It should have been John Kasich, the governor of battleground Ohio, standing next to Mitt Romney, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee introduced his vice presidential running mate. After all, Kasich taught Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan just about everything he knows about the federal budget — and yet it was Ryan taking the bows.
To be sure, the seven-term representative from Janesville, Wis., has earned the accolades he’s receiving from Republicans around the country. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he developed a blueprint for balancing the budget that has GOP right-wingers swooning because it rewards the rich with tax cuts and punishes the working poor with major reductions in safety-net programs that are essential in an economy still reeling from the recession that began in the latter part of Republican President George W. Bush’s second term.
But, there’s no denying that Romney’s running mate found conservative religion when he worked for the budget committee in 1995 under Chairman Kasich.
Indeed, during his campaign for governor in 2010, Kasich made much of the fact that as chairman he not only developed a balanced budget, but worked effectively with then Democratic President Bill Clinton.
That, coupled with Ohio’s job-creation rate over the past 19 months, should have made Kasich a strong contender for the vice presidential slot.
So, why wasn’t he even considered for the post? The answer lies in what has become his opponents’ battle cry: Senate Bill 5. The measure virtually stripped Ohio’s public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
Kasich was the brains behind the bill, and Republicans in control of the General Assembly were just as eager as their leader to stick it to the unions. Without any support from Democrats in the House and Senate, the GOP rammed the measure through — and in so doing sealed Kasich’s political fate.
The public employee unions, with the backing of the Ohio Democratic Party and private sector unions, launched a referendum drive that not only blocked the law from taking effect, but garnered petition signatures from hundreds of thousands of Ohioans.
An issue was placed on the November 2011 general election ballot that sought the repeal of SB 5. By an overwhelming majority, the voters said no to the Republicans’ plan to deprive public employees the bargaining rights they had enjoyed for decades.
But the vote was more than a victory for the unions and their Democratic allies. It was a major defeat for Kasich, whose aspirations for national office came to a screeching halt.
The governor is toxic, which is why he wasn’t on Romney’s short — or long — list for running mate.
On the other hand, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was one of the top three contenders. Talk about salt in Kasich’s political wounds.
Portman had served as White House chief counsel under President George H.W. Bush, and as U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
Given Ohio’s importance in the presidential sweepstakes, you would think that Kasich would be playing a leading role at the Republican National Convention that begins Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
Yes, he will be one of a long list of speakers, but he won’t be delivering the keynote address. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will command that spotlight.
And, he won’t be introducing the presidential nominee. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will have the chance to burnish his image nationally on the most important day of the convention.
As of this writing, organizers of the GOP convention had not announced who in the supporting cast that includes Kasich will be given prime-time speaking assignments.
The governor should have been in the top tier, considering that Ohio voters could well decide the outcome of the November general election.
But, the Romney campaign cannot risk having Kasich play so prominent a role that he becomes a lightning rod for the labor unions and public employees who view Senate Bill 5 as a defining moment in their political awakening in Ohio. They went to sleep in the 2010 statewide elections and the GOP won big.