Mary Taylor says her record checks all the conservative boxes.

With more than 11 years in statewide office behind her, Ohio's lieutenant governor is attempting to sell that conservatism — and distance herself from her two-time running mate, John Kasich — as she opposes state Attorney General Mike DeWine for the Republican nomination for governor in the May 8 primary.

But Taylor's tenure in elected office has not been without politically embarrassing bumps as she advanced from state legislator to auditor to the No. 2 position beside a governor whom she supported during his failed run for the presidency but now sees as a hindrance, given his disdain for President Donald Trump.

Taylor was the only Republican to win statewide executive office in 2006, and as the first certified public accountant to serve as state auditor, she said, she improved the office's operations. Her office issued citations for $42 million in government misspending, replaced a paper-intensive auditing system with electronic record-keeping, and sounded the alarm early on the potential budget shortfall of billions of dollars during the final, recession-ravaged budget of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, whom she and Kasich went on to unseat in 2010.

Taylor acknowledged that year that she had spent most of her workdays as state auditor working out of a converted conference room at a regional office in Canton, about 20 minutes from her home, and generally traveled to Columbus only one or two days a week. She said then that the arrangement allowed her to spend off-hours at home with her then-teenage sons while remotely overseeing her administrative duties.

Taylor continued to attract questions about how much time she spent in Columbus as lieutenant governor and in the accompanying role of director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.

"I'm like every other working Ohioan," she said in an interview Friday. "I can do my job wherever I am based on my ability to communicate with staff" via telephone and computer. Taylor said criticism of her work, and where she works, is "slanderous ... and absolutely in no way reflects who I am or the experience I bring."

The Dispatch uncovered in 2011 that Taylor had repaid the state $1,039 — at Kasich's instruction — to cover the costs of a state airplane that flew out of its way from its Columbus base to drop her off and pick her up at Akron-Canton Airport, about six miles from her home, on three occasions while she was on state business.

"There was no wrongdoing there," she said Friday. "I repaid the money out of an abundance of caution to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety."

Taylor also was cited in an inspector general's report in 2015 for failing to properly supervise her often-absent staff at the lieutenant governor's office, which has experienced high employee turnover during her years.

After disregarding for four months her scheduler's warning that an executive assistant was being paid for hours not worked, Taylor learned about staff time-sheet irregularities as a result of a public-records request by the liberal blog Plunderbund, and she requested an investigation.

Chief of staff Laura Johnson and the assistant, who resigned in mid-2014, were found to have falsified time sheets to claim thousands of dollars in pay. Johnson, for example, received $5,245 for 86 hours spent commuting to work and to hair and nail salons. Johnson also claimed her salary for a total of 13 workweeks' worth of days when her car was not parked in the Riffe Center garage and no appointments appeared on her schedule.

"I handled that exactly the way Ohioans expect me to do. When people don't do their jobs, you fire them," Taylor said Friday. "As soon as I became aware of the fact that (Johnson) was abusing the flexibility I had given her, I fired her."

Using the records underlying the inspector general's investigation, The Dispatch then showed that Johnson had improperly worked on state time on the 2014 re-election campaign of Kasich and Taylor. Johnson made more than 150 telephone calls to top campaign officials and participated in at least 19 campaign meetings and conference calls on state time, including two with Taylor.

Johnson made more calls to campaign officials than she did to her boss, Taylor, according to the chief of staff's cellphone records. Johnson clocked out from the office for some political activity, but not for other calls and events.

Taylor said she was unaware of the political activity on state time.

The inspector general, Randall J. Meyer, who had been Taylor's chief investigator when she was auditor, did not dig into the political aspects of the case.

As director of the Ohio Department of Insurance until early 2017, when she resigned ahead of her full-blown run for governor, Taylor was an ongoing critic of the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — while her agency administered the federal marketplace for health-insurance policies. She says she saved the state $41 million by not creating state exchanges to sell the policies.
Taylor seemingly supported Kasich's expansion of Medicaid health-care coverage — part of Obamacare — to more than 700,000 Ohioans, mostly the working poor, on occasion through early 2017. But upon launching her run for governor and trying to court Trump-supporting conservatives and distance herself from Trump-critic Kasich, she said she had expressed concerns about the financial sustainability of the expansion from the start and now wants to end it.

Taylor said Friday she was supportive of the governor and his right to make the decision, rather than the expansion itself.

"The governor understood I did not agree that it was the right direction for the state," she said. "I made the case when I could. I understood it was the governor's decision to make ... a public fight with the governor made no sense."

Since 2011, Taylor also has been entrusted with leadership of the Common Sense Initiative, a program in which state officials review proposed rules from state agencies, boards and commissions to determine whether they are both necessary and "business friendly."

The effort, which also involves consulting "stakeholders" among affected businesses, has reviewed more than 12,500 rules; 61 percent were either rescinded or amended because they were deemed excessive regulation or flawed.

The effort has received periodic criticism for actually adding months of additional bureaucracy, taking too long to complete reviews of rules affecting issues such as medical marijuana and charter schools. Thirty percent of the reviews last year took 61 or more days, according to an annual report.

However, some business leaders have complimented the work.

"We made it easier to create jobs in the state of Ohio," Taylor said Friday.

Taylor parlayed her first political office, on the Green Village Council in the Akron-area, to election to two terms in the Ohio House beginning in 2003; there she was a reliably conservative supporter of concealed carry and anti-abortion efforts. Taylor tells the story on the stump about serving on the Finance Committee but being removed by then-Speaker Larry Householder after she voted against the state budget because it contained a tax increase.

"My first lesson in politics ... I learned very early on and very quickly that not all Republicans are conservative," she said Friday.

Taylor's opposition to abortion does not allow exceptions, such as for rape, incest or the health of the mother, and she supports the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Kasich vetoed the measure.

Taylor has strongly emphasized her pro-gun Second Amendment stance in her current campaign, supporting zero gun restrictions. Speaking at a gun-rights rally at the Statehouse this year with a shotgun slung over her shoulder, she said: "Here’s our message to Governor Kasich, Mike DeWine and every other establishment politician ... COME AND TAKE IT!"

In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting last fall, she continued her campaign website's giveaway of an "Ohio-made shotgun."

Taylor also backs a legislative proposal that would prevent courts from removing Ohio children from their parents so they can get hormonal therapy for a gender transition; such a removal was ordered for a 17-year-old by a judge in Cincinnati this year.