You say you want a revolution? Even if you don’t, Gov. John Kasich and his Republican cohorts in the General Assembly are giving Ohioans one. It isn’t pretty.
During their first six months in office, the new governor and GOP-controlled legislature have launched a radical — and, I’d argue, damaging — transformation of state government. The Kasich Revolution also is imposing itself on local governments and schools, as well as a broad range of social, economic, and political issues that touch all our lives.
The bus Mr. Kasich uses as a metaphor for his aggressive administration — “either get on it or we’ll run you over” — hasn’t idled since his inauguration in January. If anything, it’s picking up speed.
That’s evident in the two major Republican initiatives of the first six months: the new two-year state budget and the law that would gut public employees’ collective-bargaining rights.
The budget slashes state aid to essential public services on which Ohioans depend — education, public safety, social programs — in order further to enrich millionaires, large businesses, privately operated schools, and other Republican-favored special interests. It privatizes valuable and sensitive state assets for scant returns.
By largely shifting the state’s fiscal problems to local communities, counties, and school districts, it greatly increases the prospect of local tax increases — which the governor and lawmakers will be sure to criticize.
Mr. Kasich insists that his strong medicine will force local governments to become more efficient, share services, and merge. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who calls himself an independent, observes that he embarked on that course well before the governor took office.
“We can take care of our own house,” the mayor told me. “We need to take the politics out of what people want.”
Lucas County Board of Commissioners President Pete Gerken, a Democrat with a union background, isn’t so circumspect.
“There are a lot of things I don’t need this governor to do,” he says. “They’re transferring the debt from Columbus back to Toledo.” He laughs and quickly adds, in old-time pol argot: “I ain’t raisin’ no taxes.”
It appears that voters will get the chance in November to pass judgment on Senate Bill 5, which goes far beyond updating the state law that governs public-sector collective bargaining — something Ohio needs to do. Instead, the governor and lawmakers would effectively strip 350,000 public employees of many of their rights to bargain at all.
The liberal advocacy group Innovation Ohio notes that Governor Kasich won election last year by barely 77,000 votes, while 16 times that number of Ohioans signed petitions to force a popular vote on Senate Bill 5. So whose mandate is it anyway?
No matter. The Kasich Revolution is being waged on a wide front that extends well beyond budget and labor disputes. Much of the revolution is conducted clandestinely, without adequate public information or debate.
The governor and lawmakers justify virtually everything they do by asserting it will create jobs. That’s why, they tell us, we must allow private drilling for oil and natural gas in state parks and on other public lands, whatever the environmental implications.
It’s why we evidently have to allow larger unregulated water withdrawals by businesses from Lake Erie and other sensitive Ohio waterways than any other Great Lakes state tolerates — even if such venerable Ohio Republicans as George Voinovich and Bob Taft say it’s a bad idea.
You can argue, however wrongheadedly, that environmental protection simply can’t be allowed to obstruct needed economic growth and job creation. But what about the rest of the GOP agenda?
How many jobs will the governor and lawmakers create by authorizing concealed-carry permit holders to bring their guns into bars? Is it really that important to genuflect before the National Rifle Association, at a time when Toledo must deal with increasing gun violence?
How many jobs will Republicans create with legislation that would require Ohioans to display photo identification before they can exercise their right to vote — an expensive House-passed mandate that the Senate could vote on this week? Ostensibly to fight vote fraud that Republicans haven’t shown, because it doesn’t exist, the bill potentially could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, many of them poor and old.
How many jobs will the GOP create by imposing Draconian — and arguably unconstitutional — restrictions on Ohio women’s abortion rights, as several bills galloping through the legislature, soon to compete for the governor’s signature, would do? Is it so important to feed red meat to the party’s base that such extremist measures get waved through?
There are some things to like about the Kasich Revolution. The governor seeks to control costs in the state’s sprawling Medicaid program by eliminating wasteful duplication of services and encouraging patients to get long-term care at home whenever reasonable.
The effort to develop a merit-pay program for teachers also has promise, even though there’s a long, hard way to go before the state develops a usable system. Initiatives that aim to find options to costly imprisonment of low-level and nonviolent criminals are valuable.
But such positive matters don’t begin to balance the scales with the bad stuff. And it’s not over.
We can expect Mr. Kasich, Republican lawmakers, and other elected GOP officials to work to gerrymander legislative and congressional district boundaries this fall in a way that will seal their party’s dominance for the next decade.
After that, who knows what’s next? An easing of regulations designed to prevent environmental damage from gas drilling? An assault on injured private-sector workers covered by the state’s workers’ compensation program?
I can’t believe that the Ohio the governor and Republican lawmakers envision is a state where most of us want to live. But I could be wrong.
So I’d like to hear from you. Do you like what you’ve seen of the Kasich Revolution? Are the governor and lawmakers truly doing what we elected them to do? Or is it time to yell at the bus to stop — or at least to slow down?
Please tell me — and The Blade’s readers — what you think.
David Kushma is editor of The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com