By Reginald Fields
John Kasich’s first two months as governor have been a whirlwind of gutsy decision-making, public relations gaffes and a few bipartisan successes.
The Republican leader admits his busy pace may be to his detriment. He wonders if most Ohioans understand what he is about and what he is trying to do.
On Tuesday, Kasich will slow down long enough to deliver his first State of the State speech.
“I want to give people a sense of what our problems are, what I think the solutions can be and what are some of the good things in this state that will allow us to be prosperous again,” Kasich said in an interview last week.
Don’t expect major announcements or specifics about his much-anticipated budget, due March 15. Instead, the governor will try to recapture the tone set with his Jan. 10 inaugural address when he implored Ohioans to be unselfish and encouraged a sense of oneness.
The governor, who writes his own speeches, has still not finished the address. But he knows that he will take the time to highlight his early success in upsetting Ohio’s status quo.
Kasich lists among his accomplishments:
The passage of his Jobs-Ohio plan. It will eventually eliminate the Ohio Department of Development and privatizes the state’s economic development efforts.
A bill he signed Friday which he calls his Common Sense Initiative, CSI, for reforming business regulatory practices in the state. It makes it easier for businesses to operate in Ohio, and it received bipartisan support in the legislature.
House Bill 58, which the governor will sign today in Cleveland. The tax reform law contains provisions state and local officials hope will persuade greeting-card maker American Greetings to keep its headquarters in the Cleveland area. The company had considered a move to Chicago.
And Senate Bill 5, the controversial collective-bargaining bill approved by the Senate and now awaiting hearings in the Ohio House. Kasich considers it to be a bright spot of his administration, a key point of his overall agenda.
Union-led protests against Kasich and Senate Bill 5 at the Statehouse have been unlike any that legislative observers can recall and have drawn national attention. Protesters are expected for Tuesday’s speech. The governor says that he understands the passion but that the larger goal of helping state and local governments control their costs is more important.
“Between the passage of legislation that should help us to retain some companies in Ohio, the passage of collective bargaining, the passage of JobsOhio, the passage of the common sense initiative,” said Kasich, “I think there has been a significant amount accomplished in a period of about 45 days.”
Kasich is pushing a conservative agenda and has the support of a Republican-controlled Legislature that so far has gone along with the governor’s wishes.
The governor said he wonders why he hasn’t received more favorable coverage across the state for his accomplishments.
But then again, he knows why.
He vows to do a better job keeping in check his off-the-cuff remarks, which have landed him in trouble.
In January, Kasich defended hiring what was then an all-white Cabinet by defiantly equating calls for diversity as calls for quotas. Kasich has since hired minorities for key roles in his Cabinet and for important boards, such as the casino commission.
And last month a video surfaced of the governor calling a Columbus police officer an “idiot” because the officer had given Kasich a traffic ticket three years earlier. The governor has since met with the officer and apologized.
Kasich said his focus is lowering unemployment and decreasing poverty. He figures he can accomplish both goals by helping bring more jobs to Ohio.
He’s also bouncing around a few other ideas that may get mention in his speech Tuesday.
“I haven’t decided,” he said.
Kasich said Ohio has 63,000 public and private- company job openings. His staff is working on a program to help qualified job applicants find those jobs, which the governor says aren’t always advertised where people may be looking.
The governor is also considering ways to better link universities and community and technical colleges and to connect those schools to businesses.
And the governor says he will put more focus on helping urban areas. He is looking at projects elsewhere in the country where cities are trying to reclaim neighborhoods.
He also wants community programs that receive state funding to do more work together rather separately on projects.
“All designed to create an environment where we can begin to win the battle against unemployment and poverty,” Kasich said. “It’s all designed to create a platform for economic growth, job creation.”
During a visit last week to the Honda plant in Marysville, company officials told the governor they needed more robotics technicians. Kasich wonders if it would be possible to place a technical college at Honda to help the company begin grooming its future employees.