Here in Ohio, Democrats are watching the Republican debates intently like everywhere else. But there is one man on the stage we are especially fascinated by -- the one who claims to be a moderate. The self-proclaimed adult in the room. The one who says he works across party lines. The one who is tired of everyone else being so gosh darn negative.
This Republican appears so reasonable that Chris Matthews now suggests that Hillary Clinton should choose him as her running mate. And Democrats in other states are beginning to wonder if he is reasonable.
But here in Ohio, Democrats are asking a different question -- who is this man and what has he done with the governor we have dealt with since 2010?
Because the John Kasich we have endured since 2010 has been neither a moderate, nor an adult in the room. To the contrary, the far-right policies he has pursued have left a trail of problems that our next governor will have to contend with beginning in 2018. Here are just a few examples:
Kasich now claims to have a unique relationship with blue-collar workers. However, he has dedicated much of his time in Ohio to attacking those very workers. In one of his first acts as governor, Kasich attacked public employee unions more fiercely than even Scott Walker did in Wisconsin. He pushed a bill called Senate Bill 5 that would have destroyed collective bargaining for every state and local worker in the state. He declared the legislation essential to Ohio's economic future, crisscrossing the state to convince low-income workers and other Ohioans that their life would only improve once teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters made less money and had fewer rights in the workplace. Ohio voters strongly disagreed with Kasich's cynical effort, placing the issue on the ballot and handing the governor an embarrassing defeat.
But his attacks on workers didn't stop there. Just last year, with one stroke of the pen, he unilaterally eviscerated the bargaining rights of child care and home care workers. Thousands were instantly dumped from a union they had voted to join.
Guided by the same philosophy, Kasich has been a one-trick pony when it comes to Ohio's budget. Unfortunately, that trick has been the same trickle-down economic philosophy which has never worked nationally and doesn't work at the state level either.
Budget after budget, Kasich simply gives bigger tax breaks to the wealthiest Ohioans, paid for by the following:
- Raising taxes (primarily through a higher sales tax) on those with less, and
- Raiding funds previously dedicated to local communities and schools.
On the former strategy, Kasich proposed raising taxes even further on those unable to afford them, and giving out even bigger tax cuts to those who didn't need them. But his own legislature stopped him.
And the latter strategy has led to continued, painful cuts and layoffs in thousands of communities across Ohio, combined with a flood of measures adding or increasing taxes at the local level. Some villages are literally disappearing from existence, and many other communities remain in fiscal distress years after the end of the Great Recession.
On the debate stage, Kasich is fond of saying that power and resources must be returned to the local community level. As governor, he has done the exact opposite, using the funds of local communities and schools as his piggy bank for greater state spending and tax cuts.
For-Profit Education Scandal
Kasich not only gutted school funding across Ohio to pay for his high-end tax cuts, his broken "model" of school choice has become the laughingstock of the nation. The model is simple: major Kasich and Republican donors have created for-profit schools that are consistently the worst-performing schools in the state. But as public schools and higher performing non-profit charters have been slashed, these failing for-profit schools have only seen their support increase over the same period of time. Their owners and operators are making millions of dollars in profits while delivering abysmal results for Ohio's kids.
To conceal the failure of this corrupt system, Kasich's Department of Education was caught changing the scores of the worst-performing for-profit schools -- even including the "baked" scores in an application for federal Department of Education funds. The grant was awarded, but it's now on hold pending an investigation into the falsified data. This burgeoning scandal -- known as "Chartergate" -- eclipses even Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" in terms of the dollars wasted, lives impacted and clear connections back to campaign donors.
Kasich attempts to dismiss this activity as coming from deep within the state's chain of command. However, the official who altered the scores -- who has since been terminated -- is the husband of Kasich's then-Chief of Staff, who now serves as his presidential campaign manager.
Most recently, a new scandal has emerged where for-profit "electronic" schools have been caught billing the state for "ghost" students that were never enrolled. More to come.
Women's Health Care
Ohio Right to Life claims Kasich is "the most successful pro-life governor we've ever had in the state of Ohio." And it's clear why.
He recently defunded Planned Parenthood even though an investigation into the state's Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing whatsoever, and even though no state money given to Planned Parenthood could be used for abortion services. The "defunding" simply led to the evisceration of critical health services to families in need.
But that was just the latest of dozens of pieces of legislation the governor signed, sinking Ohio to the level of states such as Texas when it comes to interfering with a woman's personal decision whether or not to end a pregnancy, choose adoption or raise a child. Kasich even signed a bill imposing a gag-rule on rape counselors from explaining to rape victims all of the options available to them.
In 2013, Ohioan Jim Obergefell married his long-time partner John Arthur in Maryland, where the law allowed them to get married. When John died from ALS a few months later, all Jim wanted was to be listed on John's death certificate as the surviving spouse. Jim prevailed at the district court level and was listed on John's certificate. Kasich didn't like this outcome, so he appealed (even as the Republican governor in Pennsylvania chose not to appeal a similar case). Kasich spent a year and thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to remove Jim's name from the death certificate and erase their lawful marriage from history.
Jim Obergefell had to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to finally have his marriage recognized.
Since 2010, Kasich has signed bill after bill that have been struck down by federal courts as unconstitutional violations of basic voting rights. At the same time, Kasich put into place the most gerrymandered map in the history of Ohio and one of the worst in the country.
Results? A Model -- of What Not To Do
Beyond the misleading ideological label Kasich has now adopted, what the debates and media coverage have also masked have been the dismal results of Kasich's far-right policies. Trickle-down is failing Ohio just as it has always failed the nation, and Ohio's education system is in shambles. Here are just a few data points:
- Ohio is now in its 39th consecutive month trailing the nation's job recovery -- we have benefited from national policies like the auto rescue and the stimulus, but Kasich's attacks on local communities and Ohio's middle-income workers have eroded those benefits versus most other states because Ohio's middle class is still struggling.
- Average Ohio wages are lower now than they were in 1984.
- There are more Ohio kids living in poverty today than there were in 2008, and as recently as 2014, our infant mortality rate for African-American babies was the worst in the nation.
- One in four Ohio kids live in food-insecure households.
- Ohio's major cities remain largely distressed, with critical funds that would otherwise help alleviate urban challenges having been seized by the state and turned into tax cuts for the wealthy
- Ohio's public school system is seeing a meltdown in its national ranking. When Kasich became governor in 2010, Ohio's public schools were ranked 5th in the nation by Education Week. The most recent ranking placed them at 23rd and falling fast.
America, don't be fooled by the purposeful rebranding of John Kasich on the debate stage or the failure of the national media to explain his real record here. He has not been moderate as Ohio's governor. Anything but.
Sadly, the ramifications go beyond presidential politics, into the real lives of everyday Ohioans in all corners of our state. The far-right policies he has pursued as governor are rendering deep damage to the communities, families and children of Ohio -- damage that will take years and a dramatic new direction to fix.