Republican Gov. John Kasich may have found the antidote to political poison he ingested in 2011 when Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected his attempt to strip public employees of the collective bargaining rights they have enjoyed for three decades. The unions and the Democratic Party promised to make Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining reform law, an issue in next year’s statewide election.
But last week, Kasich forced Democrats to give him grudging praise when he shoved aside Republicans in the General Assembly to achieve his goal of expanding Medicaid in Ohio.
With the GOP-controlled Legislature refusing to pass a bill to expand the health care program for low-income individuals, Kasich decided to seek approval from the State Controlling Board. The governor was successful, conservative Republican groups were angry and promised a court battle, and Democrats were effusive in their praise.
Affordable Care Act
Why? Because the expansion of Medicaid is a key part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. Republicans are determined to derail the health care reform initiative, while Democrats are trying to win over an uncertain public.
The expansion of Medicaid in Ohio is a major victory for the White House — even though credit goes to a Republican governor.
But even as they acknowledged Kasich’s defiance of his Republican colleagues in the Legislature, Democrats tried to score political points.
Here’s the statement from Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party:
“Today is a momentous day for all Ohioans. As a member of the seven member Controlling Board, I am proud to say I voted ‘Yes’ to temporarily expand Medicaid access.
“Because of this vote, 275,000 more Ohioans will be covered under Medi-caid. However, this is only a temporary expansion under the current budget.
“Although I may not agree with the fact that Governor Kasich moved this through the Controlling Board instead of the appropriate legislative process, I voted “Yes” because of my support of Obamacare.
“Close to 300,000 Ohioans should not be denied access to Medicaid because the governor was unable to show leadership in his party throughout the House and Senate.”
That criticism of Kasich does not resonate because had the governor not thrown political caution to the wind by defying members of his party, Redfern and other Democrats on the Controlling Board would not have had a chance to strike a blow for Obamacare.
The governor, who will seek re-election next year, has not only taken away a major issue Democrats would have rallied around, but he has made peace with many of the groups that were angry with him over Senate Bill 5.
After all, the working poor who will now be covered by Medicaid are part of the Democratic Party base.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, was one of the first officeholders to acknowledge Kasich’s move.
“I commend Governor Kasich for advocating for the expansion of Medicaid and I applaud the vote by the Controlling Board. This expansion will help fill a serious gap in our health care delivery system by removing the financial barrier to preventative and emergency medical care that hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have faced.”
Is there any doubt that such statements from prominent Democrats in Ohio will be used next year in the governor’s campaign ads?
But while Kasich may have neutralized the political poison from Senate Bill 5, he still has a potential headache next year: A proposed “right to work” constitutional amendment.
Proponents of the issue are proceeding with their campaign to secure 385,247 valid signatures to place the amendment on the 2014 general election ballot.
Kasich has made it clear he does not want to see “right to work” become an issue next year because it would energize the unions and their Democratic Party allies.
It would have the same political effect as Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining reform law that was overturned at the polls.
However, given the governor’s defiance with regard to the expansion of Medicaid, party elders may decide to teach him a lesson by forcing him to campaign for re-election with “right-to-work” hanging over his head.