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Elections

ENDORSEMENT: Steven Dettelbach for Ohio attorney general

  • Steve-Dettelbach-jpeg

    Steve Dettelbach

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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Whoever wins the race for Ohio attorney general, voters really can't lose.

Both Democrat Steve Dettelbach and Republican Dave Yost would make worthy replacements for term-limited Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican now running for governor.

However, we believe that Dettelbach, former U.S. attorney for northern Ohio, should win the race.

What gives him the edge over Yost, the state auditor, is Yost's handling of the scandal surrounding the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a failed online charter school.

In addition to his two terms as state auditor, Yost has worked as a newspaper reporter and a lawyer in private practice. He also served as the elected auditor and prosecutor in Delaware County.

Yost has shown a commendable devotion to holding people, regardless of party, accountable. He has referred dozens of cases to prosecutors during his time in Columbus, and he even was willing to fire people in his own office when they messed up.

For instance, Yost told us one of the darkest days in his career came when he learned that his office had failed to catch former South Amherst Clerk/Treasurer Kim Green, who stole nearly $700,000 from the village. After the theft was revealed, Yost launched an internal investigation that ended with two people being fired and one demoted.

He also bucked many in his party with his push to conduct an audit on JobsOhio, the secretive nonprofit economic development organization set up by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Yost wasn't particularly successful, but he did far more than most of his fellow Republicans to find out how JobsOhio was spending public money.

Unfortunately, all of that good work is overshadowed by ECOT. Yost attended graduations for the school, received campaign donations from its founder, Bill Lager (he has since donated that money to charity), and gave ECOT good accounting awards.

At the same time, ECOT was failing its students. Although the school offered students online learning opportunities, it wasn't tracking what they were actually doing.

The state has sought to recover more than $80 million from the school.

Yost acknowledged that in retrospect attending the graduations looks bad, although he told us he went for the kids.

He has defended his handling of the matter, but that ignores whistleblowers who came forward to warn about how ECOT conducted itself and Yost's slow response to what has become a massive scandal that many in Columbus share the blame for.

It's true that Yost ultimately launched an investigation and forwarded the matter to prosecutors, but it was too little, too late, and doesn't absolve him from his initial lackluster performance.

Dettelbach has less familiarity with state government. His experience comes from various jobs he's held in the U.S. Department of Justice, under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He is also a former member of the Ohio Ethics Commission.

President Barack Obama, a former law school classmate, named Dettelbach as U.S. attorney in 2009, and he held the post until stepping down in 2016.

Since then Dettelbach has worked in private practice at the law firm of BakerHostetler.

Yost has attacked Dettelbach because his firm is defending a drug company against an opioid lawsuit brought by DeWine last year. Dettelbach told us he deliberately set up an internal wall at the law firm to stay out of the case and earns no profits off the matter.

We believe those were reasonable and effective steps for Dettelbach to shield himself from having a conflict of interest if he takes over as attorney general. The lawsuit and dealing with the opioid crisis will be important matters for whoever holds the office in the coming years, and we believe Dettelbach has the skills necessary to do his part combating this scourge.

Dettelbach told us that during his prosecutorial career he went after Democrats and Republicans, and he didn't shy away from prosecuting those in law enforcement, including Marlon Taylor, a former Lorain County Jail guard who received 18 months in federal prison for beating an inmate in 2012.

Although he's running for office, Dettelbach was quick to argue that he's a career prosecutor, not a politician. He contended that politicians such as Yost aren't capable of cleaning up the scandals that have plagued Columbus under Republican rule.

That's a rote argument that a politician would make, and it ignores the value of political experience. Make no mistake, both Dettelbach and Yost are partisans, even if they have promised to approach the job in a nonpartisan manner.

Dettelbach, for instance, told us that he would avoid wading into the politically charged fights with the federal government that DeWine has sometimes engaged in.

He said he would take action only if he believed the interests of Ohioans were threatened by something the federal government had done, although what constitutes a threat to one person might be seem like good public policy to another.

Overall, we believe Dettelbach to be the better choice for attorney general, and we urge voters to cast their ballots accordingly.



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