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Strickland fires back at Kasich

Published: Sun, January 30, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

“I don’t believe he was telling the truth.”

With that searing statement, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland broke his silence to challenge the claim of his successor, John Kasich, that top executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler told him they weren’t happy with the treatment they received from the previous administration.

“I question his honesty in the way he’s presenting this,” said Strickland, a Democrat who lost his bid for a second four-year term last November. “I just think it’s so inconsistent with my experience, my personal relationship I had with these individuals.”

And, the supposed critical comments from the auto execs are inconsistent with the major investments the companies have made in this state, the former governor told this writer in a telephone conversation Thursday from Columbus. He pointed to GM’s Lordstown assembly plant as proof of Ohio’s success in competing with other states for new products.

The Cruze

The Lordstown plant was chosen over several around the country to manufacture the Chevrolet Cruze, GM’s latest offering in the highly competitive compact car market. The company spent more than $350 million upgrading the plant. The Cruze replaced the highly successful Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. The company had invested $1 billion at the complex preparing for the launch of those models.

Nonetheless, Republican Gov. Kasich has dwelled on the report he first gave Jan. 13 of his meeting in Detroit with officials of the three companies that he said was “very sobering and, in some ways, very disturbing.”

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Kasich, who took office on Jan. 10 after his narrow gubernatorial election victory, declined to elaborate on his comments. But, he left the impression that at least some executives are not happy with how they have been treated in Ohio, the Dispatch reported.

“I heard words like noncompetitive,” Kasich said. “I heard words like non-cooperative. I heard words like created a bad attitude and a bad impression. We are not viewed in that community as the most forward-looking state.”

Spokesmen for Chrysler and General Motors declined to discuss specifics about what they said were private business meetings, but both characterized the sessions as “positive.”

Pete Lawson, vice president for Ford’s federal and state governmental relations, issued a statement saying, “The fact that Governor Kasich came to talk with us just three days after being sworn in sends a strong message about how much he values American manufacturing. We appreciate the governor’s strong focus on making Ohio a more competitive place to do business.”

But Strickland noted that he and his lieutenant governor, Lee Fisher, who also served as development director, visited Detroit every quarter and met with the chief executive officers of GM, Chrysler and Ford.

He also contended that the relationship between his administration and the auto executives was solidified when he publicly warned the Ohio General Assembly he would veto any bill that sought to force the auto makers to keep franchise dealerships open. This was in the midst of the reorganization of the industry in which GM and Chrysler took billions of dollars from the federal government to keep from going under. Ford did not accept any federal bailout money.

“I don’t believe Lordstown would exist had it not been for government assistance,” Strickland said, pointing out that Kasich during the campaign had opposed the federal bailout of the American auto industry.

As for his relationships with the executives, the former governor noted that he was invited by GM’s top brass to drive the first Cruze off the assembly line. “They didn’t have to do that. They took the initiative to do that.”

Governor’s visit

Strickland said that when he first heard Kasich’s comment, he “just kind of dismissed it,” but he decided to speak out now because the governor came to the Valley last week, toured the Lordstown plant and repeated what he claims he was told in Detroit.

It is important to remember that Kasich has refused to reveal who in Detroit made the derogatory comments about the previous administration and Ohio’s business climate.

The governor’s intransigence in naming names so reporters can find out for themselves what was said and meant is troubling. Fairness demands full disclosure.

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