There were those words again — “amazing. … astounding.” John Kasich was celebrating the recent legislative session, lawmakers sending to the governor’s desk a tall stack of bills, the subjects ranging from education to oil and gas drilling, from human trafficking to criminal sentencing.
What seemed especially to tickle the governor and his companions at the press conference, Tom Niehaus, the Senate president, and Bill Batchelder, the House speaker, was the Democratic support for so much of the legislation. Here was bipartisanship in action, they crowed.
They sported numbers to prove their point. Of the 198 bills approved by the Senate since January 2011, 159 gained bipartisan support. In the House, the number was 70 of 96 bills. They stressed that the bipartisanship was more pronounced in the most recent flurry of legislative activity.
The governor attributes the trend to the compelling quality of the ideas and policies. Even Democrats cannot resist, the thinking goes.
To his credit, Kasich does have good ideas, including the need for a more entrepreneurial culture in the state. Worth adding is that many of the ideas were percolating at the Statehouse long before he arrived.
What the governor emphasizes, in comparison to “dysfunctional” Washington, is that he has taken the lead. “When I started in Ohio,” he recently shared on Meet the Press, “it was terrible. You know what? We’re now getting bipartisan support for our bills. And that’s called leadership.”
So the nation’s capital can learn about governing from Ohio?
Kasich skips past one glaring difference. Washington features divided government, Democrats holding the White House, Republicans in charge of the House, the Senate tied up by the filibuster and other rules empowering the minority. At the Statehouse? The governor and his fellow Republicans enjoy large majorities in both legislative chambers.
Yes, Democrats have been voting with Republicans. They don’t exactly have ample leverage.
What does real bipartisanship look like? Return to the early 1990s, George Voinovich the governor, Vern Riffe the speaker, Republican contending with Democrat.
Or more recently, Ted Strickland, Democratic governor, working initially with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Every bill that reached the governor was a product of bipartisanship. That doesn’t mean it was an era of good feeling. Recall the shocked look of Jon Husted, then the speaker, when Strickland, delighted about the state budget winning near unanimous support, delivered a spontaneous bipartisan hug.
Of the Republican officeholders around the state capital today, Husted (now the secretary of state) can boast most loudly about working with the other party. He joined Strickland in advancing higher education, too long neglected by their predecessors. Together, they gave needed authority to the chancellor and devised a compact, a tuition freeze in exchange for added resources at state universities.
They put together an early stimulus package, $1.57 billion devoted to such things as public works, advanced energy and work force development. They battled over a mammoth electricity restructuring bill, ultimately sharpening the focus of the rules under which utilities operate.
None of this was easy, each side seeking to hold the other accountable, engaging in give and take, stakeholders in the process. They faced a deadline for electricity restructuring. The economy was turning downward.
By the second half of his term, Strickland had a Democratic majority in the House. He still had to work with Senate Republicans, revenue hemorrhaging, as they patched an $800 million budget hole.
Practically everyone grasps why John Kasich and Republicans have been repeating the B-word. The Senate Bill 5 fiasco divided Ohioans, Democrats hoping to carry the fury into this November. Now is the time to press the case about a Republican leadership working well with others.
Of the recent legislative session, one thing is most telling: The clashes of substance mostly were bicameral, Republicans in the Senate jousting with Republicans in the House. Democrats often joined the fray to push provisions they viewed as better.
If Democrats had control of one chamber? You can bet the legislation involving the third grade reading guarantee would have a different shape. So would the regulations involving oil and gas drilling. Frank Jackson won much applause for bringing home dramatic changes in the way the Cleveland schools are run. The mayor may not have had to give away as much.
House Democrats proposed to route surplus funds to schools and local governments whacked in the state budget. They may have achieved a portion of the plan. The governor may have gotten his severance tax.
Democratic lawmakers were quick to note that for all the pats on the back about bipartisanship, no Democrat was invited to appear with the governor, speaker and Senate president. That has been the tradition, the trio alone gathering. In this instance, it also was an honest reflection.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.