ICYMI: Renacci Tells The Toledo Blade “The real scandal is for Republicans to push a guy who could lose in the general election, versus getting behind a guy who has a vision and a plan for Ohio”


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Toledo Blade: Renacci touts his vision, plan of Ohio

“The real scandal is for Republicans to push a guy who could lose in the general election, versus getting behind a guy who has a vision and a plan for Ohio"- Jim Renacci

HILLIARD, Ohio — Pandemic or no pandemic, Jim Renacci said he would still be standing where he is now, challenging a sitting governor of his own party.

But he worries that, despite backlash from the right against Gov. Mike DeWine, the three challengers trying to flank him from the right will split the conservative vote.

“I'm the one out there with a plan, and I'm just hoping that the voters take a look,” the businessman and former congressman from northeast Ohio told The Blade last week shortly before speaking to a receptive group fighting what they claim is “indoctrination” of students in Ohio K-12 schools.

“The biggest problem is DeWine can't get over 40 percent support, which means 60 percent of Republicans do not support him,” Mr. Renacci said. “The problem is, if we split this vote, DeWine gets back in.”Also in the race for the party's nomination on May 3 are Joe Blystone, a Columbus area cattle farmer and business owner, and former state Rep. Ron Hood, of Ashville.

Mr. DeWine’s reaction to the pandemic — especially the economic shutdown, school closings, and masking and social distancing orders issued early on — have fueled part of the backlash from within his own party.

Mr. Renacci is spending a lot of his own money to wage a campaign that he wanted to wage four years ago when Mr. DeWine was still state attorney general and a candidate for governor.

But Mr. DeWine had the backing of the Republican party machine then and now, and party leaders convinced Mr. Renacci then to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown instead. Mr. Brown won re-election.

“What I thought was going to happen happened, whether it was COVID or not,” Mr. Renacci said. “We have a governor who still believes in the old mentality. We have a state that's still failing. We have a state that is not able to compete with other states. My goal in 2017 was to change our state's direction. It hasn't been changed.”

Hailing from the blue collar city of Monongahela, Pa. south of Pittsburgh. Mr. Renacci moved to Ohio about 30 years ago and founded multiple businesses. His General Motors dealership, however, was shut down in 2009 as the automaker shed dealerships following its bailout by the federal government under Democratic President Barack Obama.

A former Wadsworth mayor and councilman, he ran for Congress in 2010, defeating an incumbent Democrat and serving for the next eight years.

Mr. DeWine has been off the campaign trail for the last week and a half, recovering with First Lady Fran DeWine from coronavirus, the illness he spent two years trying to stifle.

“People are pumped up about Ohio,” DeWine spokesman Tricia McLaughlin said. “You can feel it. Governor DeWine is creating a record number of jobs, cutting personal income taxes for all Ohioans by $2.2 billion, and is winning historic investments for the state, all while balancing the budget.

“Our grassroots support and fundraising numbers are reflecting that enthusiasm,” she said. “The DeWine-Husted campaign has raised more than all of our opponents combined. I have no doubt we'll see that momentum for Mike DeWine at the polls.”

Mr. Renacci sat last week on a panel inside Hilliard Presbyterian Church just outside Columbus to discuss hot-button issues in Republican politics these days both inside Ohio and nationally — critical race theory, socio-emotional learning, and comprehensive sex education that they say are being taught in K-12 schools.

“Some people say CRT is not in the classroom. Why do you bring it up,” he said. “CRT is in the classroom.”

Mr. DeWine has faced accusations from the right for allowing such “indoctrination” to occur and for appointing some members of the State Board of Education who supported a resolution that was held up as Exhibit A. The resolution called for schools to mount an internal reflection into potential influence of internal biases when it comes to teaching, hiring, and student discipline.

Critics countered that, among other things, it amounted to teaching students that U.S. history is littered with racism that persists today. The resolution was later repealed and replaced and Mr. DeWine has replaced some of the state board members.

Mr. Renacci backs controversial House Bill 616, a variation on Florida’s new law that critics have labeled the “Don't Say Gay” law. It would prohibit teaching students between kindergarten and third grade about “divisive or inherently racist concepts,” sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Despite signing laws expanding gun access and every anti-abortion law that has reached his desk, Mr. DeWine has faced criticism that he is not conservative enough on such issues.

“He's a flip-flopper...,” Mr. Renacci said. “He does not hold his positions on anything. It's all about getting reelected. So in 2019, you're out there pushing the red flag (gun reform) laws. In 2020, you're trying to get the red flag laws in the budget.

“You're saying that I'm not going to do constitutional carry (and) I'm not going to do stand your ground,” he said. “And then we get close to primary, and he signs stand your ground and he signs constitutional carry. At least with Jim Renacci, you're going to have somebody whose principles and values won't change.”

Like the other challengers, he argues Mr. DeWine undermined his commitment to fight abortion rights by hiring Dr. Amy Acton, a pro-choice Democrat, as his first health director.

Mr. Renacci picked conservative filmmaker Joe Knopp — known for films on abortion, religion, and former President Donald Trump — as his running mate.

Mr. DeWine's highest-profile economic achievement, the one promoted heavily in his TV ads, is Intel Corp.'s $20 billion commitment to build a pair of semi-conductor chip factories just outside the Columbus beltway.

“We continue to buy companies,” Mr. Renacci said. “We pay to bring companies in, and that's not what we should be doing. Isn't it amazing? Mike DeWine continues to do that. He pays $2.5 billion to bring Intel in, and eliminates the (commercial activities) tax for that company.”

If elected, he said he would do away with JobsOhio, the private non-profit entity created under former Gov. John Kasich, that leads the way on such deals. Its primary source of income is the profits from state liquor sales.

Mr. DeWine has not been implicated by the FBI in the statehouse bribery scandal that led to federal racketeering charges against a Republican former speaker of the House and his allies.

“I think the real scandal is for Republicans to push a guy who could lose in the general election, versus getting behind a guy who has a vision and a plan for Ohio,” Mr. Renacci said.