SIDNEY — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was in Sidney Tuesday to address the Shelby County Area Action Council of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
“The interests of small business are different from big business,” he told the group of about a dozen area association members who convened at Dickman Supply Tuesday morning. “NFIB looks after the unique point of view of small business.”
DeWine related a story about his grandmother, who, with her husband, started a feed store in Yellow Springs. DeWine’s father expanded it to a seed company of 25-30 employees.
“But it was my grandmother who made it work,” DeWine said. “I remember by grandmother complaining about the government, the ‘idiots’ in Washington, in Columbus, in Yellow Springs in the late 1950s. ‘If they had to put up with what I have to put up with,’ she’d say. I always try to have my grandmother’s voice in my ear.”
DeWine’s office conducts seminars for new small businesses and for people just starting their business careers. The seminars cover civil rights, anti-trust laws and consumer sales practices.
The attorney general, he noted, is the lawyer for the state. In that capacity, DeWine’s office represents all the state universities in Ohio and “dozens and dozens” of boards and commissions, he said.
“Our lawyers are in court every day,” he added. The office also prosecutes Medicaid fraud cases every week and oversees compliance with anti-trust laws. In addition, it runs a crime lab.
“We’re solving cases every day,” DeWine said. “The biggest change since I was a county prosecutor has been the ability to retrieve DNA.” Local police departments and sheriffs’ offices send DNA evidence to the crime lab for testing. During his tenure as attorney general, DeWine has cut the processing time from 125 days to 22 days.
“But we can turn it around in 24 hours in emergency cases,” he said. When he took office, he wrote to law enforcement officials in all of Ohio’s 88 counties and asked them to send in rape kits that had been stacked up in their departments. Most were cold cases.
“We recently processed our 10,000th old rape kit. We’re getting matches on 37 percent. In Cleveland, they had about 4,500 (kits). They’ve indicted 400 people so far,” he said.
The biggest problem his office has to deal with, however, isn’t rape. It’s a heroin epidemic that has swept the country and the state.
“We’re losing four or five people every day in Ohio (to heroin overdoses),” he said. “It’s worse in the rural areas and also very, very bad in our suburbs. Why the problem? We’ve had a change in culture. When I wa sa prosecutor, you expected to find heroin in Dayton. It was a street drug. Even people who did drugs, didn’t do heroin. There was a cultural inhibition.”
Now, people try it without realizing how immediately addictive it is. He said Mexican suppliers have a perfect business model and compared it to pizza parlors that deliver.
“(The drug suppliers) grow poppies, process it, send it up the interstates. It’s like calling for a pizza. It costs the same as a pizza: $15,” he said. But users need more and more of it to stay high and what starts out as a $15-a-day habit quickly becomes a $1,500-a-day habit. The addiction disrupts families and drives a huge economic loss in productive people.
“There is no easy answer,” DeWine said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” He noted that grassroots organizations of people who have seen their children die from the addiction have had some success in meeting the challenge and he thinks prevention is the biggest hope.
“We don’t do a very good job of prevention in this country,” he said. “You have to start in kindergarten and do something in every grade.” He has established a six-person unit in his office to work with local communities to change them to anti-drug cultures.
“We need to do a better job than we’re doing (of securing the border to prevent drugs from coming into the country), but in Ohio, we have to deal with the demand side. We’re at fault as well because our people are buying the stuff,” he said.
In answer to questions from attendees, DeWine talked about the drawbacks of legalizing marijuana, said that the FBI isn’t likely to say anything about an investigation of Hillary Clinton until the investigation is finished and discussed the polarization of political America.
“I went to Colorado,” he said, concerning marijuana. “The black market is as big as it ever was — as exporter, shipping it to states all around Colorado. And because legal marijuana is taxed, illegal dealers are selling it cheaper. Now it’s in candy. Little kids get into that end up in the emergency room. When you say it’s OK to use marijuana when you’re 21, a 14-year-old hears it’s OK to use marijuana. The number of kids underage (using it) has gone up and the age of starting has gone down.”
He noted that marijuana is much more potent now than it was in the 1960s.
“We know more about it. If a kid is a regular user and his brain is still developing, he’ll have an IQ loss of up to 10 points,” DeWine said. If an issue concerning medical marijuana gets to the Ohio ballot, the attorney general thinks there will be broad support. But he feels that not every doctor should be permitted to prescribe it. That should be the province of only specialists who treat patients with conditions that marijuana use can ease.
“I hope the state legislature comes up with something restrictive,” he said.
About political polarization, he said it reflects on polarization in the country.
“If you look at states, the red are redder and the blue are bluer,” he said. Because legislative districts have been gerrymandered to support incumbents, 90 percent of seats in the House of Representatives are not competitive, he added. So candidates are worried instead about the primary elections.
“That makes Republicans move more to the right and Democrats move more to the left,” he said. “If you look at the 1960 campaign — Kennedy and Nixon — you’ll laugh at how close (on the issues) those two candidates were.” DeWine is a delegate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
NFIB/Ohio Member Support Manager Joe Hirabayaski opened the meeting and updated attendees on current legislation the organization is watching.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.