CLEVELAND, Ohio – If Ohio voters are looking to elected officials or the 2018 candidates to provide some guidance on Issue 2, they should probably look elsewhere.
In an effort to find out where Ohio elected officials and candidates stand on Issue 2 – the controversial November ballot issue that seeks to require the state to pay no more for pharmaceuticals than the Department of Veterans Affairs – cleveland.com asked Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, Brown’s 2018 challengers and the gubernatorial field where they stand on the issue and how they would vote.
In the group of 13, only five gave a definitive response, and most of them were careful in the way they qualified their positions. Here’s what they said, through spokesmen:
- Secretary of State Jon Husted, 2018 Republican candidate for governor: “Secretary Husted believes prescription drug prices are too high, but does not believe this ballot initiative is a good deal for Ohioans. He plans to vote no on issue two.”
- State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, 2018 Democratic candidate for governor: “We only have the option to vote Yes or No, so Joe is voting Yes to make it clear that Ohio must work harder to lower drug prices in our state. However, voting Yes is nowhere near a complete fix for this problem. Many Ohioans will still see prices that are far too high. A Yes vote on Issue 2 is the beginning, not the end, of a renewed fight to lower drug costs.”
- Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, 2018 Republican candidate for governor: “She believes it is unworkable from an administrative perspective, primarily because we can’t always know what the VA pays for prescriptions due to a lack of transparency in pricing. She is also, as a general rule, leery of government price control because it invariably leads to costs being shifted to someone else, like our small businesses who are the engine of Ohio’s economy. Finally, she is concerned about how a drug that is not used by the VA will be priced.”
- Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, 2018 Democratic candidate for governor: “She is not endorsing it, but plans to vote for it because it is a statement in the right direction, but whether it passes or fails, more work needs to be done on this issue.”
- U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, 2018 Republican candidate for governor: “Jim is opposed to Issue 2 and will vote against it.”
With less than a month before the election and early voting already underway, several were still undecided and studying the issue:
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, does not have a stance on it just yet.
- U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said he was undecided but felt Issue 2 definitely wasn’t the whole solution.
- Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland businessman and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate: “His general philosophy is that government interference in the market is bad and leads to poor outcomes, however the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are bankrolling the No side also concerns him and makes him suspicious of their motivations.”
- Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, 2018 Republican candidate for governor: “Just like many Ohioans, Nan continues to do research on this issue before she determines her vote in November.”
Others have refused to take a public stance:
- U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, said he wouldn’t take a stand because it’s a state issue and not a federal one. However, Portman had no problem taking a stand against the marijuana legalization ballot initiative in 2015.
- Attorney General Mike DeWine, 2018 Republican candidate for governor, will not be taking a public stance at all. His campaign said he was not getting involved in the matter.
- Former state Rep. Connie Pillich, 2018 Democratic candidate for governor: Spokesman Eric Goldman said Pillich “is not going to take a public position today.”
One did not respond.
- Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel’s campaign did not respond to cleveland.com’s multiple requests for comment over three days.
The demurral or outright refusal by politicos to take a stance on Issue 2 illustrates just how complex and politically toxic the argument can be.
Say you’re against it and you could be painted as in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies – even if your disagreements are entirely policy-oriented. Come out in favor and you own whatever the effects of the initiative end up being – intended or unintended, good or bad.
Former state Sen. Nina Turner and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, both Democrats and both viewed as possible candidates for future office, have come out in favor of Issue 2 more wholeheartedly than any of the politicians cleveland.com asked. Kucinich recently started campaigning for the Yes side, appearing in a series of commercials and barnstorming around the state.
Tom Woods, assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, said the candidates’ reluctance amounted to them playing it safe on a divisive issue.
“I think from the perspective of the candidates for office, I can understand their reluctance insofar as the amount of money that Pharma is spending on one side of Issue 2,” Woods said. “I think they’re concerned about picking a fight unnecessarily.”
Both the Yes and No side on Issue 2 said they did not need elected officials or candidates to come out with a public stance, instead focusing on getting the issue out to the public so they could make their own choice rather than courting politicians and possibly turning it into a partisan fight.
But people often look to their elected officials for guidance on how to vote on an issue.
This time, it doesn’t appear there will be many to look to for direction.