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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Gov. John Kasich called Tuesday for an end to the partisan battles that characterized 2011 and urged Democrats and fellow Republicans to work together to get as close as possible to creating "a prosperous Ohio, a richer Ohio, the Ohio free of unemployment."
"I think we have to steer clear of mindless partisanship," he told members of the General Assembly, Cabinet members, students, and others gathered in the auditorium of the Steubenville City School District's Wells Academy elementary school.
"I've got to tell you something," Mr. Kasich said. "Being a good Republican or being a good Democrat, you've lost it. They don't give you awards for being partisan. … If you look at what's happening in Washington, do we want to be them? They can't get out of their own way. ... Leave it on the fields, ladies and gentlemen."
The governor delivered his second State of the State address some 150 miles northeast of the Statehouse in what is believed to be the first time that an annual State of the State speech to lawmakers took place outside of Columbus.
The struggling steel city of Steubenville, he said, reminded him of his old home, which is McKees Rocks, Pa., about 35 miles up the Ohio River just outside Pittsburgh.
"If it wasn't for bipartisanship, I wouldn't be standing in Steubenville today," Mr. Kasich said, referring to the heavily Democratic town.
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He picked Wells Academy, a K-4 elementary school built within the walls of Steubenville High School, because it is the highest-performing elementary school on state tests, flying in the face of arguments that poorer, central-city schools tend to struggle.
"[Wells Academy has] set a standard for the entire rest of the state," he said. "They're the No. 1-performing school in Ohio. If you guess where that No. 1 school would be located, you may not get to Steubenville. But here it is."
The speech was heavier on looking back at 2011 than it was on proposals looking forward. He did unveil a plan for a statewide broadband system that would be as much as 10 times faster and looked ahead at what he hopes will be a burgeoning industry of exploration for natural gas and oil in eastern Ohio shale.
He cited the state's dropping unemployment rate and studies showing Ohio leading the Midwest in job creation after losing some 600,000 jobs over the last decade.
"We're alive today," he said. "We're out of the ditch. We're growing. We're happening in this state. It's not me."
Democrats criticized the nearly hour-and-a-half speech, delivered without a teleprompter, for lacking specifics on the few new proposals he unveiled and for the budget cuts that Steubenville and other schools and local governments across the state have experienced under Mr. Kasich's first budget.
"The governor is in fantasy land," House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) said. "He took credit for everything under the sun and, given a few more minutes, would have taken credit for the sun. … He asks us to put aside partisanship and yet he rams through the most extreme radical agenda that we've seen in quite a long time."
He noted that the governor made no mention of Senate Bill 5, the law restricting public-employee collective bargaining power that voters ultimately rejected at the polls.
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When the conversation turned to what he is holding out as part of the economic answer to struggling eastern Ohio -- the new breed of natural gas and oil exploration -- the governor's speech was repeatedly interrupted by a handful of protesters.
"Kasich is selling out Ohio," one shouted as she was led from the school auditorium by security officers.
Many of the more than 150 protesters who were penned into a street across from the school, as well as the few who got inside the auditorium, were primarily concerned about the use of hydraulic "fracking" to get at the oil and gas.
The process uses fluids and chemicals at high pressure to fracture underground shale to release the fossil fuels trapped within.
There's no doubt in the mind of protester Darlene O'Neil of Youngstown that recent earthquakes that shook her home are related to a local injection well that takes mine waste, including that from fracking operations.
"We've had 10 or more earthquakes in this exact vicinity since these injection wells have gone in," she said. "I think that's pretty cause-and-effect. I'm looking for them to stop until they can find regulation that will keep our air safe, our water safe, and our children safe, and keep my house from crumbling."
Mr. Kasich promised the industry would be appropriately regulated and that Ohio would not trade the environment for the billions it is expected to generate.
The only real new policy he unveiled was a $10 million investment to improve and expand on a fiber-optic, high-speed broadband system that the state claims could increase Internet download speeds as much as tenfold.
The first $8.1 million phase of an agreement with Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks will fund hardware connections among Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland by June, with other parts of the state following by October.
In a particularly emotional point, Mr. Kasich urged lawmakers to declare war on human trafficking in Ohio.
"We have 1,000 Ohio children -- the average age 13 years of age. They're in the slave trade business in our state," he said. "[Rep.] Teresa Fedor [D., Toledo], you know, she's on fire about this. … My girls are 12. Can you imagine someone snatching your daughter and forcing them into prostitution at 13 and 14 years of age?
'It's a scourge!'
"We've got to stop this," he said. "We've got to stamp this out of our state. It's a scourge!"
Although she applauded Mr. Kasich's support for her bill to strengthen Ohio services for victims of human trafficking, Ms. Fedor criticized the governor for standing in an excellent public school and making a pitch for expansion of vouchers and charter schools that would allow more children to leave more traditional schools.
That point was not lost on Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko, who said vouchers and charter schools drain public schools of students and revenue.
"I'm disappointed that he puts so much weight on choice, and in particular the charter schools and the EdChoice [voucher] program that we have, because I don't think they necessarily are productive for the students who take advantage of them, with some exceptions," he said.
Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) said the lack of new proposals from the governor was a reflection of past success. "If he hadn't done so many reforms in the budget itself, I think you would have seen a lot of new things coming out," she said. "What I think you saw was a bit of a reflection on everything we've accomplished and a bit of confirmation of what we're going to continue on, take a look at, and prioritize."
In addition to "fracking," protesters challenged the governor on his potential lease of the Ohio Turnpike. A few employees of Findlay's Cooper Tire & Rubber Inc., who have been locked out in a labor dispute, protested what they characterized as corporate greed.
University of Toledo President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs said he agreed with Mr. Kasich's emphasis on the link between manufacturing and education. "It used to be thought that manufacturing was dumb, and dirty, and dangerous, and disappearing, and that is no longer true," he said. "Today, manufacturing is smart, safe, sustainable, and surging forward. It now needs to be connected to higher education. We need to create university-driven manufacturing. Education needs to be connected to jobs."
Owens Community College also liked what it heard from Mr. Kasich on the growing link between higher education and jobs.
Vice President and Provost Renay Scott said industry wants short-term training programs and professional certification programs, such as welding, baking, and pastry certificates.
"The key about education is it needs to be on demand, it needs to be flexible, and it needs to terminate in a job," she said.
Staff writer Nolan Rosenkrans contributed to this report.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.