By LOU WILIN
Democratic state auditor candidate Zack Space on Tuesday portrayed his Republican opponent, Keith Faber, as too cozy with money interests to become the state’s chief financial watchdog.
Faber has received a lot of campaign contributions from the now-bankrupt, scandal-ridden online charter school ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), Space said during a campaign stop in Findlay.
Years ago, a bill came before the Ohio Senate to correct attendance reporting problems with charter schools. Faber, Senate president at the time, should have assigned the bill to the Senate’s Education Committee, Space said.
It would have been the “natural committee” for the bill, Space said.
But the Education Committee chair was Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who “had been critical of ECOT and almost certainly would have given this bill a hearing and passed it on to the floor,” Space said.
“Instead, it went to the Finance Committee, where it never even got a hearing,” Space said.
ECOT has gained distinction for low attendance and graduation rates.
The state has determined that in the past two years, over $80 million in public money was wrongfully paid to ECOT, Space said.
“These are monies that would have went into public education, that could have been stopped, had that bill received a hearing and been enacted,” Space said.
“You’ll have to ask Mr. Faber whether or not his decision to direct that bill to the (Finance) Committee had anything to do with financial support his campaign was receiving” from ECOT, Space said.
Space, a former congressman who represented Ohio’s 18th House District, said that as state auditor he would conduct audits to identify which approaches work better in fighting the opioid epidemic.
Medicaid is the state’s biggest source of funds to fight opioid addiction, Space said.
“Yet there doesn’t seem to be any comprehensive plan whatsoever on behalf of the state of Ohio in terms of how they spend that money,” he said.
Each county is left to fend for itself in how to fight the addiction, Space said.
“There’s a role for the auditor, to at least examine what’s working, and what’s not working when it comes to the use of taxpayer dollars through Medicaid in combating the opioid epidemic,” he said.
In addition, Space said that as state auditor he would be a member of the Ohio Apportionment Board and would fight against gerrymandering, the shaping of legislative districts to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible.
The auditor, along with the governor, secretary of state and two lawmakers, draw legislative districts every 10 years, after the latest U.S. census. Too often, the political party which has a majority on the apportionment board gerrymanders for its own advantage, Space said.
Everyone loses in gerrymandering because it leads to extremism and discourages compromise in politics, he said. Ultimately, people lose faith in the process.
“You’re essentially having politicians pick your voters and not the other way around,” Space said.
Competitive political races then occur in the primaries and not in the general elections. A moderate Republican is more vulnerable to a challenge from an aggressive Republican running to his right in the primary, Space said.
Likewise, a moderate Democrat is more vulnerable to a challenge from an aggressive Democrat running to his left in the primary.
“The practical impact of this is that members of both parties are moving to extremes. They protect their flank,” Space said. “They, as a result, end up essentially protecting their base at the expense of everybody else.”
Government becomes dysfunctional because members of different parties fear being seen talking to each other. Compromise and negotiation become impossible, he said.
Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin