Candidate challenges DeWine’s strategy on heroin fight

LISBON, Ohio (WKBN) – David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General, claims incumbent Mike DeWine has not been doing enough to battle the state’s heroin epidemic.

“I think the attorney general’s position is a leadership position. On the issues of public safety, it is the leadership position,” Pepper said during a campaign stop in Lisbon on Tuesday.

The former Hamilton County Commissioner was especially critical of DeWine’s strategy of meeting with local community leaders and groups to discuss the problems and how to handle them.

“That does not solve anything. Put it this way, if the heroin crisis were going to get solved by town hall meetings, it would be solved because there have been so many of them,” Pepper said.

But DeWine argues the biggest hurdle to the drug epidemic has been acceptance.

“I think the first thing any community has to recognize is they have a drug problem. And for a long time, people did not want to admit that,” DeWine said in a telephone interview.

For his part, Pepper is supporting House Bill 251, a measure introduced by State Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon, that would allow judges the ability to decide if people convicted of lower-level felonies and with prior records can still be sent to prison. Right now, the law normally requires those defendants, including those selling smaller amounts of drugs, to be given probation.

Barborak claims that gives street-level drug dealers a way to stay out of prison.

“You will very rarely see an arrest of somebody with more than 5 grams to heroin, or 49 doses, because they know that if they go out on the streets with 49 doses, or under 5 grams of heroin, they are not subject to prison time. They know it,” Barborak said.

He said if the measure is approved, it will restore discretion to judges so that they can evaluate the case on a case-by-case basis and make a determination as to whether prison time if appropriate.

“And impose it without interference from bureaucrats in Columbus,” Barborak said.

His bill was approved unanimously in committee last spring and is now awaiting a vote by the full House in Representatives.

And while Pepper is critical of DeWine’s strategy on the heroin epidemic and works to undercut DeWine’s name recognition and fundraising advantage, he also has been dogged by problems of his own. He paid nearly $10,000 in parking tickets since 2000 in the Cincinnati area where he lives.

He said it is all meant to distract from the real issues of the campaign.

“What are people frustrated about politics? Career politicians, people who have been on the ballot for 40 years, jumping from one job to the next, to the next, to the next and he has done all of that,” Pepper said of DeWine.

The attorney general fired back.

“David Pepper ran four years ago for another job and he wanted that job and he did not get it. Now he is running for attorney general. He is just not qualified to be attorney general,” DeWine said.

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