COLUMBUS — As soon as John Kasich arrived on Ohio State University’s campus in 1970, he and his suite mates each received a fine for violating a rule against opening the dorm bay windows.
Outraged, Kasich fought the ticket all the way to the office of Ohio State University President Novice Fawcett. Kasich promised Fawcett’s secretary that she would retire before he stopped pestering her to let him talk with her boss. So Kasich made his case to Fawcett, who dropped the fine.
But the tenacity and brashness of the lanky freshman from McKees Rock, Pa., didn’t stop there.
During the meeting, Fawcett mentioned that he was to meet with President Nixon the following day. Kasich tried to score an invite to tag along and when Fawcett said no, Kasich got him to agree to take a letter to the president.
Nixon responded to Kasich’s critique of his presidency by inviting the 18-year-old student to the Oval Office for a 20-minute meeting on Dec. 22, 1970.
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“It tells me my mother was right: shoot big, shoot for the stars, start at the top,” he says now.
The ‘chief architect of the balanced budget’
Kasich has always been one to think big.
After working as a legislative aide, Kasich decided to run for the Ohio Senate even though he had zero name recognition and virtually no party connections. In 1978, he launched a vigorous grassroots campaign and knocked off a Democratic incumbent.
Four years later, he won another upset and became the youngest Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives at age 30.
He hasn’t lost an election since.
In Congress, Kasich teamed with Democrat Ron Dellums to push the Pentagon to drastically cut production of the B-2 bomber.
Again, thinking big, Kasich joined the House Budget Committee and wrote 11 federal budget plans between 1989 and 1999 even though he was just one of 435 House members. His budget proposals reflect an intense drive to shrink government by cutting billions of dollars of funding for student loans, veterans programs, science research, national parks, Medicaid and Medicare and foreign aid.
In 1993, he presented an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s deficit reduction program that focused on spending cuts rather than cuts and tax increases. Two years later, Kasich was chairman of the budget committee and was in the thick of negotiations that led to the first federal budget surplus since 1969. He now calls himself the “chief architect of the balanced budget.”
In 1999, Kasich launched an exploratory committee for a presidential run in 2000. He dropped out of the race in July 1999 and backed George W. Bush.
A chance to be ‘an executive’
As governor, Kasich would probably be the most fiscally conservative governor in recent Ohio history. With a GOP-loaded General Assembly and Republican dominated Ohio Supreme Court, he will be well positioned to put his ideology to work.
Kasich said he aims to “really remake the state.”
“Now I can get my hands on the wheel and be an executive,” he said. “...this is a chance to and also to take a team of people who have been around for a very long time and get them to, you know, go through theory, the theory that we’ve studied and thought about all these years to executing. This is really, when I look back on all the experiences that I’ve had, it kind of all adds up to this is definitely the right thing to do.”
On the campaign trail, Kasich has already proposed:
• privatizing the Ohio Department of Development and assigning job creation duties to a non-profit organization headed by appointed business leaders who answer to the governor;
• eliminating the state income tax over an unspecified time, even though it accounts for roughly 45 percent of Ohio’s operating budget.
• scrapping Strickland’s K-12 education reform plan that is in its infancy.
• possibly repealing a new electricity regulation law that includes benchmarks for generating 12.5 percent of Ohio’s power from renewable sources by 2025.
Strickland is not shy about criticizing Kasich’s plans as reckless, particularly the idea of eliminating the state income tax.
“I think that’s reckless. I think it’s irresponsible,” he said. “You can’t operate a state without adequate resources. I think, in this regard, he is a flim-flam artist. I call it tooth fairy economics.”
Kasich can’t sit still
Kasich seems like a man who can’t sit still. He works out daily, lifting weights and burning 400 calories through cardio work. He reads three or four books at a time. Kasich barely pauses when he talks. His schedule is planned down to five-minute increments.
After leaving Congress, he simultaneously juggled jobs as professional speaker, Lehman Brothers investment banker, author, Fox News talk show host, corporate board member, and presidential fellow at Ohio State University. Kasich and his wife, Karen, have 10-year-old twin daughters — Emma and Reece.
It’s no wonder he relishes a chance to be home in Westerville, just north of Columbus.
“These days, just having time to lay on the couch and graze a little bit is pretty nice,” he said. “I enjoy that. My kids are there and my wife. She fights me over the remote.”
Bob Blair, who has been friends with Kasich since the two served as Legislative Service Commission interns in 1975, said “I think some people don’t realize what a great sense of humor he has. He is very normal...You can’t sit down and watch a game with him and have a beer. You can talk about LeBron James or the Buckeyes or politics with him.”
Blair also describes Kasich as intensely competitive and incredibly bright.
“He would bring enormous energy and passion to the job,” Blair said. “Nobody will try harder than John to make it happen, make Ohio what he believes it can be.”
Childhood mentors boosted him
Kasich, the son of two postal workers, grew up in McKees Rock. The town of 10,000 or so outside of Pittsburgh was full of hard working, common sense blue-collar folks.
Kasich credits mentors and his parents for instilling a belief in the possibilities out there for him.
The parish priest, basketball coach, town barbers and his parents, John and Anne Kasich, all told “Johnny” that he could be somebody.
“It really matters when you have people who believe in you and encourage you,” he said.
Kasich describes his childhood as wonderful — one of neither poverty nor privilege.
He decided to attend Ohio State University after his mother’s co-worker told the family about it and a campus tour sealed the deal.
Kasich now lives in a 4,387-square-foot house worth $759,500 and made $1.4 million in 2008.
When asked how he relates to the average Ohioan, Kasich said: “It’s only through the grace of God and these mentors or whatever that I had these breaks. And so a lot of it is attitude. It’s just kind of the way you conduct your life. I just think of myself as having been very fortunate and blessed. And if you ever get too big for your britches, in my faith, it’s the first step toward falling off the horse or falling off the cliff. And, you know, you can take the boy out of McKees Rocks but you can’t take the McKees Rocks out of the boy.”