BOWLING GREEN — Calling himself someone who shakes things up, and likes doing it, Gov. John Kasich promised a big emphasis on education policy during a speech Thursday night to the Wood County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner.
In the early stage of his re-election campaign, Mr. Kasich mixed party pep talk with insights into his governing philosophy in his address to more than 200 people who paid $25 a ticket, plus an optional $100 to attend a VIP reception with the governor, to raise money for the party.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kasich's likely Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, waited to learn whether Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune would run against him in the May 6 primary.
Mr. Portune was expected to announce his plans Thursday but did not.
"We need significant, dramatic change in the way we do education," Mr. Kasich said.
The governor told the Bowling Green audience his plans include introducing students early to the idea of employment.
"We're starting in first grade to talk to young kids about occupations," he said. He also vowed to restore vocational education.
And he said he wants to increase the role of businesses and faith-based organizations in the schools, "because many of our at-risk kids don't see a future, many of our at-risk kids don't have self confidence."
"We are going to push this, I don't care what it's going to take," he said.
Mr. Kasich, a native of McKees Rocks, Pa., who was elected in 2010, said his late mother instilled in him the desire to make change.
"My mother would say, ‘Johnny, you shake it up,’ and I've done that," he said.
Mr. Kasich said his philosophy as governor is to not play favorites and to not be partisan. He expressed confidence, but not to the bragging level, about the state's economy.
"We're up 160,000 jobs. We were down 350,000 private-sector jobs, so we're up jobs now. We're about halfway back. That's not good enough but we're going in the right direction," the governor said.
Mr. Kasich said his policies have resulted in tax cuts that benefit small businesses and a surplus of $1.4 billion, which the governor linked to the recent announcement of a Chinese investment in a former General Motors plant in Dayton that is expected to generate about 800 jobs.
Jerid Kurtz, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said that last month, Ohio was No. 1 in the nation in job loss and that 427,000 Ohioans are out of work under policies that are "focused entirely on the rich."
"As the rest of the nation recovers, Ohio's headed in the wrong direction with our unemployment worse than the nation's for the first time in three years," Mr. Kurtz said.
Before the dinner, the governor exchanged political small talk and conversation during a half-hour stop with about 25 supporters at Coffee Amici coffee house in Findlay.
In response to a woman who said she works in a pain management clinic, Mr. Kasich said, "we're very into that, our anti-drug campaign."
Mr. Kasich inquired of Tracy Althaus where she worked and she told him at the Findlay Sears store, but that the store is closing.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Mr.Kasich said.
"It will be okay," said Ms. Althaus, 51. "I just graduated from Owens Community College."
She said she received a degree in emergency management planning.
Both Mr. Kasich and Mr. FitzGerald could have primary opponents.
Mr. Portune said in an e-mail to The Blade that he still has time to circulate candidate petitions before the May 5 filing deadline.
On the Republican side, the Tea Party faction continued to collect signatures for Youngstown veterinarian Donald Allen to oppose Mr. Kasich in the primary, largely because of his support of expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Columbus bureau chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.