COLUMBUS — State Rep. Keith Faber (R., Celina) said voters should expect him to set aside his public policy hat to do his job without a political agenda if elected state auditor .
“You’re not the think tank of Ohio,” said the roughly 20-year veteran of the General Assembly. “You are the state’s chief compliance officer, and if you want to look at the fiscal impact of trade deals that are federal and international on various aspects of government, go do that with your own money.”
Mr. Faber took aim at Democratic opponent Zack Space’s plan to use the authority of Ohio’s top bookkeeper to do in-depth studies of charter schools run by for-profit companies and the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on local governments.
“I just find it to be a gross misunderstanding of the role of the auditor,” he said.
Mr. Faber served in the Ohio House, moved to the Senate for a stint that included serving as its president, and then returned to the House. While Mr. Space has used that resume to characterize him as a firmly entrenched career politician beholden to special interests, Mr. Faber has countered that that his experience has given him a greater understanding of the auditor’s role.
“My job in the legislature, as I saw it, was always making sure government works better for Bob and Betty Buckeye,” he said. And that includes making sure state agencies and local government entities run “better, faster, cheaper.”
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But he also was among those calling the shots at a time when the state’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, was bilking taxpayers for students it couldn’t prove it educated. Charter school reform bills reached the governor’s desk and others did not — on his watch.
Mr. Faber points to House Bill 2, a measure that did become law. It cracked down on sponsors for the performance of their charter schools and addressed conflicts of interest between school boards, sponsors, and for-profit management companies.
“Frankly, from ECOT’s perspective early on, it was the sponsor accountability stuff that they were worried about,” he said. “And those are the strongest provisions in House Bill 2. Frankly, I believe ECOT would have been shut down based on sponsor review anyway.”
After current Auditor Dave Yost referred his findings involving ECOT to prosecutors for possible fraud charges, Mr. Faber gave an estimated $36,000 in past campaign contributions from school founder Bill Lager and related interests to other charter schools.
“I was never real close to anybody in the e-school movement,” Mr. Faber said. “You can say Bill Lager gave me money, but he never gave Keith Faber money for one thing or another for ECOT. He supported me because I was a school choice supporter.
“I didn’t attend ECOT graduations,” he said. “Any rally I ever attended was a school choice rally…The fact of the matter is I have sponsored more e-school accountability that’s become law than anybody else in the legislature.”
Interest has been greater in this down-ticket race this year because of its role in 2021 in redrawing state legislative districts and potentially congressional districts. By advocating for competitive districts, Mr. Space demonstrates he should not be on that panel, he said.
“My opponent talks about drawing maps for a political outcome, whether it’s 50-50 districts or making more…(districts) representationally fair, having more Democratic districts than Republican districts,” Mr. Faber said. “You’re gerrymandering when you’re drawing for a political outcome in my mind.”
He pointed to legislation he championed to challenge colleges and universities to reduce the overall cost of getting a degree in Ohio and to establish a mediation process to resolve public records disputes between local governments and their citizens.
But he has also taken fire for changing property setback provisions for wind farms while accepting campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests. The change, calculating setbacks from the property line instead of the nearest residence, effectively reduces the number of wind turbines that can be placed on a property.
He also directly addressed a 2016 poll of Statehouse lobbyists by Columbus Monthly magazine that called him the “most ambitious, most humorless, least compassionate, most arrogant, most aggressive campaign fundraiser” among lawmakers. He said he never set out to make friends on Capitol Square.
“Nobody has ever given money to Keith Faber because they expected to get something or not get something,” he said. “The reality is they support me because I’m going to work to try to make government work better.”
Contact Jim provance at: [email protected] or 614-221-0496.