BEAVERCREEK, Ohio — State Sen. Matt Dolan is one of five major Republicans running for the U.S. Senate seat Rob Portman is retiring from this year.
In late February, Spectrum News followed Dolan on the trail in Southwest Ohio to see, in-person, how he’s trying to emerge from the crowded primary field by tethering his candidacy to policy, not former President Donald Trump.
After a meet-and-greet in Beavercreek, Spectrum News Washington Bureau Reporter Taylor Popielarz conducted a sit-down interview with Dolan to gauge where he stands on various policy issues.
The full, unedited conversation may be viewed or the full transcript may be read below:
Transcript from Feb. 23, 2022 interview:
Taylor: Senator Dolan, thanks again for the time. So for somebody — and we saw this morning, some people are just learning about your Senate bid — when you're introducing yourself to voters, what are three policies you're telling them are kind of top line that you're advocating for that would improve the lives of Ohioans?
Matt: So, first of all, I talk about — any policy I talk about I have relevant experience that has produced conservative results for Ohio that I want to bring to Washington. The economy. And the economy plays out twofold — making sure that we have people getting back to work, making sure we create jobs here in the United States, making sure our taxes are low and our federal regulations are low. Security. Making sure that we have border security. We have to know who's coming into our country. We have to know what they're bringing into our country. We had secure borders under President Trump. There are open borders now, and we're feeling it right here in Ohio. And drugs are going up, morgues are being filled, our jails are being filled, we have to stop that. And neighborhood security, community security. Making sure that we understand that the police are there to protect us. It is the criminals causing the crime, not the police, so making sure that we invest in them. So it’s security. It’s economic security, it’s international security, it’s neighborhood security. That's what we’re focusing on.
Taylor: When it comes to the future of manufacturing in Ohio, what do you think could be done at the federal level to bring manufacturing jobs back here?
Matt: So first of all, manufacturing is still relevant. We still have good manufacturing jobs here. I think the biggest part at the federal level is to make sure that when we're competing internationally, we're competing fairly. That we create trade agreements that help both sides. But if at any point, we're in an unfair advantage to our country, we get out of it. At the federal level, too, we also have to do a better job of encouraging younger people to get into skilled manufacturing, skilled workers. One of the things you can do is provide Pell Grants so that kids can get into skilled manufacturing and not have the upfront costs be a barrier to that. If you want to go school, great. And there's avenues for financial relief. But those same avenues for financial relief need to be available through federal Pell Grants, to skilled manufacturing, to skilled trades, to certificates for health care workers. That's something I want to really focus on and get that done quickly because that creates more avenues to get people into manufacturing and skilled labor jobs.
Taylor: Do you believe in climate change?
Matt: Yeah, I mean, no. I believe in the idea that nature plays its own course out. And I believe that something is happening in the weather that's causing severe storms, whether that is manmade or natural, I don't know. What I do know is that the marketplace is going to change how we behave. Manufacturers now want to look to see maybe they can get energy from some fossil-free sources in the future. Innovation and expertise are going to come in and create new forms of energy that we're not even thinking about right now. What I don't want to have happen is the government dictate behavior that the marketplace is not ready for. That's when you'll see a slowing down of our economy, you’ll see lessening of the jobs. So we have to recognize that we are all on this earth together. We all want clean air, we all want clean water. I've been a relentless advocate for water. But we also have to recognize the marketplace sees sees issues and they adjust to it, and that's what we’ve got to be prepared for.
Taylor: You’ve been asked in both of your events this morning so far about lowering the national debt and some of your opponents in this race are specifically campaigning on attempting to eliminate certain federal departments, agencies. What would you propose as a senator? Do you want to do away with the Department of Education or something like that? Or is there another route?
Matt: So a couple things here. First thing you have to do is you’ve got to get back to budgeting. The American people need to know how their money's being spent. I think once you lay out and go through the process of budgeting, we will see all the money that's being spent, I'm sure, inefficiently, and ineffectively. And that's how you save dollars. I think going around, say you're going to get rid of the Department of Education is just campaign talk. What you do is you expose the department of education's budgets and say, where are they spending their money and where can we reduce that? What we also have to understand is the federal government assists all schools throughout this nation on special needs children, and we don't want to disrupt those services for those families. Plus, it also provides for food programs for a lot of urban and rural schools. So there is a role. It does not involve curriculum, it does involve the ability to take care of the entire child. So expose how we're spending our money. I'm not just saying Department of Education — on all departments. And I know you'll see a shrinking government.
Taylor: On foreign policy, I heard what you said about Ukraine before. Zooming out a bit, would you say how you approach foreign policy, does it line up more with a Donald Trump kind of isolationist approach more? Or a Rob Portman approach of, you know, he travels the world and meets with allies and reinforces those relationships?
Matt: So I'm not going to put labels on it. The Dolan Approach as a U.S. senator would be to make sure that America is strong in the world. And by strength in the world, I mean, economic strength. As you heard me say, I think we need to expand who our economic allies are and I think there are avenues for that in the Indo-Pacific: Indonesia, Philippines, India, particularly, are areas of economic growth where we can create better economic partnerships with them. It does two things. One, it opens a whole new market for us for American products. Two, it puts economic pressure on China, when we are no longer moving things away from China's production into other countries production. So economic strength in the world. Military strength in the world I think is necessary too. I think we need to be a force in the world — that does not mean we need to be everyone's savior. But we do need to know that if you have an agreement with the United States, we're going to back it up. That if you're going to flex your muscles China, in the Pacific, we're going to be there. And Taiwan's going to know that we have their backs. I think Africa is going to be a central point in the future. China is trying to get in there, trying to get their natural resources, trying to make them dependent. I also think that ultimately they want to get a port on the Atlantic side of Africa, on the western side of Africa. We can't have that happen. I mean, we've got to be ever, ever present in the world.
Taylor: For farmers across Ohio, what would you advocate for as a U.S. senator for the agriculture community?
Matt: So we've got to secure our borders, that's number one. But we also have to look at legal immigration as well. And a lot of our farm production relies on unskilled labor coming through legal immigration. So we have let that get caught up in the overall illegal immigration debate. So the best way we can help farmers initially is to shore back up the immigration system, legal immigration, get those workers back in working on the farms They become productive citizens — and that's the labor force. Number two is someone like me who's been a strong advocate for clean water. Water is a key to agriculture development. And it's not just making sure it's clean, but it's making sure we're using it. So when I authored the Great Lakes Compact, I said, look, we want our water to be used in Ohio, we don't want to ship it out. So having someone who understands that to advocate for the Great Lakes is strong. And the third thing we have to do is recognize that farmers are small business owners. And so anything we can do to make it attractive — less regulation, less taxes, more employment, help small businesses, and that's what farmers are. So I don't always want to put them in a separate category. We improve the lives of small business owners, we’re improving the lives of farmers.
Taylor: On immigration —and you've talked this morning about how you don't necessarily want to close the border, you just want to shore up the process with it — do you support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, for example.
Matt: So I don't think we should have any of that conversation until our border's secure.
Taylor: Got it. On the pandemic, you’ve said publicly that you were vaccinated. Have you been boosted?
Taylor: And have you ever had coronavirus?
Matt: I did. Early on.
Taylor: Early on, got it. Right now, obviously we see case numbers dropping, hospitalizations dropping. In your mind what types of mitigation measures or mandates should be in place or should not be in place?
Matt: Right now, I don't think there should be any mandates in place by the state government or the federal government. And there isn't in Ohio, despite everyone's talking about it. The one mandate that's left is up for the school boards to decide whether they want to have. But I don't think the government should ever be dictating to employers what they can and can't do for their employees. And that includes telling them they can't mandate and that includes telling them what they can mandate. So leave it up to the employers. What I hope from this pandemic is that we learn how to handle crises like this so as we move forward, we don't have to infringe on people's lives. That people will step up, do the right thing to protect themselves and others. You know, hopefully we learned that. But the less government's involved, the better.
Taylor: I’ve seen your TV ads. I saw one yesterday in my hotel room, your fentanyl ad. You’ve obviously been very critical of China. I've read the op-eds you've put out about it. And you've talked about the need for us to compete against them and how China's just by trying to take over economically. Your financial disclosure form shows that you've invested between $15,000 and $50,000 in Alibaba Group Holding Limited American Depository. And I looked it up and it's headquartered in China. And it says their businesses ‘are comprised of China commerce, international commerce, local consumer services.’ Why are you comfortable investing in them when you're so critical of China?
Matt: I wasn't. So through the exercise of my financial disclosure form, I found that out and I immediately sold.
Taylor: So you sold that?
Matt: It’s not part of my portfolio.
Taylor: Got it. Do you think the federal government understands the threat that China poses?
Matt: I don't think this administration understands the threat that it poses. I think American workers know; I think American employers know. But I don't think this administration knows. I think this administration is more of a globalist. It does not want to recognize that America is an exceptional nation. But that takes work and it takes ever presence. So yeah, I'm very worried that they don't understand the economic and military threat that China is.
Taylor: You’ve stood out in this Republican primary field for supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill that became law. When it comes to President Biden's Build Back Better Act — and you talked about how you think it is dead, in certain ways you're kind of hoping it's dead — it includes so much, and it's been hard to follow. But there are certain provisions — paid family leave, universal pre-k, expanding elderly care, the child tax credit — that at least public polling has shown is pretty popular, and on a bipartisan level. So how do you explain to Ohioans who are supportive of those policies, why you are against the larger package?
Matt: Because the federal government shouldn't play a role in that. So look to what we've done here in Ohio. The very budget that the Ohio Republican Party said is the most conservative budget in Ohio history, that I authored, it allows for people under a certain level of poverty, if they get a job, they can apply for help in paying for their daycare. Because we’ve recognized that's part of the economy. So it is not the federal government handing out money, saying, here's money, we don't know how you're going to use it, we kind of hope you're going to use it for daycare. That's the absolute wrong way to do that. So we take care in Ohio for that. So universal pre-k, I'm not for universal pre-k, because we need to be more targeted. We need young kids in urban and rural areas that maybe don't have the advantages that suburban kids might have, they’re the ones that need pre-k. They're the ones that that we should have a private-public sector relationship to make sure those kids have an avenue to be ready to learn when they get into kindergarten. How much sense does it make for Walnut Hills or Upper Arlington or Ottawa Hills or Westlake in all of the state that the government is paying for them to go to universal pre-k? It makes no sense. Those kids are getting the necessary — either it’s through daycares, qualified daycares, the parents. So let's be more targeted. And that's why I think the states are better suited to take on these challenges to get kids ready to learn who are right now struggle. Why should the federal government pay for areas in which the families are taking care of themselves?
Taylor: You are a state senator, you talk a lot about how you chair the Senate Finance Committee. Throughout the whole House Bill 6 scandal, your name popped up at one portion that the Ohio Capital Journal reported on text messages between you and then Michael Dowling, who was then the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for FirstEnergy. It had to do with the SEET language and we could kind of go into a whole conversation about that. But for voters who are learning about you as a Senate candidate, and they see that as a state senator, you were at least involved in getting language that was helpful to FirstEnergy amid this whole corruption scandal, what do you say to voters who are concerned about that?
Matt: Well, I have nothing to worry about with corruption because I wasn't involved in that at all. And the SEET language that you're talking about was a budget provision. It was not part of House Bill 6. So as part of my job as finance chair, I talk to everyone and I'm available. I want to learn. So the fact that I talked to a FirstEnergy lobbyist during the time we were putting the budget together is no different than me talking to the advocates for homeless, it's no different me talking to the education leaders. Any part, small Business, NFIB — talk to them all. So that was a part of the budget, not part of House Bill 6. So people should not be concerned about me being involved with any corruption.
Taylor: And then just some political questions. You've spoken a lot about how you feel Rob Portman has done as a senator. Obviously, he chose to endorse one of your opponents. Broadening out, though, because you've been compared to him in a lot of ways in terms of how you're approaching this race, how do you think he has done as a senator? Would you try to emulate his approach?
Matt: First of all, I'm a sitting officeholder right now, so I have my own style. And what I'm going to do is bring my own style to Washington. And where we are similar is that Rob Portman wants to engage, Rob Portman wants to get things done. That's very much what I want to get done in Washington. My style is different than Rob Portman. I'm more aggressive. I think I'm more willing to take a stand on issues I think that are really important for Ohio and for the United States, and be out and take a lead on those issues. So I'm my own person and I’ve developed my own style. I’m the only one that can say that in this race, because I have a proven track record. So I will be who I am, and that will be engaging, fighting and making sure that Republican ideas are put into place so that Ohio and the United States can win again.
Taylor: Were you upset you didn't get his endorsement?
Matt: No, we knew we weren’t getting it. He told me early on throughout this whole process that he was friends with Jane, and that's where he was going to go.
Taylor: What do you make of your opponents in this race insisting, despite the lack of evidence, that the 2020 election was stolen? You've talked about it, you campaign about it, but what do you think of the fact that it's become kind of a core theme of this race?
Matt: It’s a core theme of their campaign, I don't think it's the theme of the race. I don't think it's what Ohio Republicans or Ohioans want to talk about. They want to talk about jobs, they want to talk about low taxes, they want to talk about economic security, neighborhood security, border security, that's what I'm talking about. You know, they're making a political calculus that it's going to appeal to one person. I want to appeal to all of Ohio and I am appealing to all of Ohio.
Taylor: You voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. You were against both of his impeachments. But you've said that if he were the GOP nominee again in 2024, that you would support him. How do you square that when you called the January 6th Capitol attack 'a failure of leadership.' And you said ‘too many so called leaders perpetuated lies about the outcome of the election.’ Why would you be open to still supporting him after that?
Matt: If he's the Republican nominee going against the Biden administration — when you look at what was accomplished under the Trump administration, Republican ideas were put into place, our country was economically stronger, our taxes were lower, our stronger world, our border was secure. It's a no-brainer. Look, I don't agree with his personality, I don't have his personality, I don't agree with the way he behaves. But if you're telling me that it's between getting that back into our country, or continuing what we're doing with Joe Biden, it's a no-brainer.
Taylor: Would you be open to supporting him in a primary?
Matt: That I will look at everyone. I mean, I'm focused on ’22, making sure that in ’22 we gain the majority. Stop the Biden administration and then set the table for a Republican administration in the White House. I will look closely and carefully as the senator for Ohio, who amongst the Republican nominees is going to execute, put Republican ideas that are good for the United States and good for Ohio.
Taylor: Last question. You've been very public about the fact that you are self funding this campaign so far. You've put in at least $10.5 million. Some of your family members have started a super PAC that they’ve $3 million into it. What do you say to voters who look at that and say 'Matt you might be a nice guy, but you're trying to buy this election?’
Taylor: Well, I'm not. I mean, we need resources to win elections. Because I was doing my job as a state senator, I haven't been in the race for over a year like my opponents have been. So I knew I wanted to be competitive. So we are raising money. We raised money in the fourth quarter. We’re continuing to raise money as we go through. We have fundraisers setup all throughout. But in order to win a campaign, you have to have the right messenger, me. You have to have the right message, economic security — fighting for Ohio. And you have to have the resources to get that message out. That's what we're doing in this campaign.
Taylor: Do you have a limit for how much you'll put in?
Matt: The economic resources that we’re raising throughout Ohio will put us in a great position. We have the most cash on hand now. And we're continuing to raise money throughout.
Taylor: Alright. We covered a lot. Thanks so much.
Matt: Thank you.
End of interview.