In his bid to unseat incumbent first-term Republican Auditor of State David Yost, John Patrick Carney, who represents Ohio’s 22nd House District, found time Friday afternoon to answer questions in the first in a new series of interviews that will be featured exclusively at Plunderbund called Profile Ohio.
Conducted at the downtown Columbus headquarters for ODP, Mr. Carney takes on one subject after another: JobsOhio and Yost’s refusal to drill into the secret group’s books, the need for more transparency in government, charter schools, job creation and other many other topics including an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would prevent the overtly partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts that has produced more bitter rivalry and gridlock than compromise and collaboration.
PB: Your campaign is built on three main pillars: 1) creating jobs 2) bringing transparency back to state government 3) building strong communities. How did you arrive at these three issues, and can you give a brief explanation for each and offer an example?
JPC: “As auditor, I’m going to make sure that people have an understanding of what’s coming back to our community,” said Carney. “Is it making my community stronger? Is it giving me and my family the opportunity and ability to live our American dream? As auditor, I plan to emphasize those themes.”
According to Carney, a big part of what government is supposed to be doing is providing opportunity to people through the use of their own resources. The auditor, functioning as the state’s chief inspector, is responsible for tracking how your tax money, your land, your water and public resources are being used. Mr. Carney, 38-years old, says determining how those assets are being used and determining if they’re being used correctly will be his focus. Evidence-based ideas, he said, should create bipartisanship, but gerrymandered legislative districts have kept people from making choices based on evidence based ideas. He believes that central to the American Dream is our investment in each other. He’ll be an auditor who will pull the curtain back and show Ohioans what they’re getting for their money. His campaign themes are about empowering the pubic by enabling them to see what they’re getting for their money and then being able to decide whether or not elected officials are making the right choice. He believes the state constitution did not anticipate today’s flood of money into politics, and that the auditor should show the public where campaign cash is coming from and where the people’s money is going.
PB: Preventing the misuse of tax dollars in order to protect Ohio students, families, and taxpayers is a priority for you. Can give more details and provide an example?
JPC: The last state budget contained about one-half billion in transfers from rated public schools to charter schools, according to Carney. David Brennan, the operator of White Hat Management, has given two and one-half million in campaign contributions and appears to have gotten over one billion in tax money to run schools that have a 35 percent or lower graduation rate. “That’s just not sound public policy,” he said. Mr. Carneysaid the auditor should be showing where your money is going and how it’s being spent. Some folks who are receiving some of that money have made campaign contributions and people should understand those contributions and what they are doing for the state and the taxpayers. He talked about one legislator who bottles water for Culligan who got a bill passed that allows the withdraw of 3 million gallons of water a day without any permit, without any oversight and without paying anything to the state. “Taxpayers are being robbed,” he said, all because oil and natural gas interests decided they wanted free access to our water, which happened when a bunch of legislators and executive officeholders got campaign checks. Fresh water is a big asset, especially for agriculture and breweries among other businesses that need water to operate. As auditor, he’ll safeguard these resources by making sure there is real transparency to what’s happening with Ohio’s assets.
PB: On the subject of charter schools, an issue that’s been very controversial over the years, Ohio is set to spend around $900 million on charter schools this budget cycle. Should you be elected auditor, what will you do differently than auditor Yost has done so far with charter schools?
JPC: Ohio’s Constitution and state statues are clear, he said, noting again that the auditor is the state’s chief inspector. He’ll follow every dime, whether public or private, and won’t let elected officeholders be complicit in hiding these assets. It’s the auditor’s responsibility to show how public funds are being used. Auditor Yost’s wait-and-see approach, he said, forfeited his responsibility as auditor. Without state liquor profits, Mr. Carney said, there is no JobsOhio, and a private board does not short circuit the auditor’s obligation and responsibility. For legislators to tell the chief inspector he can’t look at JobsOhio’s books is laughable, he said, noting that they can’t pass statutes that defy the state constitution. “I will bring a lawsuit to say this is my responsibility to look at this, and that Jobsohio and the legislature should turn that information over to me.”
PB: Given the constitutional powers vested in the auditor, would you be prepared to test the constitutional powers of the office by exercising your authority to go where others may not want the office to go but you feel is necessary?
JPC: “I will work for the taxpayers,” he said, again hewing to his campaign theme that any monies at the disposal of the legislature and government, especially public lands and water all are assets. “I’m not doing my job if I’m not following all those assets, and then give a comprehensive report back to taxpayers, without loyalties to partisan politics. “This office has been underutilized for a long time, doing the typical audit that often shows as little as we need to. That’s not my approach.”
PB: Given the current budget for auditor, is this amount too much, not enough or just right? What changes would you make, and will those changes add costs, reduce expenditures or shift operations within the same budget?
JPC: No Democrat has held the auditor’s office since the beginning of the 1980s. The office needs a top-to-bottom review. Whether additional capacity within current budget constraints is possible, he said it’s premature to make that call. He believes he has a good relationship with legislators on both sides of the aisle, and believes it’s in their best interest to check up on state resources. Republican rhetoric is about government accountability, he said, and they should want a robust office going through all the dollars with a fine tooth comb. I have a sense there is within the current budget enough funds to do what needs to be done. “We need to have people to be aggressive about pursuing what their responsibility is.”
PB: If elected auditor and forced to face a GOP-controlled legislature, do you anticipate having to battle for your funding, and how will you use your experience as a lawmaker to reach common ground and achieve your goals?
JPC: Mr. Carney, a health care attorney for 13 years, said government should be pursing evidence based policies. He said 90 percent or more of his bills have had broad bipartisan support, a track record he’s proud of. “But as an apportionment board officer, I will push for a constitutional amendment to redraw legislative lines to give a majority of House Senate and congressional districts, to have them be competitive,” not to be drawn for the right-wing or left-wing. Mr. Carney is big on being pragmatic and compromising, and wants to encourag more of that to get things done together. No Democrat had been elected to the 22nd district in 25 years, but in 2010 while other Democrats lost, he won. “Commonsense needs to start prevailing, we need less partisanship and more pragmatic people starting to act like adults instead of children in elective office.”
PB: What opportunities to do what you say you’ll do if elected, has auditor Yost failed to tackle? In your opinion, has he not tackled them for reasons relating to his management skills or because they are politically impossible?
JPC: Mr. Carney said David Yost, the current auditor elected in 2010, supported drawing the legislative districts we are stuck with now. If you’re frustrated, the governor [John Kasich], the auditor [David Yost] and the Secretary of State [Jon Husted] all supported gerrymandered districts. “That was a bad choice by my opponent; it undermines our ability to do the work of government.” Mr. Carney said Yost must have listened to him in a letter he wrote about auditing JobsOhio, because the next day he took my advice on auditing JobsOhio. “But he didn’t follow through on doing what he was supposed to do.” Mr. Yost did not run a financial audit, and he did a haphazard review of conflict of interest policies. “You can’t upset the constitution by passing a piece of legislation”, he said, saying that Mr. Yost, as a lawyer, should know that. Meanwhile, even with 90 days until the bill became effective, Mr. Yost still did not do what he should have done.
PB: Do you have any reservations about the midterm elections this year, and the big drop off in voter turnout during them, that to the chagrin of Democrats and maybe glee of Republicans is a fact of history?
JPC: Mr. Carney said his campaign this year will do all we can to get Democrats to turn out to vote. There are lots more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the campaign is about not just Democrats, because reasonable folks of Ohio don’t care what your political stripes are. Having both sides say a candidate has commonsense and is reasonable, regardless of turnout, will get our message out to those who do vote. “I will win this election,” he said, adding, “if we get to the same voters, I’m going to win the majority of them over.”
PB: Is there another state you know of whose auditor does something you’d like to do in Ohio? Is there a technology that could be used but isn’t being used now that you’d bring on board?
JPC: Other state auditors have had bridges collapse, and as chief inspector of state resources, I’ll look at these infrastructure assets to see what the cost is to replace, or repair them, how are we planning, especially for safety issues for constituents. He emphasized again that the office is underutilized. Mr. Carney believes Ohio needs a “very pragmatic, thoughtful, aggressive auditor [that] could be doing a lot more for the taxpayers.”
PB: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned by serving in the legislature in general,
JPC: Mr. Carney said David Yost has had problems working cooperatively with local government offices around state because he doesn’t understand it’s a partnership. “They come out with guns blazing before they have an appreciation or understanding about why things are done the way they are. Before you pull your guns out and start shooting, it’s probably smart to sit down and understand what they understand and be thoughtful about how to work with them collectively. If the first thing you do is start taking shots at everyone, that creates animosity and the inability to get things done in the best interest of citizens. I will take a more collaboratively approach with local officials. I won’t start as a prosecutor. Mr. Carney wants to assist local governments, and groups like county fair boards, who had their funding stolen by state officials to pay for expensive audits from high-priced CPA firms when a local firm can do the same work. Again, that’s not in their best interest. Delivering services on very small budget, he said, is tough. “We’re going to help.”
PB: Projecting forward, how would you like your first term as auditor, should you be elected, to be remembered?
JPC: It’s less about me and more about people better understanding of what they’re getting out of their government, good and bad. They need to be informed about that. After four years, he said, people will have a greater appreciation about where their tax money is going and what they are getting for it. Mr. Carney accurately notes that Gov. John Kasich’s last budget is $12 billion more than Gov. Ted Strickland’s last budget at about $50 billion. He’ll help rebuild confidence in government.
PB: What’s a question you’d like to have asked that hasn’t been asked, that you have an answer for?
JPC: People laugh at evidence based ideas, he said, and they shouldn’t. A deal needs to be cut after this election, because we can’t wait for 2018, we need a constitutional amendment so that Democrats or Republicans can’t control how districts are drawn. “As soon as I’m elected, I’ll introduce a bipartisan constitutional amendment in 2016 about how we draw legislative and congressional districts.”
PB: You recently asked House Speaker Bill Batchelder to hold a hearing of bipartisan legislators to investigate the state’s controversial contract with private prison food vendor, Aramark Corporation, appears to have breached its vendor contracts related to food shortages, improper employee behavior and unsanitary food conditions—including several separate instances of maggot infestations. Have you spoken with the Speaker yet, and what are you expectations going forward of whether he’ll honor your request or not?
JPC: We have not heard from Speaker Batchelder. The bipartisan corrections commission, their administrator, has contacted my office. Keep in mind, when they decided to privatize this service, Kentucky was already saying this was a horrible decision for us to do. Director Moore said to me, I was told I needed to save 10 percent to my budget, so if we do this we can just assume the savings, so I basically can check the box and tell the governor the amount of money we needed to save. “It was all about getting to June 30th to have a balanced budget, as opposed to saying we really think this is going to work saving us money, and it’s a good choice. The evidence says don’t do it, and yet we’re doing it despite all the evidence to the contrary. It’s a poor choice of tax payer money. And we’re already at pre-Lucasville guard levels and meal times are when most fights break out. So we brought a bunch of food service people in here, no training to be in correction facilities, not to mention it looks like they don’t know what sort of food you can deliver to people. The Republican House speaker in Michigan is also calling for an investigation of maggots in Michigan.
You can watch the approximately 34-minute interview from start to finish on YouTube here.
John Michael Spinelli is a communications professional and former credentialed Ohio statehouse journalist with a professional background in economic development and experience working with the Ohio Senate, the Ohio Public Works Commission and the Office of Ohio Secretary of State. John is one of Ohio’s leading independent reporters and journalists, and a regular contributor to Plunderbund.com and AllVoices.com.
You can contact John Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org