John Kasich’s new book: What's his path?

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<p><em>Why are John Kasich, center; Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, left, and I smiling? The governor signed Faber’s excellent bill to improve Ohio’s open records laws last spring.</em></p>

Why are John Kasich, center; Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, left, and I smiling? The governor signed Faber’s excellent bill to improve Ohio’s open records laws last spring.

Ohio Senate photo

John Kasich’s new book, “Two Paths: America Divided or United,” was just released. Reviewers wonder if it’s a window into his soul, an interesting look back to a crazy campaign or an exercise in political calculation. I suspect it’s all of those things with a weighting toward his sense of mission to share his hopes and concerns for our country. He’s that kind of guy.

I can’t claim to know Ohio’s governor well, but I know him a little bit and pay a lot of attention to what he’s doing and thinking. I need to do that as part of my job as executive director of the Ohio News Media Association. Among other things, I’m a lobbyist, so his legislative priorities can become my priorities quickly at times as I try to represent the newspapers and local news websites that are part of our association.

But my interest is more than that. Going back to my reporter days, smart, complicated people with memorable personalities always have attracted me. John Kasich checks all those boxes.

Politicians are both like the rest of us and not like most of the rest of us. Sometimes the public (and the media) is wrong by not allowing them to have human moments or to change their minds without being criticized. The presidential campaign seems to have softened Kasich’s sharp tongue and arrogance a bit, though anyone watching Donald Trump in action might wonder why that was ever an issue.

Still, those of us who know Kasich as Ohio’s governor chuckled at the warm-and-fuzzy Kasich hugging people on the campaign trail. None of us have met that guy.

Shortly after he was elected governor, he issued his infamous edict to Statehouse lobbyists to either “get on the bus” or get run over by it. And it’s hard to disagree in many cases when you look at the influence of some of the lobbying groups. Still, it kind of sounds Trump-like.

Instead, or so I’ve been told, if Kasich doesn’t dish it out when he sees you, it means he either doesn’t know you or doesn’t respect you. When he sees me, for example, he knows I lobby on open government issues. He’s likely to say he’s in favor of open government, transparency and the First Amendment – a theme he has struck more often recently as a good talking point with besieged media members. Then he’ll pointedly ask me how we’re going to “fix” all the time it takes to deal with the hundreds of public records requests that land in his office.

People outside Ohio sometimes ask me how he’s done as governor. I think Ohio has advanced under his watch, but statistics show the “Ohio miracle” he likes to claim is more of a mild upturn. Kasich see himself as a visionary thinker. Unfortunately – and here I’m speaking as a non-Ohio native who has grown to like the Buckeye State very much – Kasich governs a state in which the word “parochial” would come to mind far faster than “vision.” In a recent speech, Kasich talked about David McCullough’s wonderful biography of the Wright brothers, and how hard it was for Orville and Wilbur to convince the local media and others in Dayton that they were onto something special. That’s a good metaphor for the challenge he faced.

If he had won the Republican nomination, he might have been most vulnerable on the marked decline in the state’s ranking in educational metrics and the hooks that for-profit charter-school operators have put into the system. Expanding Medicaid was an act of political courage for a Republican governor with a conservative legislature. He also inherited a fiscal disaster in 2010, balanced the budget and built a rainy-day fund that was down to pennies to about $2 billion. Nay-sayers note it was done in large part by slashing local government funding – though I don’t know how any rational person ever would design a local government system like Ohio’s.

We’ve had our battles with his administration, but they’ve been on our side and even out front with us on other issues. I always felt as though we had access and could state our case, which is not what I would say about governors in some other states and their media relations.

He’s also a grown-up who doesn’t subscribe to “party-first” thinking. The country certainly could use more of that. So, I’ll miss Kasich when he’s gone and will be among the most curious to see what his future holds.