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Ohio Democratic U.S. Senate debate covers Ukraine, SCOTUS, guns, student debt

Tim Ryan, Morgan Harper and Traci Johnson discussed several issues Monday. The Republican debate starts at 7 p.m.

WILBERFORCE, Ohio — Democratic candidates for one of Ohio's two U.S. Senate seats discussed a variety of issues Monday at Central State University, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Supreme Court and student loan debt. 

The candidates are:

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles): Ryan has over 20 years of experience in Washington, D.C.

Traci Johnson: Johnson was born in Toledo and is a longtime activist in Columbus and tech executive. 

Morgan Harper: Harper is a Stanford-educated attorney and former senior policy adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The candidates are running for the seat held by Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is retiring following this term.

Below are several issues discussed and the candidates' responses. At the bottom of this story, you can find a YouTube video of the debate in its entirety.

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ISSUE: Ukraine - If NATO Article 5 is invoked, would you support?

Tim Ryan: I believe Biden should come to Congress and I believe he should support it. Putin is a butcher. He's a killer. He's a war criminal. He is slaughtering innocent people. I think we need to do more. We need to figure out a way to get airplanes to Ukraine. He's telling his generals to kill innocent people. There is one country that can pick up the phone and end this war, and that's China. But they're looking the other way.

Morgan Harper: What Putin is doing is a tragedy and we need a strong response. I've been outspoken about imposing aggressive financial and economic sanctions. If it comes to a place about using military force, Biden should come to Congress and ask for authorization. I would certainly be willing to consider it. I want to be clear-headed to make the right decisions. That's why I refuse to accept money from any sector.

Traci Johnson: What's happening to their country is tragic and devastating. Putin has basically gone unchecked and we have to end his reign of terror. I supported our government when they imposed sanctions cutting off the financial lifelines. I also supported the military relief we provided. 

ISSUE: Supreme Court reform - Would you support stacking the court?

MH: We have an institution that has been radicalized by the GOP. We need to be honest about the fact it's happening. We need to balance it, especially when it comes to abortion access. We have to recalibrate the Supreme Court and I would be in favor of moving in that direction.

TJ: The decisions coming out of the court tell us we need to look at the court systems. I want to thank President Biden for his nomination of Judge Jackson. I think we need to tread lightly about court stacking. We need to make sure we're hearing conservative and liberal opinions from the court. The courts need to be fair and reflective of our communities.

TR: I am not for stacking the court. We need to nominate justices like Judge Jackson. She is the epitome of who we want on the Supreme Court: A record of supporting working people and Roe vs. Wade. I think we should get rid of the filibuster. That's the real response in order to pass important pieces of legislature.

ISSUE: What have you done that qualifies you to be senator?

MH: One of the formative experiences of my life was working for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I went after the big banks that hit so many Ohio families so hard. As we were doing that work, we got $12 billion back to 28 million consumers around the country, including Ohio. We could have done even more if we had members of Congress on the side of working people. When we tried to move forward to protect the Black community from getting higher interest rates on car loans, [Ryan] was working to stop it.

TJ: I'm currently a ward committeewoman fighting for families in the working class. I've spent a lifetime fighting for Ohioans starting when I worked for the office of budget management. I balanced our Ohio budget and made sure the state was fiscally sound. When I worked for the EPA, I fought for Ohioans' land, air and water. I worked for the governor's office on LGBTQ issues.

TR: I'm proud of fighting against every trade agreement that came down the pike except for re-negotiating NAFTA, which was the right thing to do. I helped pass the ACA that got coverage for 900,000 Ohioans. Sherrod Brown and I saved pensions for tens of thousands of Ohioans who were going to have their pension cut by two-thirds.

ISSUE: Health care

MH: I support Medicare for all. I'm hearing from so many Ohioans that it's not adding up. Even if you have insurance through employers, premiums and deductibles are going up. It's the right thing to do. We need to close the tax loopholes for corporations that don't pay their fair share. Why did Build Back Better not pass? It's because of senators like Joe Manchin who obstruct. [Ryan] accepted money from Joe Manchin's PAC.

TJ: Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. We need to make it functional, affordable and accessible, then transition it to Medicare for all. We have to make sure not only are we looking at healthcare, but mental health services as well. We have to make sure we grow this economy from the top down, not the middle out.

TR: I welcome support from anyone who wants to support my campaign. I've been very vocal for all elements of Build Back Better. I don't see what the criticism is.

ISSUE: Student loan debt

TR: I'm for a very comprehensive way to solve this problem. It's outrageous that people who want to get ahead in life are paying up to 13% interest - it's insane. How are we going to outperform China if we're strapping people with these debts? We need to get those rates down to 1 or 2%. 74% of people in Ohio don't go to college. We need to get shop class back, financial literacy back, encourage apprenticeship. We need to take care of those people too.

MH: It's a multigenerational crisis. We have grandparents, parents and young people on the hook. Some of these young people are now over 40. They tell me they don't feel comfortable starting a family because of this debt. We need to have debt-free training and educational opportunities available for people.

ISSUE: Gun control and gun violence

TJ: Ohio has the weakest gun laws. The African American communities especially have a ton of guns. We have to make sure these guns are off the street. I will create policies that pull guns off the street and make our communities safe. They're killing our children and family members. 

TR: I'm for closing the gun show and Charleston loophole. Everyone should feel safe in the community they live in. We have to address issues and pass things. That's why I want to go to the Senate - to get rid of the filibuster and pass some common-sense legislature like we did in the House.

MH: I have a friend who lost his daughter to gun violence. We need to have strong protection like universal background checks, but also address the root cause. Things like poverty. It very much influences whether a community is safe or not. 


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