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HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. “There’s no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets” or I should add, of recovering cities after hurricanes or tropical storms. These are the venerable words of three-term New York City Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, the first part, not my ad lib, who, like his Empire State brethren, Senator “Pothole” Al D’Amato would take great care in delivering the service in public service. And it’s in that pragmatic, can-do spirit, we’ve recently welcomed mayors here on The Open Mind. From the states of Pennsylvania, and Indiana, and today, from the bellwether of Ohio whose electoral votes are crucial to any Presidential candidate’s prospects. Nan Whaley, candidate for Governor of Ohio, is mayor of Dayton, a leader in affordable housing in the state, and also a hub of manufacturing. Mayor Whaley is focused on a city-wide effort to ensure that her neighborhoods are not merely served with functioning bridges and roadways, but high quality schooling, mentorship, and employment. Mayor, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
WHALEY: Thanks Alexander, glad to be here.
HEFFNER: One of the issues that seems to be a source of consensus rather than contention is the opioid epidemic…
HEFFNER: Which is touching… communities affluent, impoverished alike. You’ve had hands on experience with that, rallying Democrats and Republicans in what ought to be a public service, which is taking care of people’s health.
WHALEY: Right. I mean I think what we saw, but definitely in Southern Ohio and places like West Virginia. It hit our cities and communities first. And we’re seeing it really hit all across the country and recognizing what impact it can have to neighborhoods, family members, friends, when it does happen. What’s really interesting about this epidemic is it really affects everyone. And in the past I think we’ve had drug epidemics that have happened just to one certain sector of the population or one economic class. And we see in this with the heroin epidemic that it’s affecting every sector of our community.
HEFFNER: How have you addressed it in your city?
WHALEY: Well you know in 2014 I was elected Mayor, and I was sworn in as Mayor and I was declare, I was one of the first cities in the state to declare a state of emergency. We really needed to make sure that we owned this issue and started really working on it in a hands-on way. This past month, or actually a couple months ago, we were the first city in the state of Ohio to sue pharmaceutical companies, the manufacturers, the distributers, and some of the doctors that started this mess. If you go back, you can see that most people started getting addicted to opioids actually with prescription pain killers. And the pain killers started because doctors were told by the big drug companies that this was not addictive. It certainly is an addictive source and once those pills went away, heroin stepped in, and now we’re even seeing fentanyl and car fentanyl stepping in, into that space. And it’s ripping apart our communities and our families and our friends. And you know, I think that opening of telling folks that pain, pain killers were not addictive is the big problem that started this whole mess.
HEFFNER: How are you taking an issue like that and responding to it with a constructive political outcome? And why can’t other issues be like that?
WHALEY: Well I think because again, you know, our communities and our country have a tendency to be so sectored and heroin has now [LAUGHS] been the thing that affects everyone. I think that’s a real key point. There’s a silver lining in it for sure, because there’s an opportunity for us to really get addiction service and mental health services right. I think that’s one of the efforts that we have really not done well this last half-century, on mental health and addiction and having an understanding of the disorder and disease that it is. And because it’s affecting everyone, we have a great opportunity here. People ask me a lot of times, you know, what does success look like in this effort, and you know, I say it. Like, we have an opportunity to really get our addiction services correct. The mayors are on the frontline across the state of Ohio on this. We’ve seen cities after Dayton also sue the drug companies like Parma, Lorrain, Cincinnati, even counties in Southern Ohio that are holding the drug companies accountable, which is a key part. But also we sent a letter to the governor’s office to say hey, here are the 7 things we need the state to do too and one of the frustrations we’re having, both from both State and Federal government is getting lots of talk and very little action, and so, that’s, that’s I think a gaining drum beat that we’re seeing across – mayors across the country, frankly.
HEFFNER: And what is the objective that you seek from these companies?
WHALEY: From the companies, I want them, this is about justice for tax payers and justice for the families that have been hurt by them opening a market they knew was addictive. So, you know, we’re seeking justice from the pharmaceutical companies. From our colleagues in state and federal government, we want them to, to treat it like the, the emergency that it is. We want them to not only declare it as a national emergency, but we want them then to take action. And the mayors across the state and country have very specific, we have very specific things we can, we think that can be helpful in that.
HEFFNER: Now this is an issue where there appears to be agreement among Democrats and Republicans about the need for government intervention.
HEFFNER: But it was interesting to me in the wake of these most recent storms, that the FEMA director was alluding to people signing up who wanted to seek uh assistance and that it was important that they state what their insurance is. And I thought to myself… does everybody have insurance?
WHALEY: No. No that’s the challenge. I mean an, an emergency and a disaster is an emergency and a disaster. And we can’t be saying well, you weren’t really prepared and so too bad for you, and I think that’s the challenge we have.
HEFFNER: Is that a philosophical disagreement in your gubernatorial race that you are going to hone for the working Americans to underscore the difference between perhaps an administration that wants to relieve only the underlying… symptom, but not the disease of economic distress.
WHALEY: Yeah, I think absolutely. For us in the governors race, it’s, it’s a couple of things. We think we need a governor that you know, gets the issues that are affecting people, right? And nobody but mayors in government really get that, right? We’re the ones, like you, like you began, are on the frontlines. Understand what’s happening to communities, understand what’s happening to our neighbors, because we don’t have the luxury of looking away from those issues. So I think that that practical spirit and pragmatic effort that mayors have is definitely something we bring to the governors race. And then secondly, I don’t think that it’s the role of government to say, well, you didn’t, you didn’t do everything exactly right so now you’re in this crisis, we can’t help you out. And so I think that’s a, a big difference. You know, there needs to be some compassion in these efforts for sure. You know, when, when our, in Dayton, for example, during the, during the hurricanes, you know, we had folks, you know, going down to Texas. We had folks that are trying to rescue folks. We have people that are donating toiletries or dollars, and they’re not putting on a restriction, well, only if you have flood insurance are you going to be able to get this toilet paper. I mean that’s just really ridiculous. And so I think that’s part of the challenge that the federal government’s having right now.
HEFFNER: Was there too much of an emphasis on volunteerism, which was negating or minimizing the necessity of government to assist and to continue to assist these people? How do you assess the government’s role in an emergency situation, and not in an emergency situation, to provide a standard of living, and is there a standard of living that is adequate in Ohio right now?
WHALEY: Well that’s a really big question Alexander. I think …
HEFFNER: I’ll give you time. Take as much time as you want.
WHALEY: Alright I, I think, I think, you know when emergencies are declared, that is when government steps in to get people back to their normal, and to be as helpful as possible so that they don’t die, that they are taken care of and they can get back to, to, you know, productive, you know, work again, right? So I think, on the national emergency piece, and you know, look, we’ve asked, you know, for the federal government to declare a national emergency on opioids because we see the hollowing out that it’s had in our community. So you know, from the opioid addiction issue to hurricanes and natural disasters, there’s a place for the federal government to play for sure, and definitely the state government, to participate in. Because you know, local communities can’t withhold you know [LAUGHS] a hurricane or you know, disasters like the opioid epidemic, right? So, and, and, it’s, it’s not from fault of those communities that this happened. So I definitely think there. For us in Ohio, you know, we have had, gone through a tremendous re-shift through the great recession, right? And the Midwest is not the same as it was before 2009. And I think what you’re seeing is a really healthy conversation of what does it mean to, to live in these communities, the question about the dignity of work. What is the value of work, which I believe is a fundamental part of the American experience. And you know, the belief of working hard should, should elicit a decent and fair pay. I think, I think right now we’re in a conversation about more about the scarcity of resources, or the scarcity of your, your experience, rather than whether you’re willing to work hard. And both should be important to the American ideas. And I think that’s a hard question for people to get around right? We have people that, countless, I know countless folks in Dayton and across the country and across the state that had, have you know, worked hard, have played by the rules, have, you know provided for their families, and now all of a sudden because the economy has drastically changed and the economy changes faster than quite frankly our heads can get around it, they’re left out in the cold. And I don’t think that’s fair. And I think that’s something that both our state and federal government have to be working on. And to just say too bad, you’re out of luck, the cards weren’t in your favor, I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer to Ohioans or Americans.
HEFFNER: What is distinctive about Ohioans?
WHALEY: Well I think Ohioans you know have been the people that have fed and built this country. You know, most people don’t realize, they think of our cities a lot of times. You, they either think about our cities like Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron and Toledo as these heavy manufacturing places that have built this country and you know, have, you know, created the cross roads that people get through the country to, as well. But also you know, we also are the ones that lead on agriculture, on feeding this country. So the heartland is really an appropriate view of Ohio. I think the other thing people need to realize about Ohio is it’s really a pretty diverse place, right? It’s almost like five states in one, with five different personalities. And again, I think that’s why mayors and local control is so key in Ohio because what may work in uh Mingo Junction, Ohio, [LAUGHS] doesn’t work in Toledo. And we have to allow those local leaders and those local communities to really do what’s best for their, their city and, and their, and their areas.
HEFFNER: Specifically in your state, what are the systemic failures or dysfunctions that you would like to wipe out in successfully improving the economy such that working folks are happy and, and can earn a decent living and can fulfill their God-given potential?
WHALEY: Right. I mean I think what we’ve seen, you know, in the past 25, 30 years in manufacturing, is the automation of the manufacturing. And to this date, until manufacturing became automated, any sort of technology actually resorted in more jobs. But that hasn’t really been the case in manufacturing. An example is, today there, there is the golden era of manufacturing right now. We’re producing more in Ohio and Michigan than we’ve really ever produced before with significantly less workers. One in five robots in the country are in Ohio and Michigan. So the automation of manufacturing has really changed how we uh produce efforts. And we are seeing less people working because of that, right? And that’s been a real difference. Before, any sort of technology had always recreated more jobs. But we’re seeing that change. And we’ll, I think we’ll see that more as we talk about artificial intelligence and the automation of logistics, right, the same thing. And the, the, the tail for manufacturing was around 50 years. The tail for automation in logistics is probably 25 and we’re probably in year four or five of that as we see these self-driving cars and trucks. Ohio’s also number one in truck drivers in the country, obviously, ’cause everything is connected. You have to get through Ohio to get really anywhere in the country. Uh and so this is a very important time for our government, for our think tanks, for our universities to really define and work on the dignity of work. And what does it mean to have a job, and should everyone really have the opportunity to have a job? And I think that’s the big question that’s coming forward, that really needs to be digged on, digged into in the political sense, not just for Ohio, but really for the, the rest of the country, and what that means for us. Now, I come, you know, from a place where, you know, again the value to my family and the value to our community is like, you work hard and play by the rules. You will win in the end. And we’re not seeing that happen anymore.
HEFFNER: So what, when I asked you that though, I’m really asking about internal institutions like your state house.
WHALEY: Mhm. Well I think, I think there’s a lot of efforts that they need, they could do more of. You know, right now the, the minimum wage is unlivable, right? Right now we expect families just to figure out how to take care of kids, you know, even though they need two incomes. So there’s big opportunities to really transform how we think of work and, and how we provide for families in a way that could be much better for both the families to be able to be succinct, and then also for their communities. Dayton for example was the first city in the state to provide paid parental leave. Because again, we know if our workers go and have that opportunity with their children and bond with their children, have that time, they’re better workers and they wanna stay longer working for our city. Those kind of efforts are really important, about how we think about family and how we think about our community. If you really think about what we’ve done over the past 50 years, we haven’t done much to change what a two-family working system is like, what even like a single parent. And we, and we basically tell families to figure it out. And I think that’s the challenge that we have, overall, of keeping people in the workforce. But then also the key part of making people have, making sure people have opportunities to work. And the, the whole idea, which I think was a failed notion is that folks could just automatically be retrained. Just doesn’t work. And so there’s some retraining that can happen, but there’s almost like a two-generation discussion, right? We have to make sure that our young people are educated and, and recognize that the, the world that they’ll live in, in 20 years, is different than the world that you and I are even living in. And so how do we make sure that they have the critical thinking skills and the ability to be really educated for that next… world. And then also we have to celebrate and recognize the dignity of work for the people that have done that work, to make sure that Ohio has been a great place to be. And those two generational conversations I think is really what is going on right now in national and local, and in statewide politics.
HEFFNER: Your current governor, John Kasich…
HEFFNER: What did he do right? What did he get wrong?
WHALEY: So I like to say, you know, that Governor Kasich has done one thing right and about 99 things wrong. And so he gets a lot of credit for the one thing, and that is Medicaid expansion. The ability for us to have Medicaid in our state has been very helpful, particularly on the opioid addiction issue right? Most all of our services for dealing with those that are addicted is through Medicaid. Right? So if Medicaid would go away in Ohio it would affect our ability to provide ambulance service, the emergency service that goes along, treatment, recovery, Medicaid has been clear on that. And Governor Kasich’s protection of that has been, should be and has been applauded. The wrong part is the fact that for the past 50-some months, we have been trailing job numbers compared to national numbers. And if you consider how far down Ohio was in the great recession, and how tough the great recession was for Ohio, we should be beating those national job numbers because of the hole we were in. His tax policy has been more regressive than Kansas. They have actually taken loop-holes away in Kansas that we still have in place in Ohio. With this idea that if we don’t tax the wealthy that suddenly the poor and middle class and working folks will be alright. And again, Alexander, if that worked [LAUGHS] I would be all for it. But we have 15 years of these continual cuts, and especially the past 8 years with Governor Kasich, where it has not worked. We do not have more jobs than we did before, and again, these tax policies have consequences on job growth. And I think that’s been the part that he has, most people across the nation have paid very little attention to in Ohio. You know if you have 56 straight months of below average job numbers, in Ohio, that’s where the frustration’s coming from.
HEFFNER: One thing though that you, we didn’t mention, from the national perspective, is what is perceived as a more civil approach than the national Presidential voice.
HEFFNER: And if you talk to folks in Ohio, they’ll tell you governor Kasich can get quite fiery…
WHALEY: Yeah I’ve—
WHALEY: There’s the Ohio Kasich and then there’s the National Kasich.
HEFFNER: Right, right.
WHALEY: Right, right.
HEFFNER: So, but, he did lead by example in providing an alternative voice and I wonder, are you at all fearful that the kind of rhetoric that is employed by the White House now could be employed by governors in your state and other states?
WHALEY: Look, I think … I think it’s a low bar if you’re a Republican right now, right? So if you are kind to one person suddenly you’re a statesman because of the Republican President right now. So I think, I think that is something that’s not hard to step over as a Republican. By being …
HEFFNER: But then again, at the same time, Ohio is a state that voted for…
WHALEY: Right. Right. And I think there’s…
HEFFNER: President Trump.
WHALEY: I think there’s definitely, again, there’s anger in Ohio and I think that the President tapped into that, for all the reasons we’ve been discussing before, right? You know, folks worked hard, play by the rules, and they’re not getting ahead and that’s really it. So it’s not about statesman-like, or not. They want some, some sort of action. For Kasich himself and for the state of politics, yeah, I worry about that, right, because I want to have a discourse of ideas, a discourse of, you know, hey, I disagree with John Kasich on how he’s governed the state because of the affects it’s had on communities and people. And I don’t think that people are better off than before he came.
HEFFNER: So you’re the candidate, but you, I want you to be the strategist too.
HEFFNER: Because the, any good candidate ought, ought to be a strategist.
HEFFNER: What is your principal challenge in conveying the argument about taxation? That the Governor’s approach was unsuccessful and that you’ll have a superior approach.
WHALEY: Well I don’t, I think, I think people are hungry for that message, frankly. When you talk about the fact that Kansas, who is considered the most regressive, Sam Brownback, it’s just been interesting to watch the national conversation about Sam Brownback versus John Kasich, who, John Kasich actually has a more regressive, oppressive tax policy than Brownback now in his state policy but doesn’t get much coverage. And the fact that they’re not better off with this policy, right? People in Ohio know their communities over the past decade haven’t improved. That they’re, the job numbers are, are bad. They’re the worst since 2009. I think you saw that in 2016. And that’s the conversation we’re going to continue to have in 2018, because, I think there is, it’s not necessarily a partisan discussion. It’s a discussion, again a pragmatic discussion, about how we can move our state forward and get back to the ground about what these communities and what, what these families need.
HEFFNER: So what will be the gravest challenge in this campaign that you’ve launched?
WHALEY: Oh, I mean, it’s, it’s expensive. I think that’s something that’s been hard for us. Watching the unlimited access to money and campaigns is not something that we’re excited about. I think the other thing is, it’s a big state. I mean, as I mentioned, it’s about five states in one. And so…you know, getting to know people and having conversations is something that we really like to do and that’s hard to do on a state as big as Ohio. So you know, we, we tease that if I get to meet everybody in their living room, and get to talk to folks, we think we, you know, definitely share a message that people believe in. But getting to everybody is going to be the biggest challenge.
HEFFNER: Do you take inspiration from your Ohioan or your… Midwestern forebearers or political figures who came of age in the Midwest and championed a message of… forward thinking policy.
WHALEY: Oh absolutely. So you know, my favorite governor is actually uh Jim Cox and most people don’t know him, but he started Cox Media, and that, came from the Dayton Daily News. He was a governor actually from Dayton. He’s the last governor that came from Dayton. He…
HEFFNER: To date.
WHALEY: To date. It was like 1914. So right, exactly. So you know, maybe 107 years later we can get …
HEFFNER: Or maybe a few years later.
WHALEY: Yeah, right no, but from 1914 right?
WHALEY: And Governor Cox really was the workers’ governor, instituted workers compensation in the state of Ohio. Made sure that workers that got hurt on the job had opportunities to be able to pay when they had to, you know, go off of that, that workforce. That’s been a key part of who Governor Cox is, a real progressive in workers’ issues, something that’s obviously, as you can tell from this conversation, is important to me.
HEFFNER: And this was pre-New Deal.
WHALEY: Yeah, so, one interesting part: Governor Cox ran for President, as the Democrat nominee. His Vice President candidate was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
HEFFNER: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Right.
WHALEY: Yep. And so before the New Deal, and, he ran against a man named Warren Harding, who was the Republican nominee, and he also was from Ohio. Could you imagine that today, [LAUGHS] having two candidates running for President, Democrat and Republican nominee, both from the state of Ohio?
HEFFNER: Mayor I don’t want you to be afraid of grounding your work as mayor, as a candidate in history, because in those few minutes, which you are welcome to elaborate on in the seconds now we have remaining, you lit up, and I think you’d light up a living room or…
HEFFNER: A town hall or—
WHALEY: Thanks Alexander.
HEFFNER: An auditorium.
HEFFNER: Because that history is so critical.
WHALEY: Yeah, it’s important. I think, I think the history of Ohio, and where Ohio has been is important. But I also think its future is really key too. And… you know, when I’m thinking about what we’re gonna do for Ohio, and what we’re going to do for cities like Dayton, look, we need partners in the State House. And we need partners that care about issues affecting families and workers. And that’s really what pushed me into this race, and I think that our message is resonating with Ohio voters.
HEFFNER: Well I think it’s thanks to the influence of Governor Cox that you had President Roosevelt for four terms.
WHALEY: That’s right.
HEFFNER: That the nation remembers as the workman’s or workwoman’s President.
WHALEY: Right. So that progressive era we need to get back to on that.
HEFFNER: Mayor, thank you for your time today.
WHALEY: Thanks, Alexander.
HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, for a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind. Please visit The Open Mind website at Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews. And do check us out on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on future programming.