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Background checks, marijuana and criminal justice in Democrats primary for governor

John Cranley and Nan Whaley at Ohio Debate Commission debate March 29, 2022 (credit Josh Bickel, Ohio Debate Commission).jpeg
Josh Bickel
Ohio Debate Commission
John Cranley and Nan Whaley at Ohio Debate Commission debate March 29, 2022

Democratic gubernatorial candidates agree criminal justice reform is needed. But they have different ideas on how that should happen.

Two days after the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton that left nine dead and 17 injured, then Democratic Mayor Nan Whaley stood with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on a stage to address a crowd that shouted out a two-word message:

“Do something, do something, do something........"

“You know he told the people of Dayton back in August of 2019 that he would do something around common sense gun legislation and frankly never in my worst nightmare did I think he would do something to make it worse.”

DeWine Whaley after Dayton shooting
Governor Mike DeWine and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in August 2020 at vigil for victims of the Oregon District shooting.

Whaley, who’s now running to unseat DeWine, criticizes him for abandoning the gun reform plan he introduced later that year then signing into law two bills that relaxed gun laws instead. Whaley says as governor she’d push for universal background checks and would crack down on existing gun laws the way they have in Dayton.

“In Dayton, this past year, we saw a drop in homicides by 36%. We also took 1100 illegal guns off the street and we know that when we have illegal guns off the street, our communities are more safe.”

In a 2019 editorial, former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said local efforts to keep cities safe are being stymied by Ohio lawmakers who ban cities from enacting laws…like the one in Cincinnati that prohibited bump stocks – a device that turns a rifle into a machine gun. That law was overturned in court.

Cranley was one of the co-founders of The Innocence Project, an organization that has exonerated and freed nearly two dozen wrongfully convicted people. And the way he sees it, the current criminal justice system has a lot of problems.

“I’ve seen criminal justice abuse people, innocent people who I have helped to free.”

Cranley says the most important thing Ohio can do to reform criminal justice is to legalize marijuana.

“Too many people are losing careers, opportunities because of a conviction over the use of marijuana. And that’s a clear choice in this election. Mike DeWine thinks it should be a crime and I think it should be a business.”

Cranley says his plan would bring in $350 million in new taxes, money he says could be put into creating 30,000 new jobs that pay a minimum of $60,000 a year. Cranley says numerous studies back up his numbers but Whaley and others question them. Whaley says she also favors legalizing marijuana but if that happens, she wants to make sure Black Ohioans who she says have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests can take advantage of those business opportunities.

One thing both Whaley and Cranley agree upon is they won’t get rid of qualified immunity. That’s the protection afforded to police officers who pursue actions in the line of duty against lawsuits by people whose constitutional rights are interrupted in the process.

“Most police officers I know would not serve if they were not given the protection of qualified immunity. We’ve seen a record increase in homicides and shootings. We need more cops not less. Now, don’t get me wrong. Cincinnati has been the leader on police community reform. Ours was the first city in Ohio to get body cameras on my cops. I helped write the citizen review committee 20 years ago. I wrote a report for the U.S. Conference of Mayors on police reform. So there are plenty of ways we can reform policing in this state and frankly it is to follow the Cincinnati lead. I believe that reforming police community relations is the most important reason Cincinnati is making a comeback because we made progress on racial justice.”

Whaley agrees the goal is good police community relations, not eliminating qualified immunity.

“I would not get rid of qualified immunity. As a mayor, I know that would bankrupt cities and we know that across the state. We need to make sure our cities are funded. And frankly it would also affect our ability to recruit really good police officers which we also need to do. I’m proud as mayor of Dayton that we increased the number of officers. We need to make sure they are of quality and if we get rid of qualified immunity, you would see less people being willing to be a police officer. At the same time, we need to make sure, while we are increasing the number of police officers, that anybody who has an interaction with a police officer is treated with dignity and respect and as mayor you can really hold those ideas both in your hands at the same time.”

Both Whaley and Cranley say they’d restore money to local government funds so cities would have more resources to hire more high quality safety forces.