Ohio's economy is good or bad, depending on which Republican gubernatorial primary candidate you talk to
Gov. Mike DeWine is running for re-election in a Republican primary against three challengers ready to take aim at his first four years in office. With the candidates running on a conservative platform, the economy has become a focal point.
The Republican primary for governor includes the incumbent DeWine against three challengers all vying for the nomination by running as the more conservative option on the ballot. The challengers include businessman and former Congressman Jim Renacci, businessman and farmer Joe Blystone and former state representative Ron Hood.
Ohio's economy has been on a roller coaster in the last four years, as with every other state responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But DeWine said Ohio is making a comeback because of a balanced approach his administration took.
"When the pandemic started, we cut spending. When the pandemic started, we froze hiring at the state level, state employees. As a result of those prudent, conservative actions that we took, we have come out of this," DeWine said.
Ohio's unemployment rate hit a four-decade high of 16.8% in April 2020 when businesses were temporarily shut down or limited. Those numbers started to drop once restrictions were lifted and Ohio's unemployment rate is now at 4.1%.
Renacci slams DeWine's response to the pandemic. He said the decisions hurt businesses. He notes the amount of jobs that have been lost during DeWine's time in office.
While unemployment is low, the amount of people employed in Ohio now compared to the first month DeWine took office is down by 164,200 jobs.
Renacci goes further and said Ohio spends too much money and needs to change its tax structure.
"We are a state that is failing. And one of the reasons we're failing is we're not changing anything. This governor continues to run policies in the 20th century when we're in the 21st century," he said.
Renacci, who ran a car dealership, operated a nursing home and helmed other businesses before running for congress in 2010, said he wants Ohio to transition to a consumption tax.
"So my plan is to look just like I've done in many of the successful businesses run. Let's get our spending in line. Let's get our tax system to a consumption tax like the top 10 states in our country have. And let's look at ways that we can get rid of some of this waste," he said.
Renacci said Ohio needs to spend less and reform its taxation, not only to draw more businesses to Ohio but also more workers, in a state that is behind many others in population growth.
Joe Blystone, who became a vocal critic of DeWine's COVID-19 restrictions, said he decided to run for governor because of what he saw as government overreach during the pandemic.
Blystone did not return requests for an interview, but said in a previous interview that Ohio needs an outsider as governor.
"Well, what I think is being a businessman, basically, I'm a common-sense guy. I don't spend more money than I have because obviously that's bad business and it's just totally opposite of what the state, what the government is," Blystone said.
Ron Hood also did not return a request for comment.
The new Intel project has become a key point in Ohio's economic future. DeWine is touting the $20 billion project as proof that Ohio is — in his words — on the move.
"We are on the move because we've kept taxes down. We are on the move because the regulation is a good regulatory. And we're on the move because of all the other great assets that we have," the governor said.
Renacci disagrees with that assessment adding there are downsides to Ohio's deal with Intel because of the state incentives it had to provide.
"So when I tell people this is just smoke and mirrors by this governor, it really is because it's $2.5 billion of taxpayer money being spent to ultimately bring a business to Ohio that yes, will bring 2,000 jobs when it finally levels off. But he needs to answer for the 200,000 jobs that he lost," Renacci said.
Renacci is referring to the jobs that were lost in 2020 which have rebounded since the pandemic.
A debate with the Republican gubernatorial candidates in March was canceled after DeWine declined the invitation and other candidates subsequently dropped out.