Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich put Statehouse lobbyists on alert Thursday: They'd better get on board with upcoming budget cuts.
The former Republican congressman told about 200 guests at a luncheon gathering at a suburban Columbus restaurant that he won't allow political bickering to hurt his intentions to position Ohio for economic recovery. Kasich beat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in Tuesday's election.
"Changes are coming," he said. "Some of it will be uncomfortable for people, but this is our chance to save this state. I don't think there's much time left. Our brand is starting to change now and we need to rebuild it, and we can."
Kasich invited ideas for solving the state's looming $4 billion to $8 billion budget deficit and welcomed lobbyists and policy experts to intervene when they see him going astray. He likened government policymaking to the process of developing a product for customers.
"If you think I'm going in the wrong direction, stop me. I don't want to drive over a cliff, I just want to be a good governor," he said. "And in being a good governor, I just want you to be part of the team; that's all I want."
Kasich then issued a stern warning for lobbyists to put aside business as usual or they'd be left out of the budget-writing process that is a livelihood to many.
"Please leave the cynicism and the political maneuvering at the door, because we need you on the bus," he said. "And if you're not on the bus we will run over you with the bus. I'm not kidding."
Kasich campaigned on promises to cut taxes and the size of state government, and has said he would take steps to eliminate the state income tax.
Across town, Strickland drew applause during a surprise visit to a Statehouse policy conference.
During his impromptu appearance at the Columbus Convention Center, Strickland made the former Cuyahoga County Democratic chairman who's been embroiled in a corruption scandal the butt of an election-year joke.
"I'm here to make an announcement: This race is not over," Strickland said, prompting laughter in the crowd. "I have just been told that they found 200,000 uncounted votes stuffed in Jimmy Dimora's desk."
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine commended Strickland for showing up at the event - just two days after his defeat.
"It speaks to the character, I think, of the man who stepped forward and led this state for the last four years," DeWine said.
DeWine cautioned fellow Republicans from reading too much into their Election Day sweep in Ohio. The party took control of all five statewide offices, won both chambers of the Legislature, and ousted the only Democrat from the Ohio Supreme Court.
He said it was a message to President Barack Obama that he'd gone too far - more a rejection of the party in power than an embrace of the GOP.
At his event, Kasich lamented the nastiness of the governor's race. He said he will become an advocate for cleaner campaigns in order to attract good candidates to seek public office.
But he also pointed to his victory in one of the nation's toughest governor's races as a cautionary tale to those who would think his campaign promises were not sincere.
"For those who are sitting in this room that think, 'We've heard this before': I had 12 visits by a president, somewhere between $45 and $50 million (spent against me), 500 paid volunteers in here calling me every name in the book, former presidents, first ladies and God knows who else," he said.
"And we beat all of them. And if you think you're going to stop us, you're crazy. You will not stop us. We will beat you."