To borrow Joe McCarthy’s phrase, Ohio House Republicans are busy this month exposing that “conspiracy so immense” called Common Core. In October, maybe, they’ll promote a suspense film (say, “Fluoride – or Fertility”) or show an edgy documentary revealing Ohio’s possible takeover by the Lizard People. You want horror movies on demand? Attend an Ohio House committee hearing.
But if you want to know what’s really going on in a state where jobs, not secret plots, should be the key issue, keep an eye on Republican Gov. John R. Kasich’s administration. You can be sure the Statehouse lobbies are. Because, unless something completely unforeseen happens between now and November’s election, the collapse of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ed FitzGerald’s campaign means John Kasich will be governor of Ohio till Jan. 14, 2019.
You can also be sure that Kasich and his aides have an agenda – besides, that is, landing Kasich somewhere on 2016’s Republican presidential ticket.
Obviously, and to understate it by a magnitude of zillions, even people who vote for Kasich don’t necessarily find him warm and fuzzy. A tactful term for Kasich’s manner might be “quirky.” But Kasich, age 62, is anything but stupid. And he’s been in or around government, first in Columbus, then in Washington, then again in Columbus, for almost 40 years. So, like Cleveland’s George V. Voinovich, and Columbus’s James A. Rhodes, Kasich’s first aim has been to win elections, because elections bestow offices. Offices provide power. Power can turn ideas into realities. And Kasich, like him or loathe him, has lots of ideas. Kasich also knows that winning power is pointless if you don’t know what to do with it, which was the central weakness of Democrat Ted Strickland’s governorship.
Of course, some ideas may look dandy to your political pals (example: Trying to fetter public employee unions via Senate Bill 5) but repel voters. Other ideas can play well in whatever Ohio’s Peoria is (till the Lizard People conquer it). These are some ideas that likely will feature in a Kasich governorship, Marque II:
- More tax cuts. Whether Ohio’s (current) taxes discourage business investment in the state is subject to debate. But tax-cuts are close to a religious belief among Kasich and Republicans in the General Assembly. And everyone knows Ohio Republicans like religious beliefs so much they try to make them state law. So look for more tax cuts. The real test of Kasich’s sincerity on tax-policy will be whether Kasich II gets done what Kasich I tried to do – force oil-and-gas frackers to pay their fair share of Ohio taxes. (Good luck with that.)
- “Workforce development.” That’s a $5 phrase for helping Ohioans become job-ready for tomorrow’s work. Governors of both parties have long talked up workforce development. The challenge is aligning assorted programs and bureaucracies and technical schooling. Kasich aides are pretty good at policy coordination (example: Governor’s Office of Health Transformation). So maybe Kasich II has a fair shot in this field, too.
- Education. There can never be too much state spending on schools – if you’re a school board member or in a teachers’ union. Taxpayers think otherwise. Given tax cuts Kasich wants, it’s likely that rather than send local schools more money, net, from Columbus, he’d aim to target aid, based, say, on districts’ performance. (Kasich meanwhile should run charter school speculators out of Ohio; they’re giving school choice a bad name.)
Of course, to manage Ohio constructively in 2015 and 2016, Kasich needs a rational General Assembly. But at the moment, given Ohio House Republicans’ Common Core antics, that’s chancy.