Dispatch: Attorney general candidates DeWine, Pepper are vastly different

By Alan JohnsonThe Columbus Dispatch  •  Sunday September 21, 2014 11:37 AM
The candidates for Ohio attorney general are both lawyers who are competitive and have boundless energy. Beyond that, Republican incumbent Mike DeWine and Democrat David Pepper share little common ground.

DeWine, 67, grew up in small-town Yellow Springs, Ohio, got his law degree from Ohio Northern University, and has been in public office 34 of the past 38 years, including two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Pepper, 43, hails from Cincinnati, graduated from Yale University Law School, and spent two years in Russia working for a U.S. research group. His political experience is limited to two offices in Hamilton County and a failed race for state auditor.

The DeWine-Pepper clash has been the most spirited of statewide campaigns other than the gubernatorial race. Charges and countercharges have been flying in speeches, news releases and social media. So far, neither campaign has aired television commercials, although each has the money to do so in the final stages of the campaign.

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Pepper was not born into a wealthy family, although his father, John, eventually rose to become the powerful chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, a multinational company based in Cincinnati.

“Dad had Wiedemann’s beer in the pantry,” Pepper said. “He wouldn’t have a Coke; he had Circle K (from Cincinnati’s Kroger Co.). From the day he started, he was pinching pennies.”

Still, Pepper acknowledged, he was “very lucky” to have a family that could afford to send him to Yale University. “I feel like I’ve been given enormous opportunities. … Giving back through public service always seemed the path I should take.”

After graduating from Yale, Pepper went to work in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., research group. It was a heady experience for a man in his 20s, rubbing elbows with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin, then an adviser in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office.

Returning to the U.S., Pepper went to law school and was a clerk for Judge Nathaniel Jones of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1999 to 2000.

“I was very impressed with him,” said Jones, who served on the court from 1979 to 2003. “He was always seeking solutions. … Rather than curse the darkness, David was always trying to light candles.”

Jones said his former clerk would make an excellent attorney general. “He understands the office and the role. He sees it as more than a political steppingstone to governor or some other office. He’s a person of unquestioned honesty and integrity.

While he could have gone to work for a large firm in Washington or New York, as many of his Yale classmates did, Pepper, a fifth-generation Cincinnatian, returned to find that his city was in disarray, struggling with finances, stalled riverfront development and race riots in 2001.

Pepper said he decided to run for Cincinnati City Council but didn’t know how. “I went to Amazon.com and bought books about how to run a campaign.” He came up with a slogan, “Just Add Pepper,” and was off on a successful inaugural campaign, finishing first among 26 candidates. He was re-elected in 2003 and won election as a Hamilton County commissioner in 2006.

When former Gov. Ted Strickland asked Pepper to run for state auditor in 2010, he said he “took a long time to think about it. It was a big decision.” Pepper made a respectful showing, losing by 5 percent to Republican Dave Yost.

Key issues

How do you plan to deal with the heroin and prescription-drug crisis in Ohio?

DeWine: The attorney general’s office has been on the front lines helping Ohio communities fight back. When prescription pills were killing Ohioans in 2011, we took action, then shifted resources to combat the exploding growth of heroin use. We emphasize a multifaceted approach: cracking down on high-level drug dealers, grass-roots solutions involving education and prevention for communities, and innovative ideas to improve recovery for addicts.

Pepper: Sadly, the state and Attorney General DeWine have no comprehensive plan to deal with the state’s heroin epidemic, and it shows. Overdose deaths have been exploding by 50-60 percent per year. I will attack this crisis by expanding high-quality treatment and prevention services, cracking down on trafficking and dealers, and expanding the use of life-saving anti-overdose medications. I will provide support for prosecutors so that they can hold dealers accountable for a homicide whenever the heroin they sell causes an overdose death.

How would you protect women from rape and other forms of violence?

DeWine: We took action when others did not and called for statewide testing of all untested rape kits across Ohio. (About) 8,500 kits, some that had sat for up to 20 years, have been sent to the lab and almost 5,000 have been tested. More than 200 rapists have been indicted and dozens of serial rapists have been uncovered. The kits are being tested in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Pepper: Ohio has seen too many high-profile cases of violence against women but little in the way of a comprehensive response. Under my plan, we will establish a zero-tolerance approach to assaults on college campuses, expand services for violence and sexual-assault survivors and speed up the testing of the thousands of old rape kits sitting on shelves throughout the state.

What is your plan for protecting vulnerable Ohioans?

DeWine: In Ohio, we have almost 1.7 million people over the age of 65. Sadly, there’s no shortage of crooks who target this generation with abuse, scams, and theft. We have cracked down on these criminals from my first day in office, launching a new unit that has indicted more than 110 scam artists, and launching an Elder Justice Initiative that pools resources to increase prosecution of nursing-home abuse and caregiver fraud.

Pepper: Nothing we do is more important than protecting Ohio’s children. I will do so by restoring funding for school-safety and drug-prevention officers, which AG DeWine has cut every year he’s been in office. I will modernize the office to crack down on online predators, including processing computer and digital evidence faster, since so many crimes targeting children now take place online and involve digital evidence.

Link: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/20/dewine-pepper-are-vastly-different.html