Here are five things New Hampshire voters need to know about Ohio’s John Kasich before they vote in the Republican presidential primary:
1. Kasich won the governor’s office in 2010 by relentlessly blaming incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland (now a candidate for the U.S. Senate) for the effects of a national economic downturn over which Strickland had no control.
OK, Strickland was the first incumbent governor in Ohio to be defeated since 1974, but even in the teeth of brutal recession, he lost by only about 2 percentage points.
From the beginning, strategists for Kasich pounded away at a single message: the loss of 400,000 jobs in Ohio under Strickland’s watch. Voters were just not in the mood to hear anything positive, such as the jobless rate inching downward and almost 100,000 jobs added before the approval of the first Kasich budget.
Might Strickland have been more positive and courted African-American voters more assiduously? Yes, but it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
2. In his re-election campaign four years later, Kasich coasted to a stunning victory, beating Democrat Ed FitzGerald of Cleveland nearly 2-1 and winning 86 of the state’s 88 counties, including Cuyahoga County, where FitzGerald was in his first term as county executive. FitzGerald got about 33 percent of the vote.
This all sounds very impressive, until you consider that FitzGerald, untested in a statewide campaign, was probably the most inept Democrat candidate for governor since Rob Burch, the state senator who took on Republican George Voinovich in 1994.
Burch, who got about 25 percent of the vote, later left politics to become a long-haul trucker.
When the unprepared FitzGerald was hit with revelations about his lack of a driver’s license for a decade (while in public office) and being found in an empty parking lot with a woman who isn’t his wife, he never recovered.
3. What about that economic recovery, anyway? The Ohio economy has indeed bounced back under Kasich, but that was part of a national recovery over which he had no control. One big driver of Ohio’s recovery was the rebound of the domestic auto industry, a crucial economic sector in the state. There, thanks should go to President Obama for his rescue of the domestic auto industry.
Yes, Ohio has recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession, but most other states managed the same thing about a year earlier because of a higher job growth rate. Ohio continued to struggle with an economic transition. What did not prove decisive in stimulating job growth was Kasich’s policy of income tax cuts.
So, Kasich doesn’t talk about an “Ohio miracle” any longer.
4. Speaking of higher education, Ohio is still an expensive place to attend a public university. Not everyone needs a college degree, but Ohio’s percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is about 25 percent, below the national average of 29 percent, according to census data.
Ohio began shorting higher education long before Kasich, who has added funding for higher education in the current budget while keeping a lid on tuition hikes. Still, Ohio has a long way to go, its public four-year universities ranked 16th highest in the nation in terms of tuition and fees.
Once, the state provided 70 percent of the cost of higher education. Now, the figure is almost reversed, one study saying that parents and students now shoulder more than 60 percent of the cost.
5. A canary in the coal mine, so to speak, is the state’s infant mortality rate, an indicator of how the state treats its most vulnerable residents. Kasich has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and started to respond to specific areas where infant mortality rates are high.
Yet statistics show Ohio lagging the nation in yet another measure, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Ohio’s rate is nearly seven deaths, compared to a national rate of about six deaths for those in the first year of life.
Even more troubling is that Ohio has one of the worst records for black babies, at about 14 deaths per 1,000 live births last year. Remember, the U.S. is already has more infant deaths per 1,000 live births that other industrialized nations.
Kasich often talks about reaching out to “people who live in the shadows,” his way of describing those at the margins of society.
New Hampshire voters should admire the sentiment but check the facts.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.