Tuesday is the Ohio primary for governor of Ohio, in which Rep. Dennis Kucinich faces off against former CFPB director Richard Cordray. Kucinich says that Cordray is principally responsible for assault rifles in the cities of Ohio and favors the death penalty. He is not the “lefty” media likes to portray.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
One of the more closely watched governor’s races this year is in Ohio. This coming Tuesday, May 8, the Democratic primary pits Richard Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, against the former member of the House of Representatives, Dennis Kucinich. Both are generally seen as coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party, with Cordray being endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Kucinich endorsed by Our Revolution, the organization that Bernie Sanders founded.
Joining us today to talk about his campaign is Dennis Kucinich. He was elected to the House of Representatives for seven terms, from 1997-2013, representing Ohio’s 10th district. Well before that in the 1970s he was one of the country’s youngest mayors at the age of 30, and in 2004 and 2008 he ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president. I thank you so much for joining us today, Mr. Kucinich.
DENNIS KUCINICH: Great to be with you. Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mr. Kucinich. Let’s start with the your platform and how you set yourself apart from your main opponent, Richard Cordray, for the Democratic primaries on Tuesday.
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, let me just give you some comparisons, here. I stand for getting rid of assault weapons. I stand for ending fracking, which is damaging our water supply. I stand for ending the death penalty. I stand for legalization of marijuana. Now, these are all issues of varying importance. Mr. Cordray is the person principally responsible for assault weapons being in our state, because he knocked down a law eight years ago that would have prohibited them in our cities. He went to the Supreme Court on behalf of the NRA and knocked out gun laws across the country, joining other attorneys general. He is in favor of fracking. Drilling interests have contributed to his campaign. He is for the death penalty. And he is opposed to the legalization of marijuana.
Now, he’s being described in the media as a progressive. He’s being described as left. I don’t know what country we’re talking about. And what’s happening, it’s a convenient way for certain media to try to blur the differences between the candidates and then push their establishment candidate. And then when people vote for that person and they find out, oh, I didn’t know this person stood for this, because he was progressive. Well, really.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mr. Kucinich, if we are to frame this race as such, which is the Democratic Party establishment candidate versus the more progressive candidate, why do we have somebody, who is Elizabeth Warren, who’s actually turned out in, on the right side of this discussion in terms of the party politics supporting Cordray?
DENNIS KUCINICH: You’d have to ask her. When you ask her, you can ask her why she’s for an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts, but not for one in Ohio. That’s a question that should be put to her.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Then let’s switch, Mr. Kucinich, to your own race and your platform. What do you think are the main issues for Ohio in terms of the governor’s office?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, certainly getting rid of assault weapons, which are weapons of war. Get them off our streets. But beyond that, and also quite significant, we need to have Medicare for all. I wrote the bill in the Congress. We need that at a state level. Insurance companies make money not providing health care. People are getting socked with higher premiums, copays, and deductibles, and less coverage. We need to make sure that we provide health care, affordable, accessible health care for all Ohioans. I’m leading the way on that. We need to rebuild our infrastructure, our bridges, our roads. We can create tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of jobs, and stimulate the economy. I’m leading the way on that.
We need to have two-year free college for young people to keep them in the state, and also not deny anyone access to higher education because of a lack of financial resources. I’m leading the way on that. We need to end fracking, which has created in the southeast part of the state a sacrifice zone, where air and water and land are being spoiled, and the pollution is, is extraordinary. And I’m, I’m leading the way to end fracking once and for all and stop these toxic deep injection wells from pouring poison by the millions of gallons into the ground, and creating earthquakes.
So you know, my whole campaign has been about leadership. And the status quo in this state is about creating and continuing this insider’s game in Columbus, Ohio, the state capital, where the politics are controlled by the few at the expense of the many. And my election will change all of that, which is why this contest has so much importance, not just for Ohio, but for the country.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now many of the issues that you stand for, Mr. Kucinich, could be addressed at a national level. But with Trump in the White House, this is quite unlikely. So does that mean that you would push for state-level approaches to, say, health care, and college education, and policing issues?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, yes. I mean, the states are the laboratories of democracy. And today with there being a stasis at the federal level, this really is a great opportunity for a major state, an electoral, a state of electoral significance, a state which has been part of America’s heartland, to come forward with a new approach, with energetic, dynamic, transformative approaches, which can change the economy, change the society, provide more opportunities based on a vision of what’s possible. So I’m I’m ready to do that. I’m ready to lead the way.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mr. Kucinich, the number crunching has been done for states like California, where Political Economy Research Institute at UMass Amherst actually did the number crunching, and came up with presentations for the legislatures to consider. That actually would save money for the state, if universal health care was introduced, and various features were introduced, like preventative care.
Let me say here that the National Nurses United, an organization that has been advocating for universal health care nationally, has endorsed Mr. Kucinich. And so, Mr. Kucinich, with that in mind, tell us or elaborate on your universal health care plan, and why you are the person to bring this forward to the people in Ohio.
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DENNIS KUCINICH: We’re working on the numbers. But here’s some, here’s some comparisons that will give you some of the elements. Number one, when I was studying and working on the Medicare for All H.R. 676 bill, which I coauthored with John Conyers, we found that one out of every three dollars in health care spending goes for things not related to health care, like corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork. So you start, you eliminate that. You negotiate for prescription drugs and save hundreds of millions, maybe even a half a billion dollars. You start to look at the metrics involving health care spending. 50 percent of health care spending goes for 5 percent of the patients. And you know, mostly people who are either at life’s end, or, or who have chronic diseases. And we have to analyze what we can do to help people at earlier stages, when they’re at the earliest stage of a disease, you can actually identify who those people are, which will dramatically reduce costs. You can start to introduce alternative health care, wellness, integrative medicine into this plan. You drop costs down significantly.
So the state has, already has resources that it gets from the federal government in terms of health care dollars through Medicaid and other programs. I intend to not only use those monies, but by doing things like recovering over a billion dollars a year from an LLC tax break that’s given to these LLCs. There’s making the oil companies, while they still exist in Ohio, to pay a severance tax, which you can gain about another billion dollars a year. Now, granted, the cost of the system I’m talking about will be significant. And then when you work out all the numbers you take it to the people. And you say OK, suppose I could [inaudible] health coverage by 50 percent, saving Ohioans on average thousands and thousands of dollars. I think you could sell it.
But you know, before I get to that point I have to win the primary, and then present the plan to all of Ohio and see if they’re ready to go forward with it.
SHARMINI PERIES: Let’s move on. Free college education, as New York State has done. What is your plan and how are you going to finance it?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, Ohio has a problem where young people are leaving, and also has a problem where young people can’t afford the cost of college education. I want two years free college for every young person. Now, the state has, through the past two decades, taken the wealth of the people and accelerated it to the top with a whole variety of tax cuts that go primarily to the wealthiest Ohioans. What I intend to do is to reverse those and use the money for education. The other thing I want to point out is that when I was mayor of Cleveland many years ago I was able to reduce the city’s budget by 10 percent the first year by eliminating waste, fraud, corruption, unnecessary contracts, and save 10 percent, which then was about, I suppose about $12.5 million, which then was a lot of money. But let me tell you that the state of Ohio has a $70 billion-plus biennial budget. And I’m confident that by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse at a, at a state level, that we can have the money not just to cover free, two years free college, but to pour into other programs such as health and protecting the environment.
So I don’t think we suffer from a lack of money. We suffer in Ohio from a system which takes the wealth of the people and accelerates it to the top. And so I intend to reverse that, using the full power of the governor’s office to not just start to slash unnecessary spending but to put the dollars where they’re needed the most, such as education and healthcare and the environment.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, switching to criminal justice issues, you stated your position on gun control. But let’s look at policing, a big issue in Ohio. Would you support a community control of police, with an elected board that would govern over policing, and that serves the community, as well as who has the, perhaps has the right to hire and fire the police chief if it became necessary?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, police chief’s position is pretty, are pretty much determined by city charters. But do I believe in community control? Absolutely. I mean, there’s no question that there needs to be a new paradigm where community and police work together to be able to describe the contours and the policies of law enforcement. And what we’ve had in the last few years reflects that there isn’t such communication. There isn’t such cooperation. But democratic policing requires interaction with communities. And anything that we can do to make that happen, I’m all for. And I think that this is something that police and community groups can work together on.
I would say that there is one other element of this that I think is really important. In the case of the misuse of deadly force, which has roiled communities across this country, and where prosecutors haven’t stepped up to their responsibility to, to honestly review the facts of a case and to do it expeditiously, I intend to invoke a power that no governor has ever used in Ohio. And that is under Section 3.08 of the Ohio revised code, upon the governor’s signature on a complaint to a common pleas court, you can put a prosecutor on trial for misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance in the, in the administration of justice of any particular case. And once I make that clear, prosecutors are going to understand that the community’s interest and the facts of a case can not be pushed aside in favor of politics.
So I intend as governor to put a new emphasis on fairness, on justice, on making sure that the community’s concerns about law enforcement, the quality of it, the abuse of it, are put to the forefront.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s move on to clean energy issues. We’ve talked about fracking, but would you phase out fossil fuel production in the state?
DENNIS KUCINICH: But you can’t, we have to make sure that those who are working in fossil fuel industries have a job to transit to as you get rid of the industries. I mean, this is probably one of the greatest flaws that have come forward in saying we’re going to move to sustainable energy, absolutely, long past the time. I introduced a bill in Congress to set the limit of atmospheric carbon concentration at 350 parts per million. Now, we’re way over 400000 right now. I understand the essentiality of trying to not just work for sustainability but to limit atmospheric carbon.
So what do we do? We have to phase out all the carbon producing energies. And I’m all for that. But you’ve got to make sure that people have jobs to go to when you’re doing that. You can’t just say cut, and then you leave people hanging and their families are starving. That’s not going to happen under my administration. Let me tell you something that will happen. We’ll use regenerative agriculture to help farmers to be able to change their agricultural policies, which right now result in chemical agriculture producing an effluent that runs into our rivers and our, our lakes, creating toxic algae blooms. I want carbon, carbon farming, where we improve soil nutrient content, sequester more carbon into the soil. You can measure that. You can pay farmers for that. You can have an appreciable impact on atmospheric carbon levels.
I mean, these are the kinds of things that a creative, a truly progressive state government can do, as long as you’re not tied to these interest groups that currently have a stranglehold on the state Capitol in Columbus.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mr. Kucinich. One way in which you differentiated yourself from other progressives is through, by your willingness to speak to conservatives. For example, from 2013 until now you have contributed to Fox News as a pundit, as an analyst, and you appear frequently on the O’Reilly Factor. Also you have been on the Alex Jones Infowars program, which are these controversial shows when it comes to the left here in the United States. Do you think you can change some minds of those who are listening to these programs, and is that the reason why you are appearing on these programs?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, how do you change anyone’s mind if you don’t want to talk to them? No one’s been able to tell me the solution to that. Communications, dialogue, being ready to speak to people doesn’t mean you agree with them, by any means. But it means that you come to an understanding of how important it is to be able to use existing platforms to get out your message. And I don’t hesitate to do that. I’m talking to you on Real News right now, which can’t be confused with Fox. But at the same time, I speak the same message to all audiences.
And sooner or later people come to understand that it’s helpful to have someone who doesn’t polarize, who doesn’t attack people or their philosophy, however unusual or foreign it may seem, and who seeks to try to build bridges, which is what I do. But you know, the minute that you appear on a show those who oppose you for political purposes will right away say, aha, he’s for this and that. Now, I’m, I’m for whatever I say I’m for, not for what somebody else says I’m for based on where I appear.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Finally, Mr. Kucinich, Ohio is generally considered a swing state, but most of the time votes Republican for governor’s office. Now, since 1945 there have been 22 terms for Ohio governors’ platforms. Now, out of which 17 were Republicans who won. What makes you think you are in a better position to beat the Republican candidate in the November election than Richard Cordray?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, Mr. Cordray has already lost to Mr. DeWine, who quite likely might be the Republican candidate. It’s not for sure, but there is a possibility. So he’s already lost that statewide election.
On the other hand, when I was elected mayor, I defeated the Republican incumbent. When I was elected to state senate, I defeated the Republican incumbent. When I was elected to the United States Congress, I defeated the Republican incumbent. Now, how did I do that. I didn’t do it by changing my positions. I did it by being able to provide contrast to what I stood for and what the other candidates stood for. And what I said resonated with the constituency. And I think that my record shows a willingness to reach out, and that can bring some of those Trump voters home. I could bring people who have felt disaffected with the Democratic Party home.
You know, I understand why people are angry at the Democratic Party. The party sold out on trade, sold out to Wall Street, kept us in war, kept funding the wars. Come on. Why would people not be upset with the Democratic Party? But I’ve been on the other side of all of those things, and I know what people are concerned about with respect to the party, and I’m ready to help redefine what the party ought to stand for and bring back voters. And gain Republican votes, because I don’t polarize I don’t condemn anyone for their political parties, nor do I condemn anyone who happens to have a certain type of conservative view on things in some ways I’m conservative in some ways I’m a libertarian. I don’t want the government involved in everything. And in other ways I want the government to function as a force for good in society, such as health care for all, and education for all.
So Ohio will have a chance for real choice in November if I’m the nominee. We’ll find out on this coming Tuesday, May 8. And in the meantime, if anyone wants to help, go to Kucinich.com and make a contribution. Sign up to volunteer. There’s still time. We have Danny Glover coming in the next couple days. We’re very excited about that. There’s a lot of interest in this race, and I sure appreciate being on Real News to talk about it.
SHARMINI PERIES: I understand that Danny Glover and Nina Turner, of course, supports your candidacy. Mr. Kucinich, I wish you all the best on Tuesday, May 8, and I thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.
DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you so much. Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News.