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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Governor Kasich

Gov. John Kasich, in his inaugural message Monday, pledged to "transform our great state." His observation that he cannot achieve this massive task by himself, but will need the support of a broad range of Ohioans, is as useful as it is self-evident.

Mr. Kasich's remarks, as expected, did not offer specific prescriptions for the big problems the state is confronting. But they set a positive tone for the next four years, and they offered a series of challenges that his administration as well as the statewide audience he addressed will need to remember.

"I report to you, the people. I do not report to special interests under any circumstances.'"

The policy the governor establishes for sharing information with Ohioans — as well as creating an atmosphere of transparency and inclusiveness — will largely determine the quality of that report.

After his election last November, Mr. Kasich and his associates displayed a dismaying penchant for excessive secrecy on such matters as identifying candidates for administration jobs and even taking the oath of office. After he was challenged on these issues, Mr. Kasich changed course and promised to do better. A bias toward openness will help prevent similar unnecessary distractions.

"Our enemies are those who selfishly look out only for themselves ... They forget that we are all in this together. Don't be selfish."

Closing a projected gap of as much as $10 billion in the next two-year state budget of about $50 billion will require pain and sacrifice. As the governor conceded Monday in citing the obstacles to Ohio's economic recovery, "the light is dimmed in our great state."

Will the new administration's calls for sacrifice as it works to balance the budget reflect all taxpayers' ability to meet those demands? Or will they fall disproportionately on public school and university students, sick people, and poor and working-class families? If the latter, how will such a decision affect the governor's pleas for unity?

"We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats ... We are Ohioans."

One of the earliest tests of that proposition will come when state officials redraw the boundary lines this year for Ohio's congressional and legislative districts. Governor Kasich will play a lead role in both processes, which will affect elections for the next decade.

A reapportionment system that is not based on partisan advantage, but instead focuses on fairness, maximizes competition, and preserves compactness and communities of interest, will promote effective and accountable political representation.

Governor Kasich made clear that his administration's immediate priority will be using the tools of state government to promote job creation and recovery, and to enhance Ohio's competitiveness. That's appropriate, provided it does not imply a surrender to private interests in such areas as cost-effective regulation and environmental protection.

Mr. Kasich invoked the resilience of the survivors of last June's devastating tornadoes in northwest Ohio as an example of the community spirit he hopes to tap. That recognition of this region's strengths was proper; promoting our area's assets must be an elemental value of his administration.

All Ohioans have a stake in the new governor's success. But they will enlist in the team effort Mr. Kasich described yesterday only to the extent they feel the new administration represents them and cares about their interests. Since Mr. Kasich got less than half the vote for governor last November,

he faces a big team-building task.

Governor Kasich's enthusiasm for Ohio's assets and possibilities is infectious. His vision of a better day for the state is appealing.

Now his challenge is to translate these values into policies that will enable all Ohioans to, in his words, "reach the summit."



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