Q&A: Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate Responses

In addition to strong support within the hunting community for the Second Amendment, Ohio sportsmen and women have other serious concerns about the quality of hunting, fishing and trapping in Ohio. These invaluable parts of our heritage are increasingly threatened by a fiscal crisis facing the agency, and the direction of that agency that has exacerbated relations with the paying constituency – Ohio’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

Ohio needs a governor and an administration that values the partnership of sportsmen and women, and wants to work with us to address this crisis, and restore Ohio’s natural resources to the quality people deserve. To help ensure this outcome, the Sportsmen’s Alliance formed the Protect What’s Right Campaign, which includes the Buckeye Firearms Association, Central Ohio Chapter of Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, Greene County Fish and Game Association, Ohio Conservation Federation, Ohio State Trappers Association, Pheasants Forever Chapters, Columbiana Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and Hocking County Fish and Game.

As such, we sent the following questions to each gubernatorial candidate. Below, you can compare each of their answers side by side, and you can read (and print) individual candidate’s responses by clicking on their name:  Rich CordrayJoe SchiavoniMike DeWine, Mary Taylor.

1. The Ohio Division of Wildlife is facing a funding shortfall of $185 million over the next ten years. Ohio’s sportsmen’s organizations overwhelmingly support modest increases in resident hunting, fishing and trapping fees to offset this crisis threatening hunting, fishing, trapping and quality habitat. Will you work with sportsmen’s groups to create a plan that will be included in your first biennial budget to fully address the financial shortfalls of the Ohio Division of Wildlife?

Rich Cordray: Yes. I understand that without sufficient funding through this mechanism, the current  shortfalls will mean that Ohio sportsmen will lose their quality habitat. This will directly threaten and undermine hunting, fishing, and trapping in Ohio. Without access to quality public lands and preservation of appropriate habitat, Ohio sportsmen will be left to beg for access to private lands which typically have exclusivity policies. They also will not be able to ensure that needed habitat is preserved and maintained for the sportsmen community that has been such a key part of the lifestyle and economy of this state. I will be a champion for this community and will work to restore the kind of public access that will make Ohio a premier destination for sportsmen from here and elsewhere. I am proud of our traditions and will work to maintain them in close coordination and consultation with the sportsmen community here. We will deal with these issues together, and I will fight with the legislature as needed to achieve these goals. 

Mike DeWine: Yes. Ohio is home to so many natural resources for sportsmen. Hunters, trappers, and anglers in Ohio are part of a $2+ billion industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs. To maintain and ultimately grow, we must ensure that Ohio facilities are top notch and public lands are available and continue to be places that sportsmen from all over the country want to visit. 

Joe Schiavoni: Absolutely. It’s in Ohio’s best interest to preserve our natural resources for use by sportsmen and women, as well as all Ohioans and visitors to the state who value hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife protection. This would be a broadly beneficial use of funds in our state budget.  

In the end, it’s about priorities. Recent state budgets have made drastic cuts to programs that matter to Ohioans. We need to invest in our state in order to increase tourism value, bolster our economy, and encourage young Ohioans to live and work in the communities that raised them.  

Camping and fishing have always been a big part of my family’s life. Every Ohioan deserves a chance to experience everything our state has to offer. I look forward to working with all interested parties to figure out the best way to move forward on this issue. It’s our next governor’s job to make sure future generations of sportsmen and women are able to enjoy the activities they love. 

Mary Taylor: Yes, I recognize that the issue of funding wildlife efforts has been a contentious one and there has been dispute over the state of the various funds that are controlled by the Division of Wildlife, as well as the need for additional revenues from increased license fees. As a CPA, I understand the numbers and this is not a partisan or ideological issue. I will continue to work with the various sportsmen’s groups to reach a consensus on the numbers and develop a plan to ensure that the priorities for wildlife are funded.

2. Because Ohio’s hunting, fishing and trapping fees have not increased since 2004, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a $129 million backlog of capital projects that include $50 million in dam repairs, $25.5 million in shooting range development needs, and $32.4 million in boat ramp and lake access. Will you agree to create a plan to utilize capital bill bond dollars to address this backlog, and work to see the plan enacted in your first term as Governor? 

Cordray: Yes. As Ohio Treasurer, I was directly engaged with strategizing and executing on Ohio’s funding needs through bonded debt. For longer-term needs, bond moneys are an appropriate and feasible funding mechanism that match well with longer-range planning and support for such needs. We issued bonded debt for highway and other infrastructure needs, so I am familiar with how such funding works and with the importance of building and sustaining the kind of political capital needed to ensure its success and sustainability. I will bring this experience to the similar problems we need to address here with these capital projects, and I will see to it that we develop and apply capital bill bond dollars to achieve a lasting solution to meeting these critical needs for Ohio’s sportsmen community that is now starving for the financial ability to maintain our longstanding traditions and our preferred way of life. 

DeWine: Yes. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans enjoy our lakes, parks, and shooting ranges. Ohio has a responsibility to update those facilities and amenities to ensure they can be used by future generations. All avenues of funding need to be considered including capital dollars, federal dollars, public private partnerships, and more. 

Schiavoni: Yes. As a state senator and former Senate Minority Leader, I have introduced several bills to upgrade Ohio’s crumbling infrastructure and aging water systems using bond dollars. I’ve also worked with my Republican colleagues to move a bipartisan bill to expand broadband internet access using existing Third Frontier bond revenue. My staff and I have worked with local leaders to secure capital budget dollars for these types of projects over several capital budget cycles. We have an in-depth understanding of the capital budget process and years of experience advocating for the use of bond dollars in needed upgrades and improvements.  

I would be happy to utilize capital budget and/or bond dollars to address the backlog of projects supported by the Division of Wildlife and sportsmen’s’ organizations. We need these resources to be around for generations to come. 

I loved camping and fishing with my family growing up, and still enjoy it to this day. I want to be able to give my sons the same experience. Ohio sportsmen and women can feel confident that I would work with them in my capacity as governor to help maintain Ohio’s natural assets. 

Taylor: Yes, as described in#1 above, I understand the backlog and that this needs to be prioritized in the State of Ohio. I believe that it is completely appropriate to use the state’s capital budget to fund Wildlife capital projects.

3. Ohio sportsmen and women have long supported the Ohio Division of Wildlife because it has consistently produced quality hunting, fishing and trapping, and abundant habitat to enjoy these activities. Additionally, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is designed to remove undue political influence and instead rely upon science-based wildlife management professionals. Since its creation, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has operated under this model, to great success. The agency has been seen as a leader nationally, while working to address the needs of all Ohioans and the customers who fund conservation programs. The agency has been recently politicized, which threatens these programs and support for the agency itself.

A.) Will you restore civil service protection for senior staff of the agency that will serve the interest of the paying public? 

Cordray: Yes. I have been appalled at the very recent politicization of the Division of Wildlife. The professional and expert senior staff that have been devoted to preserving and sustaining the activities that are so central to the way of life for our sportsmen community must be strengthened and protected. I will consult closely with the sportsmen community to ensure that we restore the right kind of professional leadership to the Division of Wildlife and that we then back that leadership by restoring civil service protection for the senior staff and other key personnel. Quality hunting, fishing, and trapping and the abundant habitat needed to support them do not happen by accident. My Administration will protect that kind of leadership against political encroachment from all comers, including those in the legislature. 

DeWine: Yes. I will have a knowledgeable and professional staff within the Ohio Division of Wildlife without regard for politics.

Schiavoni: Yes. Sportsmen and women who have dedicated their entire lives to this profession should never be on the chopping block to make way for political favors and games. The industry is best served by civil servants who are well trained in the needs of the people they’ll be working with on a daily basis. A political appointee will never be able to produce the same quality results as someone who is in the position because they are passionate about it. 

Taylor: While I’m open to discussing this, and I certainly commit to depoliticizing the Division and ensuring the Division is staffed with trained professionals, I tend to believe that senior staff of a state agency should not receive civil service protection. Civil service provides important protections for public employees, but it is necessary that the executive maintain some degree of control over leadership of state agencies.

B) Additionally will you commit to appointing a Chief and senior leadership of the Division of Wildlife based on sound wildlife management and leadership experience, as well as, their passion for hunting, fishing, trapping and the shooting sports?

Cordray: Yes. Not only will I commit to appointing a Chief and senior leadership based on these key criteria, but I will commit to consulting closely with the sportsmen community over my selection and support of that leadership, in order to ensure that those most affected by the everyday operations of the Division of Wildlife are satisfied that we are in fact achieving these goals. 

DeWine: Yes. It is vital that the chief and senior leadership have professional experience in wildlife management as well as a passion for the outdoors, hunting, fishing, trapping, and shooting sports. 

Schiavoni: Yes. 100%. The Division of Wildlife must be staffed, especially at the highest levels, with individuals who have the best interest of sportsmen and women at heart. It is unacceptable that recent administrations have focused on staffing agencies with people who care more about state government than the agencies they oversee.

No matter the issue, people who are on the ground dealing with that issue every day are the ones who understand it best. That’s how I approach every bill I write, and it’s how I will appoint leadership at every level when I am governor. Leaders who care deeply about the duties of the agency will produce better results than any political appointee ever would.

Taylor: Yes, I understand and agree that the appointment of Division leadership that has appropriate Wildlife background is critical to earning the confidence and support of the sportsmen’s community. 

4. Ohio sportsmen and women have long enjoyed access to 60,000 acres of American Electric Power’s Recreation lands. Recently AEP announced its intention to sell the property, which comprises approximately 10% of all available public lands in Ohio. Estimates on retaining the property run as high as $150 million dollars, which is more than the Ohio Division of Wildlife can afford on its own.  Will you create a multi-faceted plan that includes bond dollars, general revenue funds and other sources to help secure the preservation of this critical public access to conservation habitat? 

Cordray: Yes. Large tracts of contiguous habitat are increasingly rare in Ohio. It would be grossly short-sighted to lose access to these key lands now available to the public, and it would greatly diminish eastern Ohio as a preferred destination for hunters, fishers, and trappers from here and from neighboring states. I will commit to working closely with the leadership of the sportsmen community to develop an effective plan for securing control of this essential conservation habitat that has the necessary funding components to achieve this important objective. Again, I would envision this including bonded debt as well as funding from other available sources. I would urge the sportsmen community to push hard to prevent the current political leadership from squandering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve public access and the sustainability of this key habitat, and to allow my Administration the opportunity to consult with you to develop an effective plan to achieve our mutual goals here. 

DeWine: Yes. Ohioans will not lose access to this beautiful outdoor recreation area when I am governor. Although, we will need to be creative and seek many sources of funding including public and private opportunities. 

Schiavoni: Yes. While fishing with several sportsmen on Fish Ohio Day, I learned about this and other critical Division of Wildlife issues in great detail. The ReCreation lands have been an incredibly valuable asset to Ohio sportsmen and women for years.  

This issue has to be a priority. Ohio’s next governor must take a hands-on approach and help the Division of Wildlife negotiate to either buy these lands, lease them, or find a way to continue to allow Ohio sportsmen and women to utilize them. As governor, I will gladly meet with all interested parties to keep these lands available to sportsmen’s organizations in the most fiscally responsible manner possible. 

Taylor: Yes,the AEP land has been an amazing resource for the people of Ohio for years and I am committed to ensuring that it continues to be available for public use. The decision by AEP to sell creates both a challenge and an opportunity for the State of Ohio and I will be absolutely committed to marshalling all available resources and crafting a long-term plan that inspires confidence that the land will be available for generations to come.

5. The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s wildlife officer ranks are currently understaffed by 25 officers, a historic low.  Will you restore wildlife officer ranks to full staffing levels, including a minimum of one wildlife officer per county, and a fully-staffed Lake Erie unit? 

Cordray: Yes. From my prior experience with these issues and in ongoing discussions with members and leadership of the sportsmen’s community, it has been clear that our wildlife officers are critical to educating and encouraging the sportsmen community to thrive in Ohio. This means having the time and commitment to developing future generations of sportsmen as well as being able to staff up sufficiently to monitor and protect our public habitat for access by the sportsmen community and against potential abuses by others that would undermine or threaten this habitat and the way of life that depends upon it. The staffing levels described here are entirely appropriate and definitely needed and my Administration will support and maintain them. 

DeWine: While Ohio’s budget situation in 2019 is unclear, it is obvious that Ohio needs more wildlife officers who spend time in their county and interact with Ohio sportsmen. That will be a priority when I am Governor.

Schiavoni: Yes. People expect their hunting, fishing and trapping license fees to be used to staff the offices they interact with as sportsmen. There is no reason these positions should not be filled, and leaving them vacant is detrimental to our state. 

As stated above, The Division of Wildlife must be staffed with individuals who care deeply about sportsmen’s issues and understand them better than any politician ever would. These roles are critical to not only Ohio outdoorsmen but to the preservation and protection of our state’s natural resources. We cannot continue to allow these roles to go unfilled.

This is especially true when it comes to Lake Erie. I’ve recently been traveling the state speaking to experts about major Ohio water issues, such as the algae blooms in Lake Erie. This past Summer, I went out with a scientist from the Ohio Sea Grant Program to see the algal bloom in person and ask questions about how we can address this growing issue.

A fully staffed Lake Erie unit is a solid step we can take right now to monitor and help address issues that arise in our Great Lake. As governor, I will make sure this issue is a state priority. I will fight to keep Ohio’s water safe, clean, and protected for future generations. 

Taylor: I am committed to working with the sportsmen’s community to identify the appropriate staffing levels and to fund the necessary positions. If the evidence supports an officer in every single county, I will support it, but I will want to work with you to see the support for those staffing levels before committing.

6. Wildlife law enforcement requires specific and comprehensive training unique to hunting, fishing and trapping, separate from other, more traditional law enforcement agencies in the ODNR and the state of Ohio. Will you commit to maintaining the unique and separate wildlife law enforcement section under the direction of the Chief of the Oho Division of Wildlife?

Cordray: Yes. I am well aware that these are not generic law enforcement functions where these officers can be viewed as fungible with any other type of law enforcement officer. The job these professionals do is unique to the traditional way of life of Ohio’s sportsmen community. It requires sensitivity and dedication to the mission and to preserving this way of life, including both understanding and helping to maintain key habitat, public access, and the kinds of specialized needs that our hunters, fishermen, and trappers have. In short, it requires officers we can count on to be dedicated themselves to the sportsmen way of life here and who will see it as a key part of their role to engage in education, monitoring, encouragement, and fierce protection of these activities and this way of life. That necessarily involves training unique to hunting, fishing, and trapping. But it also means maintaining a close association, cooperation, and consultation with the sportsmen community and a recognition of this key aspect of Ohio’s economy and its longstanding traditions as reflected in how these officers do their jobs on a daily basis. 

DeWine: Yes. Wildlife law enforcement officers are an important part of the sportsmen and outdoor community. 

Schiavoni: Yes. Absolutely. Like you said, wildlife law enforcement requires specific training and experience that is directly related to the position. These individuals need to be able to work closely with other sportsmen and women every single day. That means they must be working with, not working against, the Ohioans they are serving.  

I never write bills without the help of the people on the ground who understand the issue best. It’s the same idea here. The people who know the issues related to wildlife law enforcement are the ones who deal with it in their daily lives. A good leader recognizes this fact and makes sure the most qualified people continue to fill each position. 

Taylor: Yes, I believe the confidence and support of the sportsmen’s community is critical to the success of the Division of Wildlife, and I understand that the movement to combine functions with other ODNR divisions has caused a great deal of concern within the hunting community. The separate wildlife law enforcement section is an important part of earning the confidence of the hunting community, and I will commit to keeping them separate. 

7. Because hunting, fishing and trapping license fees are only raised every 10-15 years, the fee hikes are often high enough to shock license sales and reduce participation by 5-10 percent.  Studies have shown that granting the executive branch the authority to raise fees administratively in smaller increments, on a more frequent basis, would address funding concerns, and help prevent the loss of customers that come with higher increases.

In your executive budget will you include language that grants fee increase authority to the Chief of the Division of Wildlife, while still remaining under the controls of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review?

Cordray: Yes. The funding needs of the sportsmen community, which have been neglected under current leadership in this state, must receive attention and be addressed on an ongoing and consistent basis. I am familiar with the kind of economic shock described here from other areas of state government as well, such as the periodic adjustments that have to be made to the state pension systems to keep pace with the demands of those obligations. Here, as there, we are far better off if those needs are addressed on a smoother and more incremental basis, rather than piling up the need until a crisis occurs and hunters, fishers, and trappers both in Ohio and those who come to Ohio for our preferred habitat are put off or discouraged, as a sheer financial matter, from engaging in these activities. Without addressing this issue as suggested here, we endanger the funding base of these operations for current and future generations. 

DeWine: I will commit to working with the legislature to find a better process that allows flexibility to for the state to maintain and expand facilities and programs while encouraging more Ohioans to use the outdoors.  

Schiavoni: Yes. I always trust the people on the front lines of each issue to understand the issue better than politicians. Licensing fees and related responsibilities should be entrusted to a Division of Wildlife Chief who understands the needs of sportsmen and women, and who is knowledgeable about the impact of laws governing the agency.  If the Chief of the Division of Wildlife feels incremental license fee increases will be benefit the field, then their judgement is the one we should trust.

Taylor: Yes, I understand the need for license fees to keep pace with the needs of the Division, and I am confident that the rule making process provides sufficient oversight over fee increases.