July 24, 2020

Mike DeWine

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) discusses why COVID-19 cases are surging, his new decision to mandate masks statewide, reopening schools and the 2020 election. He reacts to the arrest of the Ohio House Speaker in connection with a $60 million bribery case.

Read Full Transcript EXPAND

He’s the Republican governor who says, ‘Act now before it’s too late,’ this week on ‘Firing Line.’

Our way of life in Ohio is in danger.

When COVID-19 took off in March, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered some of the swiftest shutdown measures in the country.

There is gonna be a light at the end, but it’s gonna get darker first.

But with reopening under way, COVID-19 cases are surging.

This is a very dicey time.
This is a very crucial time.

Ohio is also in the spotlight this week for an unprecedented bribery case.

These allegations are bribery, pure and simple.

One of the state’s top Republicans arrested.

The racketeering charge is true.

A disgusting story.

What does Governor Mike DeWine say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible in part by… And by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Governor Mike DeWine, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Good to be with you.
Thank you very much.

You are the Republican governor of Ohio, and you took very early action to contain COVID-19 in your state, earning bipartisan praise from across the country.
And for the past six weeks, cases have been rising again in your state.
And you say that Ohioans have reached, quote, ‘The most critical point in our battle against the coronavirus.’
What did you mean by that?

Well, I think it could go either way in Ohio at this point.
You know, we went back and looked where Florida was a month ago, and there about — then, they were about where we are today, about 6.5% positivity.
So these things can go south on you real quick.
And so we’re — we’re concerned about it.
But the real message for Ohioans is, you know, we all need to wear masks, we all need to keep our social distance, and we all need just to be careful.
We can do this.
We can bring the economy back.
We can go to work, but we have to be very, very careful.
But I’ve been trying to see exactly where the spread is actually taking place.
And it’s a lot of what you would expect.
Some of it’s occurring in bars, some of it’s occurring in churches.
But, you know, a lot of it is just with people just being people and having friends over and having a backyard picnic or having a bridal shower.
And so you got to assume that people have this because so many people we now know — we now know have it and don’t give any signs of it, and they don’t know they have it.

You know, let’s take a look at an image, Governor.
The following graph shows new cases reported daily in Ohio.
And in April, you can see there’s an intense spike, and now there is a more steady climb, and the daily totals are worse now than they were in April, with a new record of more than 1,600 cases from one day last week.
Why is that happening, Governor?

Well, I think it’s happening because Ohioans are tired of staying home.
They’re going out.
You know, if you look at our highway data, we’re pretty much back to normal driving.
If you look at cellphone data, which, of course, is available to anyone on the Internet, you’ll see in Ohio, we’re pretty much back to normal activity.
So we knew that we would see some increase.
But, you know, our message to Ohioans is, ‘We can do this.
We can bring the economy back, you can go back to work.’
But it’s not normal time.
We can’t pretend like this isn’t over with.
This is not over with.
Now, we’ve seen some encouraging things in the last week or so.
We went to mask orders several weeks ago in what we call red counties, which are level three.
We have four levels.
We think we started to see some results.
More and more people clearly are wearing masks.
We know that for a fact.
And we think that we’re starting to see some results.
So what we hope is we’re entering a plateau, and then we hope, obviously, we would hope to start seeing these numbers come down.
Well, and that’s kind of our message.
Look, we’re in this together.
You wear the mask to protect yourself, but mostly you’re wearing that mask to protect other people.

And you have, just in Ohio, ordered a mask mandate, which is something that you actually did back in April and then reversed yourself within 24 hours.
Why is it gonna be different now?

It was clear to me in less than 24 hours that there’s great pushback on that, that Ohioans were not ready to accept that.
And so we pulled back on it.
Part of this is leading, but it’s also, you know, you’ve got to be able to lead and keep people with you.
But what has happened since then, as you have pointed out, is our numbers are worse.
I think people are also, frankly, watching TV and seeing what’s going on in Florida, seeing what’s going on in Arizona and other states.
We’re seeing our numbers go up.
So we’ve, over time, I think, changed the culture.
People are accepting it more.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people out there today that were very upset with me to take the mask order statewide.
I know there are.
But I think there’s more acceptance today and more possibility for people to actually do this, because, ultimately, it comes down to what people in Ohio do.
I can put all the orders you can ever think of.
But it comes down to what people do and the individual choices in their individual life.

I mean, you have received praise for issuing the mask order, but as you said, you have real detractors for your mask order, as well.
You’ve even had anti-mask protesters marching outside of the Ohio State capital.
Governor, why has mask-wearing become so political, in your view?

I’m not really sure.
I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to me.
You know, this is about science.
This is about, you know, taking care of each other.
And that’s been my message that, ‘Look, we’re wearing the mask for each other.’
For a number of months, we’ve had an order on that, you know, in business, if you go into a grocery store today, you go into a drugstore, everybody there that’s working there has to have a mask on.
That’s been the order of the state.
And what our message has been to people who patronize those stores is, ‘Look, you know, they’re wearing the mask for you.
You need to wear the mask for them.
You need to help them.’
You may have somebody who has to work, who’s 70 years old, and he is doing something in that store — he’s stocking shelves or she is — cashier, stocking, doing something.
It may be a 25-year-old who has some medical problems but who needs to work.
And so we need to protect them.
And we know so much more today about masks.
At least I know a lot more than I knew four months ago.
And the evidence is just overwhelming.
I mean, there’s just no doubt about it, that masks or that added layer that you put that together with distance, and we are a lot safer because of those masks.

So, the first time this week, President Trump actually tweeted that, ‘…many say wearing the mask is patriotic.
And he clearly stated, again, for the first time, that masks, quote, ‘have an impact.’
Do you think that that helps make it easier for you to institute this mandate in your state?

Look, it makes a difference.
The President has a lot of people who are following him, you know, and I was very delighted when I saw that.
I said, ‘This is — This is a very good thing.’

So, then, Governor, is the fact that he didn’t do it until then — until now, is the inverse also true, that that made it harder for you to institute that mask mandate back in April?

Look, I’m not gonna blame the President for what we do or what we don’t do in Ohio.
The buck stops with me.
The buck stops with me in making these decisions.
Would I have preferred him to do it earlier?
Of course.

Well, I think you’re saying it would’ve helped you.

Well, sure.
I mean, look — I mean, here’s what we’re trying to do.
We’re trying to get everybody on board.
And the President has the biggest megaphone of anybody in the country.
So it’s important.
And the President tweeted that out this week.
That was — That was very, very good news.

Why do you think it took him so long?

I don’t know.
I don’t know.
You know, that’s — I don’t know that.

Well, you also gave an address to your state last week, calling on Ohioans to unite.
You talked about how Ohioans came together back in the beginning of the crisis and that you rose to the occasion and you answered the call, and you are — you said, quote, ‘I am asking you now, I am calling on all of you to once again unite.’
Did you need to say that because Ohioans were not united?

Well, look, we were at a different point.
But it’s human nature, if we start back up, that, frankly, what some people seemed to hear was that, ‘Hey, you know, things are okay.’
And I think it’s human nature.
I think human nature is that, you know, we want to get out and get around.
So, what I was simply trying to do is say, ‘Look, we’re tough, we’re strong.
If we want a good fall — If we want our kids to go back to school in the fall, if we want sports in the fall, if we want whatever you want in the fall, if we want those things, what we do right now, right now, is going to make all the difference in the world.
The one lesson from history, whether it’s 1918 pandemic or whether it is what we’ve seen with this virus in other countries is, you must act quickly.
So, look, Ohio has been in a relatively good position.
We’ve never seen this go crazy in Ohio.
We’ve never seen it out of control in Ohio.
We’ve been able to keep it under control.
So, what Ohioans, I think, are looking at right now is, as I said, at a time when we — we could go either way, we’re at about 6 — I don’t know — 6.2 to 6.5 — 6.5% positivity.
You’ve got other states are 18%, 20%.
But you don’t want Ohio to become that.
You don’t want Ohio to be Florida.

And part of our — part of our message was, we don’t want to — we love our friends in Florida.
We don’t want to become Florida.
We’ve seen the agony that they’ve gone through.
And so that picture of what’s going on in Florida, I think is, frankly, very helpful for me to be able to tell that story, that great tragedy when we look at that and say, ‘Look, we don’t want to go down that pathway.
But to stop that from happening, we’ve got to move quickly.’

The pandemic has also put a spotlight on the debate about the role of the federal government versus the role of the states.
And in 1967, William F. Buckley Jr., who hosted this program for 33 years, spoke to a newly inaugurated Ronald Reagan, governor of California.
Let’s take a look at what he said.

Do you think that 10, 20 years from now, the office of governor will be almost like the office of the lieutenant governor of the provinces in Canada?
Pretty much a ritual office?
A handshaking office?

Well, they’re gonna have a fight with some governors before that happens and, I think, with a lot of people.

Governor, conservatives have long argued, just like Buckley and Reagan did there, in favor of the principle of federalism, letting states take control.
And you even recently said that people turn to their governors in times of crisis.
So what, then, is the role, Governor, for the federal government in a pandemic?

Well, I think there’s some lessons out of this.
When we all have a chance to sit back and not worry about what’s happening every single day, we can come up with the lessons.
But, you know, certainly one that comes to mind is that, you know, we have to invest in public health.
We have to do it at the state level.
We have to do at the federal level.
We have not historically done that in the United States.
And I think that’s one of the lessons.
I think you’re also seeing, though, you know, that governors historically are looked to when there’s a flood, when there’s a natural disaster, when there’s a tornado, when there’s a hurricane, when something — It is the governors who normally we look to.
And so I think people normally do that.
They’re the closest to the people.
So I think Ronald Reagan was right.
You know, governors still matter.
They matter a lot.
And we’re the ones who are closest to the problem.
What the federal government can do, you know, is to be here to assist.
You know, one of things that the public doesn’t see or hear is, every week, at least once a week, the Vice President gets on the phone with governors.
I think we had 47 governors on the call several days ago.
And I think people would be delighted if they could listen in to that, because there’s no partisanship.
It is just, ‘Hey, let’s just go fix the problem.
What do you need?
What are you seeing?
What are you doing in your state?’
And that’s the great thing about our federal system, is, they are the 50 laboratories of democracy.
And I’m on the phone a lot to my fellow governors and saying, ‘Hey.
How are you handling this?
How are you handling that?’
And those exchange of ideas are just very, very, very positive and very good.

We’ve heard you praise the Vice President, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the CDC.
Are you getting what you need from the federal government, Governor?

Look, you never get everything you want in life, you know?
You know, you never get everything you want.
But they’ve been as responsive as they can be.
They have to prioritize where the bigger problem is.
Thank heavens, in Ohio, we have not led that list throughout this, and I don’t intend to let us lead that list.
So, you know, they are being very, very helpful.
And it’s — it is, in fact, a partnership.
But, no, you don’t get everything you want.
Again, I’ll go back to what I said a moment ago.
One of the lessons is, we have to invest in public health, and we have to do it at the state level, at the local level, and we have to do it certainly at the federal level.
And I hope that’s one of the lessons that comes out of this.
The other lesson I hope that people realize and I think both parties know this now, and that is we cannot be dependent on China.
We cannot be dependent on other countries to make everything that we use for medicine or all the equipment that we use.

Governor, I mean, as somebody who has relied on your public-health experts and who says we need to really invest more in public health, how did the attacks — the White House attacks — against Dr. Fauci strike you?

Well, I don’t pay a lot of attention to it.
I mean, the doctor’s still out there and still talking, and people are listening to the doctor, so I — you know, that’s… I can’t explain it to you.
I don’t know what’s going on.
And, you know, again, we need to look to medical science.
We need to look to professionals to how we handle that, everything.
This is what we tried to do in Ohio, base everything that we’re doing on the best information that we could get at the time.

Your economy has really taken a hit from COVID.
Unemployment was over 13% in May.
It came down a bit in June to 10.9%. Would you like to see an extension of the federal unemployment benefits from the $600 a week paychecks, even though conservatives argue that that amount may be a disincentive for people to go back to work?
What would you like to see?

Well, I think Rob Portman had a good idea.
Rob came up with kind of a compromise where people, you know, it would help get them back to work.
They would still get some of the money even if they went back to work.
So I think Rob has a very, very good idea.
I don’t know what chance he has of getting it passed, but it seems to me there’s a sweet spot in there that will work very well.

And what about as you look at the state, things that could make Ohio more competitive coming out of COVID?
Have you given any thought, Governor, to using the quote unquote, ‘Emergency laws provision in the Ohio State Constitution to pass right-to-work legislation?
Right-to-work, of course, is a law that would keep workers from being forced to pay union dues.
As you know, several of the states in the Midwest around you have passed right-to-work laws in recent years, making them more competitive, and Ohio has not.
Would you look at using the Emergency Law’s provision to pass right-to-work?

No. Look, we have good labor relations between employers and labor in the state of Ohio.
I’ve never thought it was an essential part of moving Ohio forward.
We’re very competitive today.
We’re doing very well.
You know, we’ve all been hit by the virus.
But I’m an optimist.
My wife says anybody with eight kids — a friend I have, eight kids.
Anybody with eight kids is an optimist.
So I’m an optimist.
I see a great future for the state of Ohio.

You recently told Ohioans — I want to read you the quote.
‘We must act now.
My friends, this is not a drill.
This is certainly not a hoax.’
It seems to me that you need to say that because people believe that COVID-19, on some level, is a hoax.
Who thinks it’s a hoax, Governor?

Well, think we’ve had a couple legislators that seemed to indicate that it might be.
But, look, Ohio is no different than other states.
We do have some people that don’t think that this is a serious threat.
And I do think it’s a serious threat.
I think that if you only want to focus on jobs and our economy, even if you could totally discount human life, that you still need to get control of this pandemic.
Because the biggest threat to jobs in Ohio, the biggest threat to Ohio moving forward as an economy, is if this virus gets out of control in Ohio.
And it won’t matter — If that happens, it won’t matter what I order, what I don’t order, because people won’t go out.
They won’t spend money.
They will hunker down.
And so that’s why we have partnered with business in Ohio, because business understands we’ve got to keep this virus down.
If we keep it down, the economy can come back.
These two are tied right together.

You’re going to try to keep it down through the fall.
You’re going to try to keep it down in the immediacy, in the near future.
But into the fall, something else happens.
That’s the election in November.
And you’ve postponed the Ohio primary and held in almost all-mail-in ballot primary.
And you’re prepared to do the same thing in November.
Are you confident that the mail-in voting will be secure in your state?

Well, you know, our viewers across the country don’t know this, but Ohioans know this.
We have a lot of experience in doing this.
So we are not concerned that this is going to cause any kind of — you know, that the election won’t go well or that there’ll be a great deal of fraud.
We do this all the time.
We know how to do it.

There are some claims by the President that mail-in voting is ‘corrupt’ and ‘horrible.’
Those are quotes.
You’re confident that it won’t be corrupt, and it will be secure in your state.
You disagree with the President on that?

I mean, I can’t speak to other states.
Some states that might be doing it for the first time, I don’t know.
Ohio, we can do it well, and we’ll run a good election.

And President Trump won Ohio, as you know, by 8 points.
And as you also know, for Republicans, all roads lead through Ohio.
No Republican has won the presidency without winning the state of Ohio.
Yet when you look at most of the polling now that polls Ohio, President Trump is trailing Joe Biden or, in some polls, neck and neck.
Is Ohio going to become a battleground state this year?

Well, I think Ohio is almost always a battleground state.
I mean, you know, President Trump pulled away certainly in the last election, winning Ohio by a big margin that I don’t think anybody predicted.
But Ohio is always competitive, and it’s going to remain competitive.
So, you know, I think the President could carry Ohio.
I think he will carry Ohio, but it’s going to be a close race.

Let me ask you real quickly about the major corruption case that has been brought to light in your state.
Of course, it’s Speaker of the House Larry Householder and several of his associates who were arrested this week in what the Department of Justice described as, quote, ‘likely the largest bribery money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.’
What was your reaction when you heard these bribery allegations that involve prominent members of the Ohio Republican Party?

Well, it’s always, you know, very alarming and very sad when a Speaker of the House is charged.
So, yeah, it’s — it’s a very disturbing thing.
And we have to say that everybody who’s been charged, we have to assume they’re innocent.
That’s what the assumption of the law is.
But that story that was described by the Justice Department is a very sad, sad story and should infuriate every Ohioan.

And, Governor, are you confident that no one in your office was involved?

Well, I’m confident no one in my office was involved.
We didn’t know about this investigation at all until yesterday morning when it became public.
And the U.S. Attorney was asked twice yesterday in the news conference whether or not this involved the governor’s office.
The answer is no.

The criminal complaint, of course, alleges that that Speaker Householder and his associates received more than $60 million in secret payments from the energy company in exchange for helping to pass this piece of bailout legislation, that was called House Bill 6.
You signed, of course, House Bill 6.
In hindsight, do you regret signing something that has cost the taxpayers of your state so much?

No. I mean, the issue is the merits of it.
My position in Ohio has been, when I ran for office and after I became governor, is that we need a balanced energy policy.
Nuclear power plants provide a lot of jobs in Ohio, but they also provide virtually all or almost all of our carbon-free energy.
If we eliminate our two nuclear power plants in Ohio, we would have virtually no carbon-free energy at all.
We would not have any kind of balanced plan.
And the merits of the bill, it’s something that I supported and continue to support.

Then the merits of the bill are that the taxpayers in the state of Ohio have to carry the extra cost of the nuclear —
Well, that was fully — Well, that was fully well known.
That was fully well known and debated.
And the truth is that we cannot have, at least today, non-carbon energy without subsidy.
Every kind, whether it’s wind, whatever it is, it is all subsidized.
The question is, are we going to keep these power plants that are providing non-carbon energy in the state of Ohio?
And the answer is, I believe that we should.
But those issues were all publicly debated.
What was not public was what was going on behind the scenes and the fact that $60 million was being poured in for Lord knows what all reasons.

But does not impugn the case that you’re trying to make?
Right? Now taxpayers come to find out that they’re paying a subsidy to something in which there was corruption.

I have no problem if this legislature wants to revote this, wants to take a look at it, wants to have a debate.
I think that is fine.
You know, I’m always open to debates and for people to look at what what the merits of issues are.
It is sad.
It is a tragedy that a public debate about an issue is tainted by, you know, what a handful of people did.
And it’s disgusting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this.

On Thursday, the 23rd, the day after we recorded our interview, Governor DeWine changed his mind.
He is now calling for House Bill 6 to be repealed and replaced.

No matter how good this policy is, the process — the process by which this bill was passed is simply not acceptable.

One more question.
You and your wife, Fran, have 8 children, but I also know you have 24 grandchildren.
With Ohio going in the wrong direction and the new face-mask order in place, what’s gonna make you comfortable sending your grandchildren back to school in the fall?

We’ve got a few weeks.
And I made this very clear to my fellow Ohioans, what we do in the next several weeks is gonna determine what we can do in the fall.
We don’t know yet.
We don’t know exactly where we’re going to go.
You know, you saw what the American Pediatrics Association came out with.
They basically said, ‘Look, kids are suffering not being in school.
We got try to get them back in school.’
We agree with that.
We agree that we need to get kids back.
We also agree that what we saw in the past when we shut down schools was some of the poorest kids and kids who didn’t have access to the Internet, didn’t get the education that they should have got or that some other kids in the state got.
So we know there are a lot of downsides to remote education, a lot of downsides not having kids in class.
But we also know that there are dangers out there.
So we’ve got to try to balance those.

One of the things you quoted in your press conference was the director of the CDC, Dr. Redfield, who said, if everyone would wear masks for four to six weeks, we could, quote, ‘drive this epidemic to the ground.’
Is that the case for Ohio?
With your face-mask order, will you end coronavirus, or will you seriously curtail coronavirus for your state?

We’d knock it in the head pretty good.
We’d take it to its knees if we could do that.
We get 85% of the people wearing masks every single day and keeping the social distance, yeah, it’s pretty basic what we have to do.
It’s not complicated what we have to do.
So if we can do this, these numbers are gonna look very different in the fall.
It’s gonna look very different.

Governor, we wish you the best of luck.

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much for your time and for coming to ‘Firing Line.’
Thank you.

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible in part by… And by… Corporate funding is provided by…
You’re watching PBS.