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John Kasich's Evolution As Ohio Governor

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Ohio Governor John Kasich leaves office next week. His tone has changed dramatically, as he’s worked to accomplish his goals and create a national profile as a Trump critic and a promoter of bipartisan compromise. 

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler has this retrospective on Kasich’s eight years in office.  

Kasich launched his campaign in his adopted hometown of Westerville in June 2009 with this message: “We march over time to destroy that income tax that has sucked the vitality out of this state.”

Coming into his first election for governor, Kasich was confident, brash and apparently irritated – as evident in this interview after a speech in Findlay in October 2010.

“I wouldn’t presume to guess my economic program, ok? You’ll know about it when I put it out.”

A few weeks later, he won, but his start was rocky. This audio from a talk with lobbyists came out a few days after he was elected: “Please leave the cynicism and the political maneuvering at the door. Cause we need you on the bus, and if you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”

Then a few weeks after he took office, there was this in a speech to state EPA workers: “You ever been stopped by a policeman who was an idiot?”

That, and Kasich’s comment that he was waiting for teachers’ unions to take out full page ads apologizing for what they said about him during the campaign, went over especially poorly when the Republican-dominated legislature passed Senate Bill 5. Kasich supported that public sector collective bargaining reform law that unions furiously and loudly fought, including during his State of the State speech in March 2011.

That was the only State of the State address Kasich delivered at the Statehouse. He took the joint session speech to Steubenville, Lima, Medina, Wilmington, Marietta, Sandusky and then finally to Westerville. Those speeches have gotten mixed reviews – most were longer than an hour and few included new policies or ideas, and lawmakers began to complain about travel.

Senate Bill 5 was overwhelmingly defeated by voters in Kasich’s first year. Kasich was contrite in defeat and never again said he’d back so-called right to work legislation.

He turned then to leasing the Ohio Turnpike and increasing the tax on oil and gas fracking. Those failed, but he pushed Medicaid expansion through a state legislative panel against intra-party critics with some strong religious-themed language.

“When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer,” Kasich said.

In spite of Republican opposition to his Medicaid expansion, Kasich easily won his job again in 2014 over a scandal-hobbled Democratic candidate, riding a wave of popularity that propelled him to something he told me a few weeks before his re-election he wasn’t thinking about: “I don’t figure I’m moving out of Ohio. I’m expecting – that’s why I’m running for governor.”

When I asked if he had presidential aspirations, as he did once before, he admitted, “Well, I did. And that didn’t work out so well, or I wouldn’t be here doing this interview.”

He launched his second presidential campaign nine months later, and won only the Ohio primary. He suspended it in May 2016, taking no questions from dozens of reporters at the announcement.

Kasich has had a tumultuous relationship with the media. He said early on that he didn’t read Ohio newspapers and he often avoided gaggles and sit-downs with Statehouse reporters.

But by his last year, he was praising the press and was a regular on the national cable news shows – though he’s still critical, as he was of a Dispatch report on jobs growth in March. “Their numbers are wrong. So – fake news,” he said. He later apologized.

Kasich says he’s still considering challenging President Trump in 2020 – a decision he’ll have to make soon. But he told me if he does, he’d want to as a Republican, because he’s not a moderate.

“A moder – I don’t even know what that means. I’m a conservative, but my principles are in line with conservatism,” Kasich said.

But not necessarily on guns. Kasich had been endorsed by the NRA and signed several pieces of gun rights legislation. But after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida last February, a section of his website changed from “Defending the Second Amendment” to “Common Sense on the Second Amendment” as he was on CNN, calling on lawmakers to take some steps on gun control. While he vetoed the last gun bill he got, lawmakers overrode that, and his proposals went nowhere.  

The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.
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