Democratic Ohio justice eyeing run for governor

Posted at 7:48 PM, Jan 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-03 19:48:20-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The lone Democrat holding an Ohio statewide office said Tuesday he is considering stepping down from his post to run for governor -- but he will put off the decision until the end of the year.

In an Associated Press interview, Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill said he will wait to decide whether to leave the bench to see if any other "truly competitive" Democratic gubernatorial candidate emerges.

At least two other Democrats are taking serious behind-the-scenes steps toward governor's runs in 2018, when Republican Gov. John Kasich must leave the office due to term limits. One is Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, the other is former Cincinnati-area state Rep. Connie Pillich, a 2014 state treasurer candidate.

Others whose names are often mentioned for the job are former Attorney General Richard Cordray, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton.

O'Neill said he plans a statewide listening tour to discuss nine key policy planks he hopes to see embraced by the party. Those include legalizing marijuana, halving college tuitions within five years, building a high-speed rail line between Cleveland and Cincinnati and eliminating for-profit charter schools. He also wants to promote solar development, reopen state mental hospitals to help address the heroin epidemic, reinstitute taxes on trust funds and boost the minimum wage to $15.

"I want to see whether or not the Ohio Democratic Party learned anything in 2016," said O'Neill, a lawyer, registered nurse and U.S. Army veteran who joined the high court in 2013. "There are a lot of people saying, 'Hey, I want to run for governor,' but I haven't heard anybody come up with any concrete proposals for what they would do if they became governor. No one's coming up with any solutions."

O'Neill's court term runs until January 2019. At 69, O'Neill will be prohibited from seeking re-election due to age limits. Judicial ethics rules also bar him from pursuing another office while on the court, but O'Neill said he has leeway to express his opinions as long as an issue isn't directly before the court.

State Democratic Chairman David Pepper welcomed O'Neill to the party's prospective gubernatorial field, noting a formal process will be used down the road to vet candidates for the 2018 ticket.

"We have a lot of really good Democrats who are either running or thinking about running or being talked about as running," Pepper said. "They are because people are seeing 2018 as a really opportune year for us. We've traditionally done well when Republicans are in the White House."

Besides O'Neill at the state level, Democrat Sherrod Brown was elected statewide to the U.S. Senate at the federal level. O'Neill has been an outspoken critic of the party, which has over the years recruited primary opponents to run against him.

Republicans currently control all branches of Ohio government. Three GOP statewide officials — Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor — have expressed interest in running for governor.