Everywhere you look, John Kasich is running into obstacles to his grand visions. Or, as the governor once put it, he is “tripping over anthills on the way to the pyramids.”
Key elements of Kasich’s grand bargain — a reduction in income tax rates largely offset by broadening the state sales tax and increasing severance taxes on oil and natural gas — are in serious trouble in the Republican-dominated legislature.
This week, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which supported Kasich’s run for governor, weighed in against the sales tax expansion and severance tax increases, although it voiced support for modest income tax cuts. Last week, House Speaker Bill Batchelder called the idea of increasing severance taxes “nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Kasich has been fighting with Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor, over Yost’s authority to audit JobsOhio, the private, nonprofit agency the governor wants to lead economic development. Republican Yost got the records he wanted, but the fight is not over because JobsOhio depends on a flow of public money (profits from the state’s liquor monopoly) to back its bonds.
Kasich is also at odds with legislators over their restrictions on toll increases for the Ohio Turnpike and limits on where revenue from bonds backed by turnpike tolls can be spent. More, his plan to expand Medicaid is meeting resistance from members of his own party who opposed the Affordable Care Act, under which the expansion would take place.
How all this might affect Kasich’s re-election campaign next year is not yet clear. He is not likely to face a primary opponent, and Democrats, so far, have not managed to inflict much damage.
What Kasich is discovering, the hard way, is that Ohio is, essentially, conservative, not in an ideological sense but in a practical sense. In other words, most Ohio voters are wary of major shifts in how state government gets its revenues and how it operates, preferring incremental change or the status quo. That means letting the ants in on your plans before stomping on their anthills.
Kasich, who got his start in the legislature but spent most of his political career in the U.S. House, might want to take into account how Ohio’s recent governors and U.S. senators have operated. Most have been pragmatists, such as Republicans James Rhodes, George Voinovich and Bob Taft. Ohio’s Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Voinovich, Mike DeWine and now Rob Portman, have also sought to maintain an image of moderation.
Among Democrats, Richard Celeste won two terms in the governor’s office by attracting support from the business community.
The exception was John Gilligan, who supported the state’s first personal income tax and instituted a sweeping reorganization of state government. He then lost a bid for a second term.
Among Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Howard Metzenbaum stood out as a liberal, but cloaked his views in populist rhetoric, convincing voters that his role in Washington was to fight for the average person, not follow an ideological agenda. It is no accident that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is following the example set by his Democratic predecessor. Also worth noting is that in his years in the U.S. Senate, no one ever looked at John Glenn as an ideological warrior.
Kasich’s improving polls numbers, a reflection of improving economic conditions, do give him a solid underpinning for his re-election campaign.
If Republicans can compromise on the issues now dividing them, and the legislature delivers even a small cut in state income tax rates, Kasich could enter 2014 projecting himself as the savior of Ohio’s economy — even though President Obama’s auto bailout and gas and oil entrepreneurs had a lot to do with the turnaround.
Democrats will have campaign fodder, to be sure, if Kasich and his allies agree to broadening of the sales tax and increasing severance taxes.
But what Democrats really need is a candidate who presents not just a critique of where the Republicans are taking Ohio, but an alternative course, reasonable alternatives that appeal to the middle of the electorate, which is where, as the state’s governors and U.S. senators have shown, Ohio elections are usually won.
My Feb. 28 column about Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover failed to note that he was first appointed to the bench, filling a vacancy on what was then the Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court. The appointment was made by George Voinovich, on the recommendation of Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff and the party’s executive committee.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.