pointedly through redistricting that occurs every 10 years, a
recalibration of the map that Space said has been done by one party solely to gain political advantage.
Gerrymandering has disenfranchised and divided millions of Ohioans, Space said.
“Your government has been an active participant in the acts of division that we see all around us
by empowering extremism and polarization, and that has also rendered your government dysfunctional and incompetent to get anything done," he said.
“We have to stop gerrymandering, and this is our chance," he said, promising to draw
competitive districts and ensuring to include the people in that process.