By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMUBS: Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican rival John Kasich accused each other in their first debate Tuesday of failing to have the best interests of Ohioans at heart.
Kasich, a former congressman and Lehman Brothers managing director, said Strickland has failed to support policies that have attracted business to the state and forced successful entrepreneurs to leave to ''escape punishment.''
Strickland, who has led the state since 2007, blamed Kasich ''and his buddies on Wall Street'' for espousing policies that have hurt the state and outsourced jobs.
The debate is one of two that will be held during the race. The second debate will be in Toledo, meaning the events will miss the population centers of Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Strickland, a once-popular politician now behind in the polls, said he has supported the tax cuts and smaller government that Kasich says is needed. He said Ohio now has the fewest number of government workers per capita in the nation because of government cuts and efficiencies he's supported and the most small business-friendly tax structure in the Midwest.
''Congressman, I've done what you and your party only talk about doing,'' Strickland said.
Kasich said Strickland's decision to suspend the final year of a planned income tax cut to balance the state budget qualifies as a tax increase.
He said Lehman Brothers hired him because of his creativity and ingenuity, offering him a six-figure salary despite his lack of investment banking experience.
''I think when they looked and saw that I was the chief architect of the balanced budget and that I did a lot of
things in Congress, they thought I had the potential,'' he said.
Strickland accused Kasich of trading on his experience in Congress to get the job. He said Kasich spoke publicly as a lawmaker about his support for privatizing Social Security, a move that Wall Street interests favored.
Despite their rivalry, the two men exchanged a mid-debate handshake and insisted they personally like each other then went back to their attacks.
Strickland said he and Kasich disagreed while in Congress over the North American Free Trade Agreement and other policies that led to American jobs many of them in Ohio being outsourced to other countries.
Strickland said he opposed those policies: ''I'm not an outsourcer.''
Kasich said 380,000 jobs have been lost in Ohio since Strickland took the helm and most of them haven't gone overseas but to other states.
Kasich accused the Democrats of ''the politics of distraction'' regarding his Wall Street record. He said Strickland is trying to turn the public's attention from job losses.
''It's been almost a full year of innuendoes and smears. You know why?'' Kasich said. ''If you can't sell your own record, you attack the other guy.''
Strickland said Ohioans deserve to see what Kasich earned during his entire tenure at Lehman. Kasich made available his 2008 tax filing earlier this year, showing he made $590,000 in salary and bonuses at Lehman in 2008 before the banking giant collapsed later that year.
Television coverage of the debate was sparse. The debate, which took place at COSI Columbus, was televised locally. The debate also was scheduled to be broadcast on WVIZ, the national Public Broadcasting Service television station, in Cleveland, but another program was substituted.
The Ohio News Network transmitted the debate live across the Internet.
The Beacon Journal contributed to this report.