Kasich defends Cabinet despite diversity dispute

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Kasich defends Cabinet despite diversity dispute

Even after tapping a black man to lead one of the state’s largest agencies, white men still dominate Gov. John Kasich’s Cabinet.

With two appointments to go, Kasich’s Cabinet of 17 men and four women is a sharp departure from the more diverse teams hired by Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican Bob Taft.

Strickland’s Cabinet at the end of his term included four minorities and 12 women, including an open lesbian. Taft put blacks in charge of state prisons, human services and commerce and he appointed his lieutenant governor, Jennette Bradley, who is black, as state treasurer.

State Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, said a diverse Cabinet leads to better government. “If he does not put the voices around the table, everything he does is going to suspect,” Luckie said.

Kasich defended the choices, saying, “I’m always going to search for the best and the brightest and those that share my philosophy.”

The Republican governor also said he expects to add more people of diverse backgrounds to key positions.

Cabinet-level directors lead agencies with thousands of employees, multimillion dollar budgets and enormous responsibilities.

A Dayton Daily News review of salaries showed little difference between the men and women. However, Kasich’s four female agency directors oversee average annual budgets of $441 million, compared to $1.93 billion for the men. The average staff size for the women-led departments is 760 compared to 2,500 for those led by men.

Proponents say diversity improves government

Kasich likes to say that in his family, he gets to make all the big decisions while he leaves the little stuff to his wife, Karen.

“My wife makes all the minor decisions about where we live, what we eat, where we go, where we vacation and what we do on a daily basis,” he said shortly after winning election in November. “So, she’s in charge of the family and she’s done a fantastic job.”

State Sen. Shirley Smith, D-Cleveland, said it appears Kasich is taking the same approach when it comes to assignments in his administration. His four female department heads lead staffs that average 760 workers and have budgets that average $441 million. His 17 male department heads’ budgets average $1.9 billion and their staffs average 2,500.

“That is his mindset. He feels like he wants to leave all the small things to the women. He is Neanderthal in his thinking,” Smith said. “He is stuck in time.”

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she believes Kasich is rightly seeking the best qualified team members and the Cabinet members will be judged by Ohioans on their performance.

“I don’t think it was a slight to women that they ended up with smaller departments,” Lehner said.

Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch in December that he is surrounded with women. “One of the most under-reported elements of my campaign is that I had a woman campaign manager, I have a woman lieutenant governor, I have a woman finance chairman, and I’m married to a woman with two daughters, OK? I’ve said all along, I really wish I could get some guys around me.”

Kasich did appoint Beth Hansen as his chief of staff — a position only held by men in the last three Ohio gubernatorial administrations.

State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, said she believes the under representation of women among Kasich’s department heads is likely to get more attention in the near future but those who believe in the importance of diversity felt they had to address the lack of minorities first.

Although Kasich appointed Michael Colbert, a black from Xenia, to head the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the calls for diversity are not dying down.

Comedy Central political satirist Stephen Colbert took aim Kasich in a 5-minute segment on his show last week, calling the governor “a hero of black history.” He also referenced a Kasich blunder last month when the governor issued a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as March 17, which is St. Patrick’s Day, instead of Jan. 15.

“Had he been more deliberative and sensitive with the selection of his Cabinet, we wouldn’t be in this position today,” Turner said.

After Turner’s remarks on Kasich’s Cabinet ran in newspapers and on TV statewide, the governor asked her to meet with him on Tuesday.

She said she plans to keep an open mind but also press the case for diversity and inclusion.

Smith, Turner and others say diversity is about including people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and life experiences and views.

Diversity and challenges

Kasich has promised to diversify his leadership team but continues to note that he wants qualified people who share his philosophy.

But Barbara Riley, who headed one of the state’s largest departments under Gov. Bob Taft and one of the smaller departments under Gov. Ted Strickland, cautioned that diversity of thought and philosophy is important too.

“Surrounding yourself with people who think as you do and perhaps parrot what you say isn’t conducive to good government. I don’t care if you’re meeting any kind of metric at all, the point is to have people at the table who will be willing to contradict and lay out perhaps more challenging ideas,” Riley said. “I think you need to be challenged.”

Riley praised some of Kasich’s picks, particularly in the human services sector, as fine public servants.

But Riley said the lack of diversity and fact that women head smaller departments tells her “whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it shows a lack of willingness to think more diversely or more openly about whom you surround yourself with.”

She added there isn’t and shouldn’t be anything political about running state departments.

“There is nothing that says you have to be 100 percent aligned as the director with the philosophy of the administration,” Riley said.

Taft and Strickland both had more diverse Cabinets than Kasich has so far.

At the end of Democrat Ted Strickland’s four years in office, his 25 department heads included: 12 women, 13 men; three blacks, one Iranian-American, one openly gay woman.

At the end of Republican Bob Taft’s administration, his 24 department heads included: six women, 18 men, no minorities. Taft did have blacks and women in key posts over his eight years in office.

Kasich’s slogan is “A New Day. A New Way.” Yet, when building his team, Kasich reached back to the rosters from the Voinovich, Taft and Strickland administrations for eight appointees. And six department directors retired from other government jobs and returned to public sector employment.

Despite some of the familiar faces, Kasich said his administration will bring needed reforms to state government.

“These are change agents. Just because they worked somewhere where they might have been stifled. There was this guy one time, his name was Saul and he was on this road one time in Damascus and he became Paul. Just amazing isn’t it? So, I’m very comfortable. I love our team,” Kasich said. “We are building a team of people that can plug together because that’s what we need. No person can lift things. It takes a team.”

What other elected officials are doing

While Kasich is building his team, newly elected statewide officers are appointing their senior staff as well. They run the gamut when it comes to diversity.

  • Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor employs four law clerks and a secretary: 80 percent female, 20 percent black and 40 percent openly gay.
  • Secretary of State Jon Husted named Douglas Lumpkin, who is black, as his chief operating officer.
  • Attorney General Mike DeWine appointed three black women to head the civil rights, workers compensation and collections sections and his first assistant is a woman. “We are not done hiring, though, for some of our key positions,” his spokeswoman said.
  • Treasurer Josh Mandel has three blacks and one Lebanese-American among his top staff and women holding six key positions.
  • Auditor of State Dave Yost has no minorities in among his senior staff but did hire three women into key positions.

Contact this reporter at (614) 224-1624 or lbischoff@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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