Ted Strickland made the right decision in passing on the race for governor next year. A rematch with John Kasich would likely have involved too much rehashing of the past, Strickland having narrowly lost the office two years ago. Ohio would benefit from a campaign that looks forward, something Democrats would do well to keep in mind as they search for a candidate and play the role of opposition at the Statehouse.
No doubt, Strickland moved the state ahead as governor, most notably, in constructing a promising framework for funding public schools and in elevating higher education, bringing additional resources and focus to the mission. He steered the state through the harsh recession, making hard choices yet protecting leading priorities.
Many Democrats see a ripe opportunity for regaining the governor’s office. They point to the polls showing Kasich with an approval rating in the low 40s, and similar numbers concerning his re-election. Listen to State Rep. Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, and the flavor of the party message is hard to miss, jabbing Kasich for an “anti-worker, anti-woman agenda that has unfairly skyrocketed local taxes.”
Democrats did rally in the wake of the Republican debacle involving Senate Bill 5, the governor’s fingerprints all over misguided rewriting of the state collective bargaining law. The concept of going too far applies to Republican efforts to limit abortion rights. A vigorous argument should be held about investing adequately in public education, which has suffered under the governor.
Yet Democrats fool themselves if they think a successful race for governor need only be a referendum on John Kasich. The governor is a bundle of ideas, some flawed, others not. It will require competing and sound ideas, effectively articulated, to mount a strong challenge to a second term.
Unfortunately, that kind of alternative voice has been missing at the Statehouse. To be sure, Democrats lack numbers in the legislature. Redfern knows how to snap towels. State Sen. Nina Turner does outrage. State Sen. Tom Sawyer, among others, works well with Republicans to improve legislation. What is the Democratic vision for the state? Concerning education? Cities? The state economy and job creation? Hard to tell.
Of late, many Democrats have recalled the election of Richard Celeste three decades ago. Whatever the troubles of his administration, he was a governor of big ideas, passionate about modernizing and advancing Ohio. He is worth keeping in mind as Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Richard Cordray, Betty Sutton and others weigh a run for governor. Will the Democratic candidate offer something fresh and decisive in seeking the votes of Ohioans?