“There’s no bull crap with them. They tell the truth. They tell it like it is.”
That’s the one good thing about prison, Robert McClendon explained. You get a good radar for bull crap. You can see it coming from around the corner, he said, and there’s none of it when it comes to the Democratic gubernatorial ticket of John Cranley and Teresa Fedor.
McClendon spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and he was among the first to be exonerated thanks to the efforts to the Ohio Innocence Project. Cranley helped found the organization shortly after law school following the model of the other legal clinics aimed at overturning wrongful convictions. To date, the organization has exonerated 34 people.
Cranley is working to underscore that record on criminal justice in his bid to be Ohio’s next governor. His running mate, Teresa Fedor has a strong track record, too — leading in the Ohio Statehouse when it comes to human trafficking legislation.
“What I want you all to know as voters is that if I’m willing to fight to get Robert out of prison, I’ll fight for you,” Cranley told a small crowd at the Firefighters Union Hall in Columbus.
Cranley describes founding the Ohio Innocence Project as the “cornerstone” of his run for governor, and he invokes former Illinois governor George Ryan, a conservative who commuted every death sentence in the state after a number of exonerations. But speaking after the event, Cranley shied away from a similar pronouncement.
“I would cross that bridge when I get to it,” Cranley said. “I do respect the fact that Gov. DeWine has not executed anyone. I have great skepticism about the death penalty in light of my own experiences of helping innocent people get out of prison.”
Cranley says he and Fedor are committed to criminal justice reform, and in particular, he brought up marijuana legalization.
“Putting people away for using marijuana is a terrible use of resources, leads to huge disparities, stops people from getting jobs and careers, and if alcohol should be legal so should marijuana,” Cranley said. “Sometimes the government can be used in ways that inhibit opportunities, and government should be about unleashing peoples’ best potential.”
Cranley’s Democratic opponent, Nan Whaley, favors marijuana legalization, too, but in the end, it might not be up to them. A coalition pushing for recreational marijuana has its eye on the 2022 ballot, and so voters may wind up making the call on marijuana legalization. That initiative wouldn’t do anything for prior drug convictions, though. Cranley noted as mayor of Cincinnati, he worked proactively to expunge the records of people charged with marijuana possession after the city rolled back its local criminal statutes.
One issue largely absent from the criminal justice discussion was gun policy, which was particularly notable as a measure eliminating training for concealed carry in Ohio makes its way to the governor’s desk.
“He’s got to veto,” Cranley said after the event. “If he doesn’t veto it then he has just, he’s shredded all credibility on common sense gun safety issues.”
If elected, Cranley said he would push for background checks and red flag laws. He also brought up an effort as mayor to team up with other cities and put pressure on gun manufacturers to invest in smart gun technology. Cranley said as governor he’d add the state’s purchasing power to that effort.
“The state buys a lot of its own guns,” Cranley said. “So join that consortium and continue the movement and to get other states to invest in smart gun technology, which we believe will reduce the number of suicides and urban gun violence.”
Teresa Fedor explained that she began working on legislation to fight human trafficking after a sting operation recovered more than 150 people being trafficked — the majority of them from her hometown of Toledo. She described having to convince her fellow lawmakers that trafficking was a significant issue in the state.
“Human trafficking? What is that? It’s just prostitution, boys will be boys, it’s a rite of passage — that’s what I heard from my colleagues,” Fedor said.
Trafficking survivor Barbara Freeman shared her story at the event and heaped praise on Fedor’s work in the legislature. Freeman was the first graduate of Franklin County’s “CATCH” Court, which aims to protect and rehabilitate people who have been trafficked. Freeman argued for tougher penalties, a simplified expungement process and better access to housing, and said she trusts Cranley and Fedor to get it done.
“Senator has been on my heels since she met me,” Freeman said, describing Fedor traveling with her to speak in New York and helping to rehab a home she was opening for other survivors.
“She has been right by my side because she believed in me when nobody else did and I appreciate her for that,” Freeman said.
Fedor said her existing work provides a solid legal framework to start, but she said there’s more to be done. One area of focus she mentioned was the foster system.
“What we’re finding is that our public institutions have cracks all over the place,” Fedor said. “It is said that around this nation, the percent of trafficked children, 60% of them come from the foster youth system.”
In addition to the issues that fall under the broad umbrella of social justice, Cranley said their administration would work on expanding rural broadband, improving the water system and ensuring every county has at least one federally qualified health center. Cranley also touted his idea to use proceeds from natural gas drilling to provide an annual dividend to households making less than $75,000.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.
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