CEDARVILLE — He hadn’t been governor-elect for 24 hours and Mike DeWine noticed a big change in his life.
“When we got home, we stayed overnight in Columbus Tuesday night, we had some meetings,” the Cedarville resident said. “There’s highway patrol there. That’s the first sign there’s a change.”
The patrol is there 24/7 to provide extra security for DeWine and wife, Fran, and their Greene County home. On the day DeWine sat down with the Gazette, a sheriff’s deputy was also hanging out for a bit.
Welcome to the life of the man about to become the top elected official in Ohio.
It’s been quite the whirlwind.
“It has,” Fran said. “We have just been busy all the time. You can’t let any time go by without doing something. Campaign or kids. That’s our life. You’re not going to find [Mike] on the golf course.”
After they had a chance to unwind, the DeWines did something they hadn’t done in over a year.
“The day after the election we went to the Little Art Theater and saw a movie,” Mike said. “Continuing to be attorney general at the same time running for governor [it] was kind of crazy.”
He and Fran — who visited all 88 Ohio counties during the campaign — became used to being gone several days at a time, getting home at night and being out again the next morning. Just long enough to grab clean clothes and keep moving.
“Look, you just balance it,” Mike said.
But don’t think DeWine, who was born and reared in Greene County, is complaining for one second. Even before he announced his candidacy at his family’s annual ice cream social in June 2017, DeWine was gearing up for a gubernatorial run.
When pressed about when and if he was going to officially announce a run for Columbus, he politely said he would make an announcement at the right time but admitted that it was no secret he wanted to run for governor.
“I have things I want to do,” DeWine said. “I know we can get them done. I know we can have a huge impact on the state. I felt that I was the best person to be governor because of my background.”
That background includes time as Greene County prosecutor, Ohio senator, U.S. senator, U.S. congressman, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
“It’s kind of hard for me to imagine walking into the governor’s office without having had those experiences,” he said. “I had the opportunity to watch the governor’s office. Watch how he operated the governor’soffice. That first-hand view is very helpful.”
DeWine added that his time as the county prosecutor and campaigning around the state will be invaluable because it gave him a good feel for local government and how important that is in Ohio.
“This is a local government state,” DeWine said. “We deliver most services to the people in the state through local offices, local agencies, local health departments. I think understanding that is important. My understanding of criminal justice and the justice system certainly started when I was a prosecutor as well. Every job has been helpful.”
Throughout his campaign, DeWine has stressed the fight against opioid addiction and making sure every child who graduates high school is ready for college or a career.
But he confirmed many other items are on the docket when he and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted — who also has ties to the Dayton region as a former University of Dayton football player — are sworn in in January 2019.
One big goal is to help the aforementioned local governments.
“They’ve been hit with some costs,” DeWine said, referring to the reduction of funding from the state and the increased costs of the fight against narcotics. “We’re going to try to help in that area. I’m not sure exactly what we can do. (But) we’re well aware of the problem.”
He did make a couple commitments that could help, including dramatically increasing money for children’s services and expanding a foster care pilot project into all 88 counties.
Mental health specialists will be available to every student and teacher and Ohio will invest more in multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces.
“What they really need is help in paying for their officers who are in those task forces,” DeWine said. “We’re going to do that.”
Another way he intends to fight the opioid crisis is to focus on K-12 prevention education and increase enrollment in a program that focuses on at-risk mothers. Only 4 percent are enrolled because of the lack of money and DeWine wants to triple that in his first year in office.
“This is not a cheap program,” he said. “But it’s also a program in the long run that’s going to have huge impact.”
DeWine said he wants to expand they early childhood education program to include more families and to improve quality. Currently, approximately 80 percent of kids that are in early childhood education paid for by Ohio are not in high-quality programs.
“It only matters if it’s high quality,” DeWine said. “You’ve got to get the quality up.”
DeWine said the Medicaid expansion will continue so residents can qualify based on income alone and he will focus on wellness for state employees, where they can receive economic incentives to hit certain targets in health.
Many private employers do that already.
“Those work,” DeWine said. “It takes a while. After a few years you really start seeing the savings in money.”
DeWine will also keep a close eye on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Miami Valley in general. As the first Dayton-area governor since James Cox left office in 1915, DeWine knows the importance of Ohio’s largest single-site employer. In fact, DeWine said part of his inaugural festivities will include an event in the area.
“People in the Miami Valley will have someone who lives here, someone who grew up here, whose wife grew up here, and we still live here,” he said. “We have an understanding of the Miami Valley and the importance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
DeWine said a Cabinet-level employee will report directly to him with regard to the state’s focus on military programs.
When he takes office in January, DeWine will be taking over a state he says is in good shape.
“I think the state of the state’s pretty good,” he said. “We have a lot going on for us. Our economy is better than it was eight years ago. We’ve regained all the jobs that we’d lost. We’ve added another 150,000 jobs.”
But it’s not perfect.
“We’ve got some problems,” DeWine said. “We have a problem with the drug problem. We have a problem with the skill gaps.”
He said the most important natural resource in Ohio is kids. A child’s potential needs to be developed or it’s a personal tragedy for the child and bad for the state.
“What we do with these kids is going to determine what our future is,” DeWine said. “A company looks to come to Ohio or other states, if they don’t think they can find workers here … they’re not coming. I don’t care what kind of package. It doesn’t matter.”
The passage of the Greene County Career Center levy will be big help in that area locally.
“It’s great,” DeWine said. “It’s really, really great. Thank heavens the voters of Greene County saw the need for this. We’re gonna try to make it easier for career centers to get money to expand or to build. The way people look at career centers needs to change, and is changing. We have an obligation to give kids as many options as we can. What they choose is up to them.”
Just the way the career center will impact the job market down the road, DeWine wants his administration to be a positive impact in the future.
“A governor has an impact, but its’ 10-15-20 years later long after that governor is out of office,” DeWine said. “That’s because these kids who you’re impacting today, the unborn child who you’re impacting today because the mom is now getting better nutrition, those impact the state in the long run. That’s what we want to do. We have an agenda. We know what we want to do the day we take office. Beginning Jan. 14, people will, I think, have a clear idea of where are going if they don’t already.”
But he and his staff will also welcome suggestions.
“You’re going to find this administration is very open,” DeWine said. “I listen a lot.“
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.