In his first address to Northeast Ohio as governor, Mike DeWine’s priority was a familiar one: improving the lives of the state’s children.
“I want to see every child have an opportunity,” he said. “If we stand for anything as a people, if there’s anything this country stands for, it is that if you work hard, you should be able to succeed. We have to make sure that every child has the tools that they need so that they can be able to succeed. That’s my vision. That’s my goal.”
DeWine, 72, spoke at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron to a sold-out crowd of about 900 people as part of the Akron Roundtable program on Thursday, three days after he was sworn in as Ohio’s 70th governor at his family farm in Cedarville with his hand on a stack of nine Bibles held by his wife, Fran.
The Republican DeWine’s 25-minute address, followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session, highlighted what he’s done so far in his short administration and his plans for the future.
DeWine said he met with General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Thursday morning — one day after traveling to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to meet with auto executives — to discuss the auto manufacturer’s decision to close its Lordstown assembly plant and cut about 1,600 jobs.
GM has said jobs will be added at eight other GM factories in the U.S., but Lordstown workers would have to move to Toledo or out of state to continue working for GM.
DeWine said during the private conversation, which he said was a “good, candid discussion,” he urged Barra to look into staying in Lordstown in some capacity. He also said he told her the state would be partners with GM through the administration and JobsOhio if the company took that route.
"I also told her that if — that’s what we would prefer — but if that was not the way it was going to come down that we wanted also to be a partner in making sure another company came in to that great facility,” he said. “So I’m optimistic, optimistic that they will work with us.”
DeWine said the state is also working with the United Auto Workers.
“I don’t have a magic wand to wave and make things change, but what I do have is the ability to put the full force of the state government behind our effort to help our workers in Lordstown, help the Mahoning Valley,” he said.
DeWine said the state needs to adapt to prepare for “jobs of the 21st century” and help fill a skills gap. Young people need to be aware of options other than four-year colleges, and employees need to have opportunities for further skill development, he said, adding that in his first year in office, the state will pay for 10,000 nanodegrees, industry certificates in areas where there’s a need for workers.
On the state budget, which has to be presented to the state legislature by March 15, DeWine said “one huge gap” he wants to address is state funding for children’s services, which are overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic.
Ohio is 50th, last in the nation, on states’ shares of funding for children’s services, which DeWine said is “not acceptable.”
“We’re also gonna put our money where our mouth is,” he said, adding that agencies will receive “significantly more” state funding.
To help address the state’s drug epidemics, DeWine said he also plans to ensure K-12 children have age-appropriate education about drugs, alcohol and other addictions and establish multi-jurisdictional task forces in areas of the state that don’t have them.
Help at home
DeWine highlighted an executive order he signed Tuesday, creating the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Home Visitation. The panel will make recommendations on how to increase Ohio’s investment in home visitation programs, which he said can help reduce infant mortality and improve school-readiness.
DeWine, who recognized Akron Children’s Hospital during his Thursday address, said Ohio’s home visitation programs are currently reaching less than 4 percent of eligible families, a number he wants to triple.
Fran Buchholzer, former director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, introduced DeWine, who also touched on transportation and environment, including protecting Lake Erie, as other priorities of his administration.
DeWine — who has eight children and 24 grandchildren, with a grandson born Wednesday — compared his goals for his administration to his grandfather planting trees until his death, even though he wouldn’t live to see them, something DeWine said he didn’t understand at first.
“Some of the things that we’re gonna ask to be done, we’re not gonna see the results during this administration, and in some cases, we will not see the results during our lifetimes,” DeWine, who planted a white oak tree with his family hours before he was sworn in, said. “But there will be results. There will be things that matter, and we will be able to change children’s lives.”
Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.