As he seeks the Democratic nomination for Ohio governor, Richard Cordray can tout a record of achievement stretching back to the early 1990s.
He’s been a state lawmaker, state treasurer and Ohio attorney general. And his most recent job, director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, allows him to boast that he returned $12 billion to 30 million consumers who were done wrong by financial institutions.
But through the course of such a long career, Cordray also has done things that raised objections from his critics and he's taken positions that his opponents say are out of step with the 2018 Democratic electorate.
For example, when he was treasurer in 2008, Cordray hired Amer Ahmad, who later turned out to be a crook. Ahmad is in a low-security federal prison in California after he pleaded guilty in 2013 to fraud and other financial crimes while working as deputy treasurer to Kevin Boyce, Cordray's successor. Ahmad fled to Pakistan, but was extradited back to the United States.
Cordray offered no apologizes for hiring Ahmad, a native of Canton.
"We vetted him highly and there were no problems while I was treasurer," Cordray said in an interview last week. "Later it turned out that he went down the wrong path and became a criminal. He was prosecuted and he’s in prison where he deserves to be and that’s the end of that story, I think."
Cordray added that he has subsequently hired hundreds — if not thousands — of employees.
"You hope that everybody turns out as you expect them to be," he said. "Not everybody does. If somebody does something wrong, they deserve to be prosecuted and they deserve to be in prison if it turns out that they did do something wrong."
Perhaps Cordray's biggest vulnerability has to do with guns. The push for more restrictions has gained new energy after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Some of the high school students who survived the massacre have been calling out the National Rifle Association, Congress and state legislatures for stalling what they see as common-sense gun restrictions.
Though much of the Democratic base is itching to take on the gun lobby, Cordray is having to live with his past courtship of it. One of his opponents, former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich, has been pushing a video of Cordray speaking to a Second Amendment rally on the Statehouse steps while he was still attorney general in 2010.
Kucinich has criticized Cordray’s defense as attorney general of a state law that overturned local gun restrictions in Cleveland, but Cordray said that was his job.
"If an attorney general isn’t defending a state statute, they’re essentially nullifying the statute, so there’s really no alternative," he said.
But in 2010, Cordray went a step further, signing onto a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago. With it, Cordray supported extending to the states a personal right to bear arms first enunciated by the court in 2008.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee, set off a furor last week with an op-ed column in The New York Times arguing for the repeal of the Second Amendment. He also said that the initial 2008 Heller decision was a radical departure. It contradicted 200 years’ worth of jurisprudence saying that the Second Amendment did not place "any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun-control legislation," Stevens wrote.
"I do believe there’s a Second Amendment right in the Constitution and we have a right to bear arms in the Ohio Constitution as well," he said. "It has some different wording. Where I grew up in rural Ohio, people own guns. They use them for hunting and self-defense and not much more. I do think that is a constitutional right."
Cordray hasn't signed onto Kucinich's call for an assault weapons ban, but he does support beefed up background checks, bans on modifications that would make guns functionally automatic and school security.
He declined, however, to repudiate the NRA — gun regulation's most formidable opponent. The group has a history of extreme rhetoric, including board member Ted Nugent's recent statement that Parkland students working for greater gun restrictions are "liars" who "have no soul."
Cordray said he hasn't taken any NRA money. He added that he does what he thinks is right and leaves it to advocacy groups to decide whether to support him.
"Look, every organization is a mix of things," he said. "They do good things that people like and they do some other things that people don’t like. I think that’s true of all organizations. I don’t have anything particular to say about that."
Cordray also has been the subject of a stream of criticism over his leadership of the consumer bureau until this past November. For example, U.S. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, accused Cordray of unfairly taking credit for blowing open a 2016 scandal in which Wells Fargo opened more than 3 million possibly fake bank and credit card accounts unbeknownst to customers.
Cordray said Southern California journalists, local prosecutors and his office all played roles in uncovering that scandal, understanding its nationwide scope and demanding accountability.
"I give the LA Times full credit for their initial investigative reporting," he said. "The LA city attorney’s office did some great work on that case. They were under some limitations because they could not take discovery. We teamed up and did some things they were not able to do.
"That’s how we were able to get to a result not just in LA County, but a result nationally and it’s resulted in many, many changes at Wells Fargo … and it’s been an object lesson in how not taking regulation seriously and not taking compliance seriously can hurt a major financial institution."