COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The lone Democrat holding an Ohio statewide office said Tuesday he is considering stepping down from his post at year’s end to run for governor.
In an Associated Press interview, Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill said he will delay a formal decision about leaving the bench to see if any other “truly competitive” Democratic gubernatorial candidate emerges.
“I want to see whether or not the Ohio Democratic Party learned anything in 2016,” said O’Neill, a lawyer, registered nurse and U.S. Army veteran who joined the high court in 2013. “There are a lot of people saying, ‘Hey, I want to run for governor,’ but I haven’t heard anybody come up with any concrete proposals for what they would do if they became governor. No one’s coming up with any solutions.”
The justice said he plans a statewide listening tour to discuss nine key policy planks he hopes to see embraced by the party. Those include legalizing marijuana, halving college tuitions within five years, building a high-speed rail line between Cleveland and Cincinnati and eliminating for-profit charter schools. He also wants to promote solar development, reopen state mental hospitals to help address the heroin epidemic, reinstitute taxes on trust funds and boost the minimum wage to $15.
O’Neill’s court term runs until January 2018. At 69, O’Neill will be prohibited from seeking re-election due to age limits. Judicial ethics rules also bar him from pursuing another office while on the court, but O’Neill said he has leeway to express his opinions as long as an issue isn’t directly before the court.
O’Neill is the only Democrat currently holding Ohio elective office at the statewide level, with Democrat Sherrod Brown also having won statewide election to the U.S. Senate. O’Neill has been an outspoken critic of the party, which has over the years recruited primary opponents to run against him.
Among other Democrats thought to be weighing gubernatorial runs in 2018, when Republican Gov. John Kasich faces term limits, are former Attorney General Richard Cordray, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni and former state Rep. Connie Pillich.
Republicans currently control all branches of Ohio government and they gained even stronger majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the November election. Three GOP statewide officials — Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor — have expressed interest in running for governor.
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