MEDINA: The applause had hardly quelled before the crowd volleyed another round of praise at Gov. John Kasich, who delivered his State of the State address on Monday at the Medina Performing Arts Center.
Outside, however, hundreds of protesters lambasted the very policies the governor was celebrated for inside.
The governor’s 2014 State of the State address received ample applause for several mentions: reforming education, helping the poor through job creation, supporting addiction treatment, abolishing the death tax, creating a mentorship program for students and an emotional dedication to three young women held captive for a decade in a Cleveland home and other promises that left the crowd swooning.
If there was apprehension among the audience members, they bit their tongues instead of voicing frustration with anything the governor said.
The speech focused largely on education and maintaining a “jobs-friendly environment.” That means balancing the budget, creating regulatory predictability for businesses, slashing the tax rate below 5 percent and holding tightly to a $1.5 billion surplus — carved from an $8 billion deficit.
“We’ve made long overdue investments in education,” Kasich told the crowd of more than 1,000 dignitaries and about 50 who won tickets through a drawing.
While the governor touted “the largest increase in education funding in a decade,” protesters pointed out $430 million cut from education funding in Kasich’s first budget. That may have distorted Kasich’s claim of making the “largest” increase in a decade.
“He doesn’t consider public education something that’s important to him,” said David Hamman, the vice president of the Medina City Teachers’ Association. “I don’t know where he’s going, but I know where he’s been.”
Hamman cited $70 million in Medina County school tax issues that he said were a direct result of state cuts. Among the new tax issues was a levy in Medina, which lost $4.4 million as the state righted an $8 billion deficit.
Joining Hamman was Medina schools interim superintendent David Knight, who threw his support behind his teachers and “public education for all children.”
Knight and other educators charged that some “specialty schools,” notably charter schools, draw funds away from traditional public schools, which must take “all children,” Knight said.
Charter schools didn’t make the list of education initiatives in the governor’s hourlong speech.
Kasich did, however, introduce several other education initiatives: a state match on mentoring programs, free college credits for experienced veterans, a call to curb the 24,000 yearly dropouts and the push for vocational training as early as seventh grade.
While the crowd outside might have scoffed at Kasich’s proposals, one retired educator inside found herself in a sea of supporters, bobbing up and down for the frequent applause.
“I was joking with the people behind me, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my workout for the day,’?” said Nancy Huffman, a retired teacher from Westlake.
Huffman found herself “ready to sign up” for the governor’s proposed mentorship program, which would bridge faith-based and business groups with teachers and communities.
She relished Kasich’s speech and rebuked notions that Ed FitzGerald, his Democratic opponent in the fall gubernatorial race, has presented a plausible education plan.
Democrats speak out
One group that attended the speech and freely offered its dissidence was House and Senate Democrats, led by a tight-lipped Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Youngstown.
Schiavoni chided the governor’s track record on helping the poor, saying he has instead cut food assistance for those in poverty. He also downplayed Kasich’s call to “balance the budget” as a constitutional requirement that any governor must follow.
And on education, the centerpiece of Kasich’s speech, Schiavoni came out swinging.
“He talks about giving schools [increases],” Schiavoni told the media. “If you ask any superintendent across the state, they’re going to tell you the struggle.”
Admiration of Speaker William Batchelder, who leaves office at the end of this year because of term limits, was also in full effect inside the auditorium. The crowd applauded his career and followed Senate President Keith Faber’s lead in giving the Medina lawmaker a lengthy ovation.
Outside, not surprisingly, the crowds were less than impressed.
“We won’t miss him,” said environmental activist Cathie Jones, a Medina resident protesting expanded efforts to drill for natural gas in Ohio.
Jones said Batchelder’s efforts to thwart a severance tax on extracted fossil fuels, proposed by the governor, and efforts to stall other bills that would bring added regulation to the gas and oil industry have been frustrating, especially coming from her local legislator.
“We’re all disappointed about it. He’s made sure nothing goes to vote,” she said, joining other voices of dissent standing in front of the St. Francis Xavier cemetery across the street.
Their chant — “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Gov. Kasich’s got to go” — didn’t penetrate the Medina school walls, where the governor enjoyed a largely friendly reception.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.