- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - At their first side-by-side appearance, the leaders of Ohio’s Republican and Democratic parties split Thursday on the legalization of marijuana, the strength of a potential presidential run by Republican Gov. John Kasich, and the re-election possibilities for Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman.

Asked if marijuana would be legal within five years, Democratic Chairman David Pepper predicted it would and said politicians should be proactive in addressing the issue to protect Ohio interests.

“Folks in politics and public service in Ohio should have a thoughtful conversation about how that’s done in a way that makes sense, that protects certain interests, especially our young folks,” Pepper said during a debate at the Ohio Newspaper Association’s annual convention.

Pepper said Ohio should learn from its experience with casinos and the influence of outside interests on the constitutional ballot measure that authorized them.

Republican Chairman Matt Borges gave support to some type of medical marijuana legislation but said legalizing marijuana for recreational use must be stopped.

“It should not come to Ohio, it won’t come to Ohio, it’s totally unpopular with all voters. And everything that needs to be done, to prevent legalized marijuana from coming to Ohio, ought to be done,” Borges said.

He said politicians from both parties should stand together to oppose it.

Both are relatively new to their positions. Borges, the Kasich pick, overcame a tea party challenge to take the helm of Ohio’s GOP in 2013. Pepper, a 2014 candidate for Ohio attorney general, succeeded long-time chairman Chris Redfern in December.

Borges was enthusiastic about Kasich running for president, though he said Kasich and his family would have to decide if they want to tackle such a grueling undertaking.

“I hope he runs, he would make a great candidate, he would make a great president,” Borges said.

Pepper disagreed, saying Kasich has balanced Ohio’s budget by cutting funding to local governments and forcing them to raise taxes.

“If he were to run the country, I hope he would do it very differently than he’s run the state,” Pepper said.

Kasich says he’s keeping his options open but is focused on being governor.

Borges called Portman, who is up for re-election next year, an “extraordinarily strong candidate” with an exceptional record. Pepper said Portman hasn’t generated excitement several years into his term and polls show him vulnerable.

Both party chairs agreed on one thing: The news that Philadelphia was selected to host next year’s Democratic National Convention over Columbus was disappointing.

Cleveland was previously awarded the National Republican Convention, which runs for a week next summer.


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