Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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None of the above

The Blade declines, regretfully, to endorse a candidate in this year’s election for governor of Ohio

Ohio voters deserve better choices for governor than the state’s major political parties have given them this year. The Blade cannot recommend either the re-election of incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich or his replacement by his Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald.

We wish it were otherwise. Either the governor or Mr. FitzGerald — polls strongly suggest the former — will preside over state government for the next four years, unless Mr. Kasich is part of a successful presidential ticket in 2016.

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The dispiriting options before Ohioans absolve no one of the responsibility to vote according to his or her individual conscience and values. But neither major-party nominee measures up to the standard we believe Ohioans have a right to expect their governor to maintain.

The assertion in Mr. Kasich’s campaign literature that “we’re just getting started” is likely to inspire dread rather than hope in many Ohioans as they contemplate a second term — and a perceived mandate from voters — after the damage the governor has done in his first term.

The good points of Mr. Kasich’s record must be acknowledged. He showed courage in expanding Ohio’s Medicaid program of low-income health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, defying the obstructionism of his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly.

That is the best thing Mr. Kasich has done as governor, even as he runs on a “stop Obamacare” platform. Overall, his administration has run the state’s health care programs effectively, limiting their cost growth while broadening access to care and maintaining its quality.

The administration’s policies on drug treatment and prison sentencing — including, in some instances, the state’s death penalty — have been unusually enlightened, especially given the governor’s general conservatism.

He has worked productively with food banks and advocates for Ohioans with autism spectrum disorder. He has cajoled leaders of the state’s public universities to work together to contain costs and reduce duplication in academic programs and capital spending.

Mr. Kasich has shown he understands the need to tax adequately the oil and natural-gas drillers who exploit Ohio’s nonrenewable resources, even though he has been unwilling to push that position among lawmakers who answer to Columbus’ fossil-fuel lobbies. Early in his term, he vetoed a bill that would have permitted excessive withdrawals from Lake Erie and other state waterways.

Divisive incumbent

But these considerable achievements are dwarfed by the many more negatives of Governor Kasich’s term. His tax and spending policies, advertised as erasing a big projected deficit when he took office and building a surplus and large reserves today, have delivered huge tax cuts to the richest Ohioans while forcing many poor, working-class, and middle-income households to pay more taxes overall.

Mr. Kasich has kept the state budget balanced in large part by imposing massive aid cuts on local school districts and communities, which have been only partially restored now that the state’s economy is recovering. That has shifted the tax burden to local taxpayers.

Mr. Kasich says Ohio has added nearly 250,000 jobs during his term, but the state still has not recovered more than 100,000 other jobs it lost during the Great Recession. Many of the new jobs pay poorly.

Mr. Kasich’s replacement of many of the state’s economic-development efforts with the quasi-private JobsOhio has reduced transparency without greatly elevating efficiency. His claim to be an advocate of working Ohioans is contradicted by his support of a bad law that would have gutted the collective-bargaining rights of public employees across the state, until Ohio voters overwhelmingly repealed it.

Even as he expanded Medicaid, the governor has maintained limits on food-stamp eligibility for many of the poorest Ohioans — although federal policy would allow him to broaden such coverage.

Doing the bidding of Big Energy interests such as the Koch brothers, Mr. Kasich worked with a compliant legislature this year to roll back Ohio’s effective mandates for alternative energy and energy efficiency — the first state to do so. Even after toxic algae in Lake Erie poisoned Toledo’s water supply in August, the governor has refused to take the tough action needed to clean up the lake, relying instead on weak, largely voluntary measures to reduce phosphorus pollution.

On social issues, the governor has worked to close women’s health clinics that perform abortions, limit access to family planning, and even restrict information given to rape victims. He continues to oppose same-sex marriage, even though that is or soon will be the law in two-thirds of other states.

On education, Mr. Kasich waffled in recent months on his prior support for the sensible Common Core academic standards. His third-grade reading “guarantee” is a mandate that he has not funded fully.

The state’s system of school finance remains both inadequate and unconstitutionally inequitable. Meanwhile, the governor has continued to divert money, with little accountability, to charter schools — many operated by big GOP campaign donors — that often perform worse than traditional public schools.

Mr. Kasich worked with lawmakers and other state Republican leaders to gerrymander redistricting plans for the General Assembly and Ohio’s U.S. House delegation that are mockeries of democracy, giving his party advantages in political representation that are out of all proportion to its popular support. He also has signed bills GOP lawmakers sent him that were aimed at suppressing votes of Ohioans who tend not to favor his party.

Inept challenger

On balance, these failings argue for a change in the governor’s office. But Mr. FitzGerald does not make a persuasive case that he is that change.

Before he launched his campaign for governor, Mr. FitzGerald had started to compile a decent record as the first elected executive of Cuyahoga County, formerly a notorious haven of political corruption. The positions he articulates on key state issues, in opposition to the governor’s, likely would find favor with many, perhaps most, Toledo and Ohio voters. He would provide more of a check on the extremist General Assembly than Governor Kasich has done or will do.

Yet Mr. FitzGerald also has run one of the most inept campaigns by a major-party candidate for statewide office in Ohio’s recent history. The skills needed to win political office are not necessarily the same ones required to govern effectively. Still, his campaign has not inspired confidence about his ability to run an administration competently and credibly.

His initial selection of a running mate who owed a huge tax bill spoke poorly of his ability to vet appointees properly. The fact that Mr. FitzGerald lacked a valid driver’s license for a decade suggests a casual approach to the law that would not befit a potential governor, much less a candidate who touts his background as a former prosecutor and FBI agent.

This is not all Mr. FitzGerald’s doing. His weak state party has not given him the support, financial or otherwise, that a top-of-the-ticket candidate could reasonably expect. That has limited his ability to convey his message to voters, or even build statewide name recognition, as the governor refuses to debate him.

Toledoan Anita Rios is also on the gubernatorial ballot as the nominee of the Green Party. Her candidacy has had a negligible impact on the campaign.

Ohio — a swing state in presidential elections — needed an equally competitive election for governor this year. It didn’t get one. The state can and must do better, but that will require the parties to offer better candidates and campaigns, and voters to get angry enough to demand them. For now, sadly, Ohioans will have to settle for what they’ve got.

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