PRIZM News / June 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Two years after our state’s turn toward Trump, the candidate for governor delivers a pro-LGBTQ message of fairness and progress.
By Bob Vitale
It’s 9:45 a.m. on a Friday in May and Rich Cordray’s tie hangs untied around his neck.
Who says the Democratic nominee for governor is too stiff and formal?
It’s 9:55 a.m., and Rich Cordray is tying his necktie.
Maybe the rumors are true, but please indulge the 59-year-old former Ohio attorney general, former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and former five-time champion on “Jeopardy!” his 10 open-collared minutes.
His 40-percentage-point primary victory three days earlier ended up much more lopsided than it felt it would be.
His campaign had begun officially just three weeks after Cordray left his job in Washington last November, ending five years of shuttling between weekdays in the nation’s capital and weekends with his family in suburban Columbus.
And in a time when Democrats call themselves the resistance and talk of a blue wave come November, Cordray’s calm, measured approach has been criticized from the start by those who wanted a progressive candidate for governor who’s as amped up as the party’s base.
But now, with his necktie retied and his party’s nomination in hand, Cordray is charging on—calmly—to November and a rematch with Republican Mike DeWine, who defeated him in the 2010 race for attorney general by less than 50,000 votes and less than 1.5 percentage points.
“Everybody deserves to be treated fairly. That’s a very deep strain in my outlook on life. It makes me angry, and I have a very strong emotional reaction when I see people picking on each other, which is what a lot of this is. It’s sort of building me up by knocking you down.”
Democratic Candidate for Ohio Governor
Their supporters sure can crank it up; DeWine has President Donald Trump’s blessing, while Cordray has an enthusiastic backer in a leading presidential nemesis, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
But this race is unlikely to feature much of the barking we’ve come to know and despise over the past two years. Cordray’s Twitter topics have included trivia about the shape of Ohio’s state flag. In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, University of Cincinnati political scientist David Niven likened the 71-year-old DeWine to “a grandpa on the porch going on about how much he enjoys pie.”
Cordray pays no mind. He sits in his campaign headquarters in Columbus with his hands folded in his lap, explaining in a lawyerly way that all the energy and restlessness among Ohio voters is for a governor who can listen as well as talk.
“I think people want to know that somebody is going to give them a voice. Somebody’s going to care about them, care about the things that they care about. People see a lot of politicians in office that seem to have their own agenda, whether it’s a self-serving or an ideological agenda that’s often very disconnected from what they care about in their lives. And I think that there’s a wide-open path in Ohio this year for candidates who can offer real solutions to the problems that are on people’s minds and have a track record for getting problems solved.”
Although Cordray is touting his most recent accomplishments as the head of the federal agency created after the 2008 U.S. financial meltdown—when a May 9 Trump tweet called him a “big failure,” Cordray reminded the president that his agency recovered $12 billion for 30 million Americans cheated by financial institutions—he has a political track record that dates back to 1990.
The Grove City native was elected that year to his first and only term in the Ohio House. He was elected as Franklin County treasurer in 2000 and as state treasurer in 2006. When then-Attorney General Marc Dann resigned in 2008 after reports of sexual misconduct, Cordray was elected to complete the term.
“I think their party, a lot of them, are still fighting a rear-guard action on (marriage equality). … It’s not by any means in the rear-view mirror for them.”
— Richard Cordray
Former Frankin County Recorder T.J. Brown worked for Cordray in the county treasurer’s office in 2003 and calls his former boss “a true public servant.” He confronts problems by seeking input from Democrats and Republicans, government experts and the private sector, and people representing different viewpoints, says Brown, the only openly gay person elected to Franklin County office.
Cordray has a pro-LGBTQ record that dates back just as far.
As a candidate for Congress in 1992, two decades before the issue was finally resolved, he supported allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military. As Ohio’s unelected solicitor general a few years later, he worked against Cincinnati’s Article XII, which once kept the city from enacting any LGBTQ-friendly civil rights laws.
As a lawyer in private practice, Cordray did pro-bono work with Lambda Legal on a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down a similar statewide law in Colorado.
“Even in positions where you wouldn’t think he would have an impact on LGBTQ issues, he still showed up,” says Lynne Bowman, a longtime Ohio activist who now works as a deputy director for the Human Rights Campaign’s HRC Rising project. “He still recognized that it was important that we were part of the community.”
As governor, Cordray vows, he would fight for passage of a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws. He supports the Ohio Fairness Act, introduced by state Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood in the current session of the General Assembly.
Cordray also supports expanding Ohio’s hate-crimes law, ending a policy that forbids trans Ohioans from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates, and banning the practice of “conversion therapy” against LGBTQ children.
“Everybody deserves to be treated fairly,” he says. “That’s a very deep strain in my outlook on life. It makes me angry, and I have a very strong emotional reaction when I see people picking on each other, which is what a lot of this is. It’s sort of building me up by knocking you down.”
At the suggestion DeWine has been less than supportive of LGBTQ civil rights, Cordray quickly interjects: “That’s putting it mildly.”
As attorney general, DeWine fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court against Ohioan Jim Obergefell’s wish to be listed as the surviving spouse on his late husband’s death certificate. The case ended with the court’s 2015 ruling for nationwide marriage equality.
And DeWine hasn’t given up three years later, apparently. In response to the question on a March survey from Cincinnati Right to Life—”Do you support the union of one man and one woman as the only definition of marriage that should be legally recognized at all levels of government?”—he answered in capital letters: YES.
“I think their party, a lot of them, are still fighting a rear-guard action on this,” Cordray says. “That’s why they’re not willing to update the nondiscrimination laws. They still have some vague notion that they’re going to take us backward. It’s not by any means in the rear-view mirror for them.”
A May report from the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 61 percent of Ohioans, though, favor marriage equality. And 69 percent want nondiscrimination laws that outlaw bias against LGBTQ people in the state.
It’s not surprising to Cordray.
“The atmosphere in Ohio, the sort of way in which we understand ourselves to treat one another, is generally very good in this state,” he says. “But there are politicians who see advantage sometimes in creating divisions and pitting people against each other. Or they just have their own very harsh views of things. I think that’s not where most Ohioans are.”