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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

COMMENTARY

Hold the applause for Kasich's undisclosed intentions

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COMMENTARY WRITER

The devil is in the details. That's why details were missing from Gov. John Kasich's first State of the State speech Tuesday. If specifics were never candidate Kasich's strong suit, why should Governor Kasich be any different?

He's a showman, not a nuts and bolts kind of guy. He's in his element selling swagger as the elixir to save Ohio. He likes simplistic catchphrases and bumper-sticker slogans.

But the fine points of his program remain purposely opaque. They'll be worked out behind closed doors and disclosed on a need-to-know basis when the governor is good and ready.

The Kasich philosophy just believes some public business is better off handled privately. Deal with it.

His corporate-friendly, Republican-knows-best mind-set considers government transparency overrated. So not surprisingly, Mr. Kasich prefers platitudes to particulars.

He likes flip and folksy. Too much information can cloud an issue and lose a crowd.

But surely the new governor realizes how patronizing his approach sounds to a public anxious to hear how and whom he will serve. Citizen displeasure with his persistent evasiveness, recycled rhetoric, and above-the-fray arrogance is evident.

When thousands of working men and women in Ohio descend on the Statehouse to protest the state GOP's assault on the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, people are saying they want details and open debate about policy dictates that could change their lives.

They don't want preordained agendas shoved down their throats with no say or recourse. It was almost surreal to see Mr. Kasich arrive for his big speech as the boos of hundreds of angry citizens echoed throughout the Statehouse.

But acting as though nothing were amiss, he entered the packed House chamber smiling, shaking hands, and hugging lawmakers who stood, like trapped rats, applauding and smiling sheepishly. The continuing jeers and catcalls from the gallery made the scene tense and awkward.

Mr. Kasich made his way to the podium, and, in a Palinesque moment, allowed that he was put in his high leadership position for a reason, and thanked the Lord for elevating him thusly. That's when it struck me.

If Sarah Palin is a Momma Grizzly, Mr. Kasich is a huckster in a hurry. The politician -- as he is wont to say -- is moving at the speed of business. Get used to the reference.

He's rushing ahead to create a job-rich state, or at least one that's reformed enough for businesses to make a killing while the rest of Ohioans live with less. Like Alaska's erstwhile governor, Ohio's chief executive fancies himself an avenging conservative hero with a common touch.

In the ornate setting of his address Mr. Kasich waxed poetic about our "beloved Buckeye state," then jiggered his prose to sound like ordinary folk dedicated to doin' what needs doin'. His seemingly off-the-cuff -- and frequently off-the-track -- remarks were peppered with gonna, gotta, doin', runnin', and "you ain't seen nothin' yet" eloquence.

The son of a postal carrier (represented by a public employee union?) adeptly wove a salt-of-the-earth persona that didn't need a script or Teleprompter or concrete examples of the changes he plans to spring on the state next week when his proposed budget is revealed. His rousing, rambling comments jumped from not raising taxes to overhauling the education system to restructuring government and from taming the nursing home industry to fixing Medicaid to getting rid of unfunded mandates.

But he never said which unfunded mandates he'd drop, how he'd put more dollars in classrooms, or what changes he'd make to Medicaid programs and nursing-home costs. The governor did say he's gonna stop Ohio's downward trend and transform a state under siege and at a crossroads with a forward-thinking growth agenda. Together, we will climb the mountain and make Ohio great, he said.

Governor Kasich finished to applause from Republicans and businesses lobbyists, but not from working Ohioans whose pay doesn't cover their costs. Not from the poor and the jobless who increasingly rely on Medicaid. And not from mental health advocates, schools, firefighters, teachers, and other public-sector workers shut out of the Statehouse and unable to attend hearings on their right to bargain to better their lives.

None of them heard anything specific to clap about. They're bracing for the devil in the details that are about to come.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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