COLUMBUS: Two photos — one real, one imagined — speak louder than a thousand words when trying to explain Gov. John Kasich’s failure to persuade fellow Republicans in the legislature to approve expanding Medicaid to provide health care to 275,000 Ohioans.
The first photo shows Kasich signing the state budget on June 30 flanked by six other white men — budget director Tim Keen and five Republican lawmakers.
Abortion rights supporters jumped on that photo. They said it proved that abortion restrictions in the budget resulted from anti-woman bias by white, male Republican legislators.
The photo, however, represents much more than a fight about abortion, as important as that issue is to both sides.
The new photo testifies to how politically homogenized Statehouse Republicans have become, dominated by white men from Ohio’s small towns and suburbs with a fervent anti-government bias.
To understand, contrast that photo with an imagined snapshot of Republican leaders when the GOP took over state government in the 1994 elections.
The 1994 snapshot was a celebration of diversity that put Democrats to shame.
At the center was Gov. George Voinovich, elected to a second term. He was a big city Republican who earned his urban bona fides as the popular mayor of Cleveland.
Jim Petro, the new auditor, was a moderate county commissioner and former state legislator from the Cleveland suburbs.
Two women in the snapshot represented Ohio “firsts.” Jo Ann Davidson, a pro-business fiscal conservative from suburban Columbus, was the first woman speaker of the Ohio House.
Betty Montgomery, a state legislator and former county prosecutor from Wood County in northwest Ohio, was Ohio’s first woman attorney general.
Davidson and Montgomery, by the way, were pro-choice, a credential that would doom their advancement in today’s Ohio Republican Party.
The Cincinnati three rounded out the snapshot.
Senate President Stan Aronoff was a pragmatic dealmaker who counted Democrats among his friends.
Every Ohio Republican snapshot needs a Taft and Bob of that famous family won a second term as secretary of state.
Ken Blackwell earlier had been appointed state treasurer by Voinovich. His election to that office in 1994 made him Ohio’s first black elected statewide officeholder. To date, no black Democrat has won a statewide race on his or her own.
Ironically, Blackwell is the member of the 1994 snapshot who would feel most at home in today’s Republican Party. His zealous commitment to fiscal and conservative orthodoxy explained why he got just 37 percent of the vote when Democrat Ted Strickland clobbered him in the 2006 governor’s race.
It’s almost certain Blackwell would have opposed the Medicaid expansion.
All the others would have found a way to back Kasich.
Kasich might be the only person in the new photo who could fit in the 1994 snapshot.
As governor, he’s combined a zeal for cutting taxes and creating jobs with a commitment to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and, by expanding Medicaid, healing the sick and preventing disease.
His knees don’t jerk just because the Medicaid expansion is part of Obamacare. Kasich isn’t allergic to Democratic presidents. When he was in Congress, he worked with Bill Clinton to help balance the federal budget. Now he’s willing to work with Barack Obama to make sure Ohioans get the health care they need and deserve.
That kind of pragmatism dominated the 1994 GOP snapshot. Republicans back then were eager to prove that they could govern, that they could look out for all Ohioans. The across-the-board Republican victories that year showed that the party had fully recovered from the Crofters’ loan scandal that drove the GOP from power in 1970.
Republicans in the legislature these days don’t have to worry about being driven from power. The masterful job of gerrymandering Republicans did in drawing state legislative and congressional districts made that impossible.
There’s always the danger of a primary challenge from somebody more politically pure.
Maybe that’s why they don’t want to be in a picture with Obama.
Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He also was the Columbus bureau chief of the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.