From his first case as Greene County prosecutor in 1977 through his tenure as Ohio's attorney general the past seven-plus years, Mike DeWine has been guided by one mantra.

"The real thing for me, throughout my career, has been protecting life, protecting families."

As the favored DeWine seeks the Republican nomination for governor against Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in the May 8 primary, the 71-year-old has built a lengthy record spanning five decades and six elective offices.

It's a generally conservative record of which DeWine is proud, but which Taylor and Democrats attack amid the fight to come to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kasich.

As attorney general, DeWine is duty bound to defend state laws under challenge in the courts. However, the office has wide latitude to pursue cases in which Ohio has no direct stake by filing and joining amicus — friend of the court — briefs, largely in federal courts. Democrats question his choices.

DeWine's record of joining dozens of such actions reflects a conservative interpretation of the law, adding Ohio to other states' challenges in religious-freedom, transgender-bathroom, and clean water and air cases. DeWine also has supported voter-ID laws, opposed gun-control laws and come to the defense of restrictions on abortion in assorted legal filings throughout the nation, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He also has gone to court to join in defense of President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration (the so-called travel ban) and bid to financially punish sanctuary cities that "protect" undocumented immigrants.

DeWine and other Republican attorneys general unsuccessfully challenged the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. DeWine's office was a co-leader in state amicus filings on the Hobby Lobby case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Obamacare requirement that for-profit corporations provide coverage for contraceptives, against the owners' religious beliefs, was unconstitutional.

"You would find in regard to the Obama administration, if we thought they exceeded their constitutional authority, we filed or joined amicus briefs with other conservative attorneys general. Since Trump has been president, where we think he has been correct, we have filed amicus briefs on sanctuary cities ... and the travel ban. These actions were clearly in the prerogative of the commander in chief," DeWine said.

His office also joined multi-state lawsuits, largely on consumer-protection matters, winning awards of more than $61 million since 2011, money he has used used to operate his office's consumer protection division. He has unilaterally handed out nearly $15 million in undesignated settlements to Ohio charities, led by a $4.4 million grant to Boys and Girls clubs.

Instead of joining what originally was 41 other state attorneys general in pursuing an investigation and potential settlements with drug distributors and manufacturers over the deadly opioid crisis, DeWine struck out on his own as the second state to sue drug manufacturers. He says the joint effort was moving too slowly given the urgent need for damages that could help fund the fight against the crisis in Ohio.

Finally, DeWine filed lawsuits against five opioid manufacturers May 31, claiming they peddled huge numbers of pills in pursuit of profits while downplaying the risks of addiction. He did not move on suing major distributors, including Dublin-based Cardinal Health, until Feb. 26, long after they had been sued by hundreds of local governments.

DeWine says he is proud of his initiative to test nearly 14,000 old rape kits languishing at police agencies, producing more than 5,000 DNA matches leading to the arrests of hundreds of rapists. The turnaround on DNA tests at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to help solve crimes has improved from an average of 125 days to 21 days.

His office also moved to improve police training standards following a series of shootings of black suspects by white officers and has accelerated efforts to combat human trafficking. He also proudly points to his creation of a crimes-against-children unit that has handled more than 900 cases and the opening of a second crime lab at Bowling State University that is pursuing forensic research.

But DeWine's service as attorney general has not been without its bumps, including long-denied allegations of millions of dollars in special counsel contracts being routed to campaign donors, a charge that has long afflicted Republicans and Democrats in the office alike.

In 2015, DeWine's office spent five months investigating whether Planned Parenthood was selling parts from aborted fetuses in Ohio, finding nothing. DeWine declared that he had discovered that fetal remains from Planned Parenthood clinics in Columbus and Cincinnati were illegally being "steamed cooked" and dumped in a Kentucky landfill.

Planned Parenthood officials disputed the disposal method was illegal and filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to block threatened legal action by DeWine and the Department of Health. DeWine backed down after clinic officials said they had changed to using incineration to dispose of aborted fetuses. The Dispatch discovered that state officials had never cited a clinic for improper disposal of fetal remains over the prior five years and there was no evidence the state even sought to enforce the "humane" disposal requirement. DeWine says the current GOP legislative bill to require the cremation or burial of fetuses is a result of his inquiry.

An investigation by The Dispatch and WBNS-TV (Channel 10) in 2015 found that Ohio's aged criminal-background-check system, operated by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, was riddled with flaws in which more than 1,000 felons were temporarily flagged as having clean records and thousands of convictions did not flow into the system for months.

The fingerprint-based system, described by DeWine as "vital," is used by police to check on people they stop for offenses, by private and public employers to screen out would-be employees with disqualifying convictions and to run checks before granting permits to carry concealed handguns. Ohio's records also flow to the FBI for use in background checks before gun purchases.

In the wake of the investigation, DeWine's office blamed its system contractor and also revealed a software problem led to a failure to screen 80,000 teachers, foster parents and others for two years, with the arrests and convictions of 658 people not brought to the attention of state-licensing agencies. The flaw allowed some teachers who should have been removed from the classroom, on charges including drug offenses and domestic violence, to remain on the job.

DeWine's office says the problems have been resolved while work continues on a $25 million replacement expected to be online by May 2020

DeWine also drew fire over his personal involvement in a case involving alleged employee harassment in 2014.

DeWine insisted on getting the name of an informant promised confidentiality who was thought to have knowledge of someone committing sexual harassment against a former female intern, and spoke to the person. The case, against an "high up" man in the attorney general's office described as "close" to DeWine, was closed days later after the initial witness declined to cooperate with prosecutors and no harasser could be identified. DeWine later eliminated his equal-opportunity officer who investigated harassment claims in favor of handing the duty to an outside law firm.

In the U.S. Senate from 1995 through 2006, when he was ousted by Democrat Sherrod Brown, DeWine attracted the wrath of conservatives, and an "F" grade from the National Rifle Association, for his support for gun-control measures. DeWine, for example, supported a three-day waiting period for sales at gun shows and extending the assault weapons ban, which he now says was ineffective. His position moderated as attorney general, with DeWine supporting the expansion of concealed-carry rights and supporting other states in legal fights over gun restrictions. He now opposes any ban on assault weapons and wants a police officer in every school.

He also was a member of the so-called "Gang of 14," seven Republicans and seven Democrats who compromised to end Senate filibusters of President George W. Bush nominees to the federal bench, leading to the rejection of some nominees, but confirmation of others. "We broke the logjam ... and got conservatives appointed," DeWine said.

On immigration issues, DeWine voted to build a partial wall on the Mexican border, deploy more border agents and grant a potential path to citizenship to long-term, noncriminal undocumented immigrants. He also voted to grant Social Security benefits to immigrants who had paid into the system and to extend health care to the children of immigrants.

 

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow