Going into Tuesday’s election, the adage “be careful what you wish for” could well have applied to either Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, seeking re-election, or former congressman John Kasich, seeking to replace Strickland.
In either case, the winner was going to face four years of almost impossible challenges in a state where people continue to demand services, expect investment in infrastructure and education so as to create or attract jobs, complain about the level of taxation and don’t seem to understand why they can’t have it all.
The stakes were high, not only for Strickland, Kasich and Ohio, but for the national political parties.
Ohio is one of the most volatile of the swing states and the party that holds the governorship in 2012 would presumably inherit an advantage in the presidential race. That’s why the state saw so many national political luminaries in the final weeks of the campaign. And why it was virtually impossible to turn on a television set without an ad from one side bashing the other — and, yes, most of the advertising was of the bashing variety.
And in the end, Ohio was caught up in — no, it was a leader in — the movement to replace Democrats with Republicans.
Look at the outcome. Not only did Kasich oust Strickland, but Republicans swept every statewide office — U.S. senator, treasurer, auditor and secretary of state, attorney general, three Ohio Supreme Court races, retook control of the state House, retained control of the state Senate and dramatically improved its hold on the Ohio delegation to the U.S. House.
Republicans in Ohio are now in a far stronger position than the man attributed with giving them there Tuesday sweep, President Barack Obama, whose party controlled the House with the help of a contingent of Blue Dog Democrats and the Senate with enough votes to spare to stop some Republican filibusters.
If, as Republicans successfully argued, there was no excuse for Obama not to have solved America’s problems in 21 months, Ohio’s incoming governor, John Kasich, should expect to be held to no less of a standard.
Hitting the books
Both Kasich and Strickland knew that they were going to face an enormous challenge in balancing Ohio’s budget and Ohio — unlike the federal government — must balance its books. It is constitutionally required to do so; it is unable to carry an operating deficit from one year to the next and obviously can’t print money to pad its books.
Strickland was fuzzy during the campaign about how he’d attack the problem. Kasich absolutely refused to be specific about where he’d make cuts — saying only that he had done so before when he was in Congress and would do so again. He doubled down by pledging not only to balance the budget, but to do so while cutting taxes — again, without saying how he’d accomplish that.
His improbable promises, coupled with his refusal to be specific, was one of the main reasons The Vindicator found it impossible to endorse him.
What comes next
We are now prepared to be wowed by his budgetary prowess. We eagerly await the list of things he will cut to remove $4 billion to $8 billion from the next biennial budget without breaking faith with his constituents. And we would guess that most of his constituents would consider it a break of faith if the elderly were denied nursing home care. Or if state universities no longer provided their communities with comprehensive educational opportunities or were forced to institute dramatic increases in tuition and fees. Or if the cost of running pubic schools were shifted to local property taxes, especially since in Tuesday’s election only about half of the school levies on the ballot passed and only about a quarter of the ones seeking new money were approved.
Kasich has said nothing will be off the table as he and his advisers work on the budget that must be submitted by March 15. And that, by the standards he has set, must include tax cuts and must make Ohio a more attractive place for business. Kasich blamed Strickland for the state’s loss of jobs — in commercials, in his stump speeches and during candidate debates. He touted his experience in creating jobs and left himself no wiggle room in his promise to deliver.
If he succeeds, he will have earned every accolade that should come his way — from supporters, doubters and detractors alike. If he fails, he and his party should be held to the standard they established in the recently completed election campaign.
He’s headed toward one of two fates: He deserves to either be hailed as a conquering hero or hoisted on his own petard.