COLUMBUS — As a freshly-minted college graduate, Republican John Kasich started out in public service, making $4.38 an hour as a researcher for the Ohio Legislative Service Commission in 1975.
In 1978, he jumped from the back office of politics to the front seat when he beat incumbent Robert O’Shaughnessy for state senate. He has never lost an election.
The son of a postal worker, Kasich is now a millionaire who spent 18 years in Congress and led the House Budget Committee.
After considering a run for president, Kasich left politics in 2001 for a job as managing director of Lehman Brothers, the banking giant that went bankrupt.
Kasich, 58, is now making a run for Ohio governor against incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, psychologist and former congressman from southern Ohio.
Kasich, who spent 25 years in government and the last 10 years in the private sector, emphasizes his business experience as evidence that he can lead Ohio out of the economic slump.
“I think, first of all, the most important thing that people in politics need to have now is business experience so they can know what makes the economy tick, what creates a job and how people can get somewhere,” Kasich said. “Now, connected to that is Johnny Kasich from McKees Rock, Pennsylvania, who had an opportunity (in) society where he could go out and, you know, try anything he wanted to do as long as he could work hard enough.”
Strickland counters: “Well, the only real business that I am aware that he has been associated with is Lehman Brothers — the company that represents the largest bankruptcy in American history. I don’t think that kind of experience is what we need in the governor’s office.”
Bringing jobs to Ohio
During a June speech before the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Strickland said despite the worst economy in decades, his administration is creating jobs. He ticked off a list of economic accomplishments, including the ground-breaking of the Caterpillar facility in Clayton.
The latest unemployment figures for Ohio show that the economic recovery is moving slowly. Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in June to 10.5 percent, down from 10.7 percent in May. Although the rate dropped for a third straight month, it was the 15th straight month of double-digit joblessness.
Jobs are the key issue in the campaign and since Strickland became governor in January 2007 Ohio has lost about 380,000 jobs overall. More than 150,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since then.
When Kasich spoke to the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce in July, he said balancing the state budget and cutting red tape that slows business growth are key to his plan for Ohio.
Work hard, get ahead
Kasich lives in a 4,400-square-foot house on 10 acres worth $759,500 in suburban Columbus, sits on the board of directors for three companies and a country club, travels the country as a paid speaker, wrote three books and — up until his run for governor — was Ohio State University’s only “presidential fellow.”
A glimpse of his 2008 tax returns shows Kasich made $1.4 million, including $587,175 in salary and bonus at Lehman Brothers. Many of his jobs in 2008 paid more than the average Ohioan makes in a year: $265,000 as Fox News commentator, $61,538 as Schottenstein Property Group Associate, $165,719 in speaking fees, $77,273 in corporate board director fees. His investment portfolio alone made him $121,922 in interest and dividends in 2008.
While the Strickland supporters say Kasich cashed in on his high profile in Congress to make piles of money, Kasich says his success is the result of hard work.
“Just because you’re a member of Congress doesn’t mean squat,” Kasich said. “...the bottom line is nobody gives you money for anything that you don’t earn in the private sector. You have to work hard. ... my mother and father told me: ‘you work hard, you get ahead, sky’s the limit.’ It’s exactly what I’ve done.”
Strickland’s financial trajectory is quite different than Kasich’s.
He reported making a modest $41,296 in 1996 as a prison psychologist and college instructor. He returned to Congress in 1997 where the pay was much better: $133,600 that year.
When he left Congress in 2006, Strickland’s life savings ranged from $45,000 to $150,000, according to his financial disclosure statement.
He and his wife Frances sold their 1,300-square-foot Columbus condo for $128,000 in 2007. The couple moved into the state-owned Governor’s Residence, which is a 12,400-square-foot mansion valued at $2.3 million. The governor’s job pays $138,757 a year.
Strickland, who still shops for clothes at thrift stores, takes government-funded health care but reimburses the cost back to the public coffers. Strickland has said he won’t take publicly funded health insurance until his constituents have it, too. That stand cost him $9,166 last year.
In his 2006 book, Stand For Something: the Battle for America’s Soul, Kasich details how he refused to take pay hikes when he first arrived in Congress.
“I meant to keep my word — only after eight years of giving back all this money, and paying all these excess taxes, it seemed a little besides the point. I kept voting against the raises but I finally stopped refusing them because I realized I was beating my head against the wall,” he wrote.