So, why is Ohio Gov. John Kasich coming all the way from Columbus to attend Monday’s installation of Jim Tressel as president of Youngstown State University?
The official reason given by the governor’s communications director, Rob Nichols, is that Kasich and Tressel are friends.
Nichols explained that while there have been other university presidents installed in the 44 months his boss has been in office, they were out-of-staters. In other words, Kasich didn’t know them the way he knows the former football coach of Ohio State University and YSU and former vice president for student success at the University of Akron.
So much for the official explanation.
But, no columnist (in these dog days of summer) would pass up the chance to speculate on the real reason a Republican governor would venture into a heavily Democratic region that he has little chance of carrying in the November general election. Kasich is being challenged in his re-election bid by Democrat Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive.
Indeed, after the Senate Bill 5 (collective bargaining reform law) controversy in 2011, the governor is viewed with much suspicion in the pro-union Mahoning Valley. Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly rammed through SB 5 that stripped state workers off many collective bargaining rights they’ve enjoyed for nearly three decades.
Reaction to the law from the private and public sector labor unions and the state Democratic Party was fast and furious. They collected more than 1 million signatures to put the law up for a referendum vote. The turnout in the 2011 general election was huge, and when the ballots were counted, more than 60 percent of the voters rendered the collective bargaining reform law null and void.
Since then, Kasich has been trying to make nice with the unions. Why?
The governor, who served in Congress and was chairman of the House budget committee, a managing director of Lehman Brother’s Columbus office and a commentator on Fox News channel, has set his sights on the 2016 presidential election. No, Kasich has not publicly confirmed that he’s going to seek the Republican nomination for president, but several of the moves he’s made politically certainly point in that direction.
Let’s start with the national Republican Party selecting Cleveland — yes, that Democratic stronghold — to host the GOP national convention.
Since Ohio will be the state that decides the presidential election, Kasich would have a clear advantage were he to seek the GOP nomination.
His presence Monday afternoon at Youngstown State University for Tressel’s installation has political implications that can’t be overlooked.
For starters, the governor will be sharing the stage with one of the most popular football coaches in the history of Ohio State. Tressel led the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2002. This, after he directed Youngstown State to four Division IAA national football championships.
Tressel’s popularity, as evidenced by the strong support he received from business, political and community leaders for the YSU presidency, is revealing — to say the least.
He was forced to resign from the Ohio State job in May 2011 after it was discovered that he lied to the NCAA about knowing that some of his players had violated the rules by getting tattoos, cash and other items of value in exchange for OSU football memorabilia.
It is instructive that opposition to Tressel’s presidency was muted.
Tomorow’s installation will bring out the Valley’s movers and shakers — and the governor’s presence will endear him to these moneyed disciples of Tress.
In an effort to expand his political base, Kasich has taken positions on a couple of major issues that has put him at odds with the GOP’s right wingers.
He has made it clear on several occasions that turning Ohio into a right-to-work state is not on his agenda. Democrats don’t believe him.
And, the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid — as called for in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — despite the GOP-led Legislature refusing to do so was clearly designed to show he’s a kinder, gentler Republican.