Petro, Herington Hold First Public Debate

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Attorney general candidates Leigh Herington and Jim Petro disagreed on little except the performance of the current officeholder in their first debate of the campaign Tuesday.

Herington, a Democrat and state senator from Ravenna, said Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office has hired too many outside lawyers and is too slow in processing evidence for local law enforcement agencies. Petro, now the state auditor, said he would build on the success of his fellow Republican.

The 1½-hour debate, sponsored by the AARP, focused on issues that concern the elderly: nursing home abuse and neglect, predatory lending and home repair fraud.

Both candidates said a bill Gov. Bob Taft recently signed does not do enough to protect seniors from financial institutions that sell loans with high interest rates and hidden charges.

The industry-backed law prohibits local governments from enacting legislation that goes beyond what is in the state law. It sets certain penalties for institutions who prey on the elderly and poor but makes it difficult to prove, say critics, including the AARP.

"What we need to do is in the individual communities. We are protecting the companies, not the people," Herington said.

Petro said the law should be strengthened at least so that borrowers are not stuck with payments that put them farther behind than they were before receiving the loans.

"The predatory lending bill we passed is weak in some instances," Petro said. "There must be a net benefit to refinancing."

Both also praised their own careers: Petro as a prosecutor, legislator and auditor; Herington as a lawmaker and the managing partner of a law firm.

"I'm the better person to run this law firm," Herington said, referring the hundreds of lawyers who work for the attorney general.

"I made the commitment to focus on quality, service and absolute independence," Petro said of his eight years as auditor.

Herington said more laws to protect seniors would not necessarily help them.

"The biggest problem, I think, is we are not enforcing the laws we have. We're not being aggressive enough," Herington said.

Petro praised the eight-year tenure of Montgomery, who like Petro is prohibited by law from serving a third four-year term.

Montgomery is a candidate for Petro's job in the Nov. 5 election.

"Betty Montgomery has done a good job. ... But that's still something that can be built on," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)