By Scott Halasz
WILBERFORCE — Tim Ryan targeted China while Morgan Harper went after Ryan during a debate between Democratic U.S. Senate candidates at Central State University on Monday.
Harper, a former consumer protection lawyer and community organizer, repeatedly hounded Ryan — a 10-term U.S. Congressman — over his accepting big donations from the defense and fossil fuel industries throughout his career, something she said she won’t do.
Ryan, while justifying the contributions that Harper said were in the $400,000 range, pivoted to competition with China as he responded to most of the prompts with promises to fight for Ohio’s workers and invest in job training during the hour-long debate.
It is expected to be the only debate before the May 3 primary, which is still in limbo because of redistricting issues that have reached the Ohio Supreme Court. Activist and tech executive Traci Johnson also participated in the debate. The Republican candidates debated at CSU on Monday night.
Harper set the tone with the first question from Spectrum 1 news anchor and debate moderator Curtis Jackson regarding the Russian war on the Ukraine and what the U.S. response should be. Harper said the response should be strong and would consider military intervention if Russia attacks a NATO ally.
“We also have to keep in mind of what we’ve been through,” Harper said, eluding to the time the U.S. spent in Afghanistan and Iraq and then pointing out the hundreds of thousands in donations from the defense industry to Ryan.
“That’s why I have committed to not accept any money from any sector, including the defense contracting sector … ” she said.
Ryan said he was against the “stupid” war in Iraq when the resources should have been used building the U.S. and said he is committed to working with people in those industries.
“Ohio is a state that has a lot, tens of thousands of jobs that are directly connected to the defense industry,” Ryan said. “Good paying union jobs here in Ohio. And I don’t think we need to waste money. But I don’t think we should immediately be pulling the plug. Of course these are businesses, of course I’m going to work with them. They’re putting jobs into Ohio and employing Ohioans.”
Ryan was the only candidate to say he would support the use of military force against Russia. Johnson said Putin’s “reign of terror” needs to end but the priority should be on keeping the U.S. and its troops safe while providing the Ukraine with the resources to defend itself.
Other topics covered included expanding the U.S. Supreme Court and student debt relief.
Harper said the court needs to be expanded as it has been “radicalized” by Republicans. Johnson said the court needs to represent all parties and be balanced but said they need to “tread lightly” on expansion. Ryan also said he is against expansion.
Harper said she favors cancelling student loan debt and creating more jobs will help people pay off what they have. Ryan said people should pay off loans they take out but feels interest rates should be negotiated.
He said it’s also important to invest in vocational training so people don’t feel they must go to college to find work.
“How do we think we’re going to out compete China, grow the middle class, if we’re strapping families with these huge amounts of debt?” he said.