COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine won his reelection in a landslide, in what will most likely be the 75-year-old’s last term in public office. He sat down for a 20-minute interview with News 5 to discuss his legacy, economic development and controversies — and it's the only interview with him you'll see in Cleveland.
This is the extended version of News 5 Statehouse Reporter Morgan Trau's one-on-one interview with DeWine; the first news story from the interview published last week was just about abortion.
Reelection and legacy
The governor, who joked about his 70-some family members all in one hotel room, was shocked that his race was called the minute the polls closed.
“Look, it's good to win,” he said. “I've been in races where I've lost, too, so it's always good to win.”
DeWine has been, in order, a prosecutor, an Ohio senator, a U.S. representative, the lieutenant governor of Ohio, a U.S. senator and the attorney general of Ohio before being elected governor and taking office in 2019.
“The job of governor is a great job if you want to try to fix things, if you want to try and make things better, if you want to try to improve people's lives, I have that chance every single day,” DeWine told News 5. “Very few people have that much opportunity to do it.”
He wants to be remembered for his dedication to childhood education, mental health initiatives and economic development.
“I would like people to say that this was a governor who loved Ohio, this is a governor who understood Ohio and the people of Ohio, and did everything he could to make sure that everyone in Ohio could live up to their full potential,” he said.
But Ohio is losing population quickly, and some groups like Equality Ohio say that’s due to the super-conservative legislation he keeps signing. He disagreed.
“Ohio's population has been rather static for about 50 years,” he said. “But the way we bring that back is what we're doing. We bring jobs to Ohio; when you bring jobs to Ohio, that means that young people can stay in Ohio and find jobs, find their career, find their passion.”
His major economic wins, like multi-billion dollar projects with both Intel and Honda, showed his willingness to work across the aisle and with Congress to create more opportunities for Ohio workers.
Push and pull with the GOP
DeWine hasn’t always wanted to sign the legislators’ bills. He previously said he would rather not have had to deal with House Bill 99, the highly controversial bill that would allow any local school board to decide if they want to allow any approved adult to carry a firearm in a school with just a day of training.
"My preference would be for a police officer, a school safety officer," the governor said in a press conference after signing the bill, regarding his thoughts on guns in schools while he was attorney general. "That was my personal opinion that I expressed at that time and I still follow that."
In order to help Dayton after a mass shooting, DeWine created the STRONG Ohio bill. The bill would significantly crack down on gun violence by improving and streamlining the background check process for obtaining firearms.
He had told GOP legislators to stop sending him gun bills until they deal with his. That didn’t happen. Once the General Assembly didn’t act on his plan for stronger gun control, he signed legislation that critics say would make it easier to get a gun.
When asked if he would change anything about his first term, he decisively said he wished the pandemic didn’t happen – but he wouldn’t change how he reacted during it. Even though there were calls by DeWine’s own party to impeach him due to his handling of it, he is proud of his team.
“Sure, we got some criticism during the pandemic,” he said. “But Ohio came out strong, we're moving forward.”
He was praised nationally as being a responsible leader by Democrats and many Republicans, and even had his 2 p.m. daily COVID-19 press briefings become a show; fondly dubbed by frequent watchers as “Wine with DeWine.”
Despite this, some Ohio GOP lawmakers drafted legislation to remove him. The Republican lawmakers in Ohio also decided to override his veto on another pandemic-related bill.
“The interesting thing, the state Legislature and I certainly did not agree on everything,” the governor said.
When asked if he feels he has more freedom from his party now, since this race was likely the last one he will run, he said he has always “tried to call it like he sees it.”
“It's been, frankly, a good relationship with the Legislature and I look forward to having, you know, a continuing good relationship,” he said.
For progressives, his signing of the 2019 six-week abortion ban cements a very different type of legacy. This was shown in the national backlash following the story of a child rape victim in Ohio who needed to leave the state to get an abortion.
“Has the 10-year-old rape case changed your perspective about exemptions for abortion?” News 5 asked.
“What I have said is that, you know, I, I'm pro-life… I know there's been some criticism about the current law,” the governor said. “So I think we need to look at that.”
As far as what the Legislature does when they come back, DeWine thinks they need to keep a couple of things in mind.
“I think we need to make sure that the law is clear, that it tells people what can be done, what could not be done,” he said.
“Would you sign a total abortion ban with no exceptions?” Trau started to ask, but was cut off.
“Yeah, I'm not gonna go today beyond what I said,” he responded.
The lawmakers need to keep in mind that there are referendums in Ohio, the governor added.
“So whatever law is passed in regard to abortion, it needs to be something that can be sustained,” he said. “It needs to be something that is acceptable to the people of the state of Ohio, considering the fact that they can go to the ballot if they don't like what the legislature does.”
“Say abortion gets on the ballot… Do you think that would pass in Ohio?” News 5 asked.
“Oh, look, you're way ahead of where we ought to be,” DeWine responded, unhappily. “We would hope that the state Legislature will come up with something, you know, again, that is sustainable, and I would expect that to happen.”
Watch previous coverage of the conversation on abortion in the player below:
Divide between parties and other controversial legislation
Along with gun legislation and abortion, there are dozens of other issues the Democrats have issues with. When asking DeWine about encouraging bipartisanship, he said it already exists.
“It's interesting, the perception is that the legislature has been very divided,” he said. “But if you look at the two budgets that I have presented, and that had been passed, both budgets passed in a bipartisan way. And I think they passed in a bipartisan way because there's common ground.”
There is common ground when it comes to mental health, early childhood development and education, he said.
However, education is one of the most contentious debates right now. Previous News 5 reporting, which is linked below, shares the polar opposite views of:
- How much moneyschools should get
- If and how much money should be given to nonpublic schools
- What material is too “controversial” to be discussed in school (whether Holocaust or learning about LGBTQ+ families)
- If guns should be allowed in schools
- Ifschool guidance counselors should be forced to “out” students who even reference their gender in a “nonconforming way”
- If trans students should need to go through internal and external genital evaluations to play sports
When asked about his views on bills regarding transgender youth, DeWine skirted the question.
“I’ve got to look at whatever bill they come up with, this is a moving target,” he said. “There are literally thousands of bills that are introduced, and they change, so I'm not gonna comment and I’ll wait till I see a bill.”
The Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) continually passed maps that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Ohio Supreme Court (OSC) rejected legislative maps for being unconstitutional and gerrymandered for a fifth time in May. In the bipartisan majority statement, O'Connor said the Republicans "engaged in a stunning rebuke of the rule of law" by refusing to create legal maps. The congressional maps have been rejected twice and are still going through the legal process.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, had crossed party lines and consistently sided with the Democratic justices on redistricting, upsetting her party. In the end, a federal court sided with the Republicans — overruling the high court.
The ORC is made up of seven spots in total. Two will always go to Republicans and two to Democrats in the Statehouse. The three remaining seats include the governor, secretary of state and auditor.
"People, the state of Ohio, on a bipartisan basis, passed two constitutional amendments to really change redistricting," the governor said. "There was [sic] a couple of goals: one goal was to have compact districts and the other goal was to have competitive districts."
The majority of the court repeatedly asked the GOP to stop submitting unconstitutional maps, resharing guidelines that show districts need to be competitive, but not just for Democratic seats.
"If you look at the majority of Supreme Court decisions that have been handed down, they've made it more difficult, frankly," he said.
DeWine said this goes directly against the original rules of competitiveness.
"I think that's a problem and I think sometimes that has been missed," he added. "How do we fix that?”
When talking about his game plan for new maps, the governor said that it is important to “take a deep breath and sit back a minute.”
DeWine, obviously, was on the ORC. However, his son, Pat DeWine is currently an OSC justice.
The younger DeWine’s relationship with his father has become a point of contention during the redistricting case. Despite the majority of the court threatening the elder DeWine with contempt for not following the court’s instructions for constitutional maps, Pat DeWine continued to sit on his dad’s case.
The justice has also recently been under fire after a News 5 investigation that found he has been accused of ethics violations for sharing his thoughts on abortion with a political action committee while campaigning.
“Do you think that [Pat] has the duty to recuse himself from cases that involve you,” Trau started to ask, but was cut off.
“I think it's inappropriate for me to even comment about when he exercises that right to do that, to excuse himself,” the governor said. “So that's, you know, that's his decision? I can't even comment about that.”
The justice has previously argued he is able to look at the cases fairly without bias. Now, with a new chief justice, the republicans have the majority and likely have no swing votes. It's very possible any map put forward by DeWine will be approved.
His priorities for the next four years are “people,” he said.
“We have a good business climate, we're situated centrally in the United States, we have great infrastructure, we have great water, we have energy,” he added. “But the most important thing we have is people.”
When helping to create the budget, he is focused on working with JobsOhio to ensure the state invests in people, the workforce and the skillsets people need to succeed. JobsOhio is the state’s private economic development corporation.
The drive to secure projects won’t stop once the new year hits, but they may take place in different locations.
Columbus is far outpacing any other area in the state regarding economic development, thanks to Intel and population growth. Cleveland, Cincinnati and occasionally Dayton follow behind, each getting projects and attention of their own.
When DeWine was asked if other areas of the state will be able to gain that type of infrastructure, he said he is working on it.
“I've made it very clear to JobsOhio, this is not just about Columbus or Cleveland or Cincinnati; economic development has to be occurring all over the state,” he said.
What can make this difficult is that companies want locations that are ready to go, and some other rural or urban areas aren’t ready yet.
“Taking some of the Brownfields areas in our cities that really need to be cleaned up before any company can come in and use them, that has been a high priority,” he said.
He has worked side-by-side on innovation with his lieutenant governor, Jon Husted. Also having a rich history in state politics, Statehouse gossip points at Husted to run for governor following DeWine’s second term.
“The lieutenant governor has done a phenomenal job,” DeWine said. “I guarantee you that Jon Husted has contributed a great deal to what we've done in the last four years and he's gonna continue to do that for four more.”
The duo is getting started on their agenda for the next term.
"Look, we have unfinished business," DeWine said. "And the reason you run for office is because there's things that you want to get done, and we're gonna do them."