The governor’s office said it didn’t happen on purpose, but there you had it: John Kasich’s State of the State speech Tuesday night just happened to occur a few hours after Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald delivered his State of the County speech.
What are we to make of this coincidence? Well, FitzGerald, who scheduled his speech before Kasich announced his date, is thinking seriously about challenging the governor when he seeks a second term in 2014.
Although they never mentioned each other in their remarks, the two executives provided a contrast in substance and style, likely foreshadowing a 2014 campaign.
Usually, “state of” speeches are full of lists only policy wonks could love. FitzGerald did follow that model, mainly listing his accomplishments in transforming Cuyahoga County’s governmental structure, long in the grip of a commissioner form of government that fostered corruption.
That corruption eventually led to a federal probe toppling Jimmy Dimora and his pals, paving the way for a charter form of government.
“The actions of federal law enforcement were really just phase one,” FitzGerald said. “Upon taking office, we launched phase two of the cleanup.”
The state of the county is definitely improving, said FitzGerald, pointing to, among other things, a reduction in government employees and total cash reserves of $183 million.
Kasich, more focused than in his past addresses, followed a style more typical of a campaign speech, his usual practice in public appearances, just in case his audience at Lima’s Civic Center had lingering doubts about how well things are going in Ohio.
But Kasich, too, listed accomplishments, especially in job creation, before moving on to a defense of the priorities he has included in his two-year budget plan, now being considered by the legislature.
Besides defining policies, “state of” speeches also define political personalities. Kasich, especially in his vigorous support of expanding Medicaid, appears ready to move more to the middle of the political spectrum, taking a page from the playbook of George W. Bush, the “compassionate conservative.”
FitzGerald, who outlined a 12-point, long term plan in his 2012 State of the County address, presented himself this year as the committed reformer, determined to see Cleveland and Cuyahoga County return to prosperity and stability.
The unspoken promise: I can do the same for the state as a whole. FitzGerald can be expected to outline his priorities for the state after he formally announces his campaign.
Only once could he have been said to jab at Kasich, and then, only obliquely. Talking about the county’s economic development fund, FitzGerald said the efforts “are creating real jobs that are supporting real families, not a philosophy of corporate giveaways whose benefits never trickle down to the rest of us.”
That could be taken as a jab at JobsOhio, the governor’s private job-creation agency, or at his plan to cut income tax rates, or both.
What emerged most clearly from the two speeches was a contrast in political philosophies.
In his remarks, FitzGerald, not surprisingly, placed emphasis on changing the structure of government to meet the needs of citizens.
Kasich, on the other had, devoted much of his remarks to his plan to change the structure of taxation in the state, encouraging business growth by cutting personal income taxes and taxes on small business.
Doing so depends on increasing the severance tax and broadening the base of the sales tax to include some services.
Although he showed compassion for those in need of medical care, the thrust of Kasich’s approach is much like that of former Gov. James Rhodes, who saw jobs as the solution to all social ills.
Kasich and FitzGerald are similar in that they see themselves as change agents, especially within their respective political parties.
FitzGerald can’t take credit for charter government in Cuyahoga County, but he can point to following through on fundamental structural changes.
What about Kasich? The success of his big ideas, on taxes and Medicaid, rests in the hands of the GOP-controlled legislature, most of its members running from districts drawn for Republicans.
That means strong pressure from the right wing, against Medicaid expansion and tax hikes, complicating Kasich’s ability to turn his speech Tuesday into a stump speech by next year.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.