OBERLIN — A government for the few at the expense of the many.
That’s how Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald described the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich in a Thursday appearance at Oberlin College.
“You have a group at the top that is doing very, very well and keeps doing better and better and better, and you have a whole lot of people that are stuck at the bottom,” FitzGerald told an audience of about 80 people. “I’m not suggesting that Gov. Kasich created that situation, but what I am saying is that he’s aggravating the situation.”
FitzGerald cited income tax cuts championed by Kasich and approved by the Republican-majority Legislature. The wealthiest 1 percent of Ohioans, earning at least $335,000 annually in 2012, received about a $6,000 annual tax cut, according to Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank. Those earning between $33,000 and $51,000 received a $5 annual tax cut, while those earning less than $33,000 received a $24 tax cut.
Reached by phone after the speech, Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the tax cut was equitable.
“The money belongs to the people first and not the government,” he said. “Putting money back into the private sector is the way to grow the economy.”
Audience members questioned FitzGerald about fracking and the Feb. 14 release of 2012 documents showing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources planned to enlist the help of Halliburton and other energy companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests, counteracting the efforts of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council.
FitzGerald said it was due to Kasich appointing “political hacks” to run state agencies. “The lines have become completely blurred,” he said.
FitzGerald said fracking would occur if he were elected, but it would be impartially regulated. Schrimpf said the ODNR plan was drafted, but never implemented. “This guy is so desperate to look for an issue that he tries to manufacture one,” he said.
Fitzgerald was also questioned about stricter gun laws and marijuana legalization. He said he supports mandatory background checks for all gun sales — 40 percent of all gun sales nationally are done without criminal background checks, according to the National Institute of Justice — and is close to announcing his position on marijuana use.
FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and prosecutor, said the drug war was a failure. He condemned anti-abortion laws signed by Kasich, calling restrictions on what rape counselors can tell rape victims regarding abortion “disgusting.”
FitzGerald also blasted voting laws signed this month by Kasich. One eliminated the “golden week,” when Ohioans could register and vote on the same day. The other gives the Legislature sole authority to authorize the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballots.
FitzGerald said they were designed to suppress votes of traditionally Democratic voters. Schrimpf said the laws were recommended by a commission of elections officials from across Ohio.
FitzGerald conceded he is being outspent by Kasich. FitzGerald said he had raised about $2 million through January, while Schrimpf said Kasich had nearly $8 million on hand.
“When your record is lousy, and his is, money doesn’t always solve that,” FitzGerald said before the speech. “He knows he’s in trouble. That’s why he’s raising so much money.”
FitzGerald said he is also behind 43 percent to 38 percent in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, but he said it was the same margin that Kasich trailed then-Gov. Ted Strickland at the same time before the election in 2010.
“Being right on the issues is extremely important,” FitzGerald said. “The governor can afford a good marketing campaign, but his product is terrible.”