Bloomberg News

Kasich Recasts Himself as Healer After Ohioans Spurn Union Law

February 13, 2012

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ohio Governor John Kasich spent much of his first year pushing a law to rein in public-employee unions. Now, with voters having shot it down, he is recasting his agenda to include “tough environmental rules” and pleas for bipartisanship.

“You look at what’s happening in Washington,” Kasich, a 59-year-old Republican, said yesterday during a speech to lawmakers gathered in the auditorium of Steubenville High School in eastern Ohio. “Do we want to be them? They can’t get out of their own way; the country’s losing faith. So together, we’ve got to make sure that we move forward.”

Republican governors’ efforts to restrict unions have split citizens on partisan lines. Mitch Daniels championed Indiana’s transformation to a right-to-work state, a vote Democratic lawmakers stalled with weeks of boycotted sessions. Scott Walker faces a possible recall in Wisconsin after lawmakers approved his bill curtailing government workers’ bargaining rights. Since Kasich’s rebuff in November, he has said he wants Ohioans to come together once more.

“I think you’ve got to steer clear of mindless partisanship,” Kasich said. “They don’t give you awards for being a partisan.”

The governor’s speech fits the mood of voters tired of infighting, as well as the perception that Republicans overreached last year, said John C. Green, who teaches politics at the University of Akron.

“One goal of the speech may have been to stress the governor’s willingness to be cooperate on legislation,” Green said by e-mail.

Suffer the Children

Kasich, a former Fox News commentator elected in 2010, gave the annual State of the State address to a relocated joint session of the Legislature in the city of 18,659 about 150 miles (240 kilometers) east of Columbus on the Ohio River across from West Virginia. It was the first time the speech wasn’t delivered at the Capitol, Jane Mason, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Historical Society, said by e-mail.

The governor said he wanted to give the speech there because Steubenville’s Wells Academy, housed at the high school, is the state’s highest-ranking elementary school as measured by test results, according to the district’s website.

“In the teachers’ minds and the administrators’ minds, nothing stands in the way of kids being great,” Kasich said. “Not poverty, not broken homes.”

Acts, Not Words

House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood, and Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney questioned whether the governor could live up to such inspirational and bipartisan ideals after the union legislation was “rammed through.”

“He can say bipartisanship, but he doesn’t act like it,” Kearney, of Cincinnati, said in an interview, adding that Kasich hasn’t responded to a jobs plan offered by Senate Democrats.

Steubenville, birthplace of singer Dean Martin and Edwin Stanton, who was President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, sits atop natural-gas deposits in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Kasich has said they may lead Ohio to an economic resurgence thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which chemical-laced water is used to free trapped gas.

Millions of dollars have flowed into southeast Ohio in bonus checks of as much as $5,500 an acre that drilling companies including Chesapeake Energy Corp. have been paying landowners, Larry Piergallini, 57, a farmer and lawyer from Tiltonsville, said in a telephone interview.

Some, though, have blamed wastewater disposal wells for a rash of earthquakes in the state.

‘Selling Out Ohio’

Drilling companies understand that states need tough environmental rules because “we can’t have some yahoo come into this state, and damage this whole industry because they’re irresponsible,” the governor said in his speech.

“You cannot degrade the environment at the same time you’re producing this industry,” Kasich said. “It is not acceptable, and it’s not a false choice.”

Protesters in the balcony interrupted him. One woman called out, “John Kasich is selling out Ohio,” as state troopers escorted her from the auditorium. A group that Steubenville Police Captain Joel Walker estimated at 200 demonstrated outside the school.

Republican Senate President Thomas Niehaus of New Richmond said in an interview that he hopes the two parties can overcome last year’s anger. He encouraged a bipartisan bowling outing with senators last week, he said.

“It’s a two-way street,” Niehaus said in an interview. “We’re certainly willing to go down that road, but you also have to have someone willing to walk that road with you.”

--Editors: Stephen Merelman, Ted Bunker

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus at mniquette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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