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Published: Saturday, 1/19/2013

Governor plans to again hit the road for annual address with visit to Allen County

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich will move at least two branches of Ohio government to downtown Lima for one day next month as he takes his annual State of the State address on the road for the second time of his administration.

Last year, the Republican governor became the first not to deliver his assessment of the state’s situation to lawmakers at the Statehouse. He instead took his address, the Senate, and the House to a high-performing school in the struggling former steel city of Steubenville on the Ohio River about 150 miles to the east.

Now he’ll head nearly 100 miles to Allen County. The region is Republican-friendly territory, represented by the new president of the Ohio Senate, Keith Faber, and the No. 2 Republican in the House, Rep. Matt Huffman.

President Obama captured battleground Ohio in November, but lost Allen County to Republican challenger Mitt Romney roughly 30,000 votes to 18,000.

The governor’s speech will cap a flurry of activity over the next few weeks. Next week, he and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) will speak at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Soon after, he will unveil his proposal to revamp how Ohio funds K-12 schools, and he will follow that on Feb. 4 with this second two-year budget proposal to lawmakers.

The State of the State speech on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Lima’s Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center will give him a chance to sell his proposals to the General Assembly as well as to members of the public who tune in for a rare evening address. In addition to the school funding plan, his budget proposals are expected to include an overhaul of the state’s tax system with a focus on reducing the personal income tax and a transportation budget containing borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike to finance road projects across the state.

Although his 2012 speech was light on new proposals, the Steubenville location gave the Republican governor a chance to point to a top-ranked local school in terms of test scores, a school that defied the narrative that poor urban schools tend to struggle. Steubenville was also in the heart of an eastern Ohio region experiencing a new era of oil and natural gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing.

This time Allen County’s improving economic position is expected to be highlighted as an example of improvement in the state as a whole. Allen’s unemployment rate has dropped from 10.8 percent to 6.7 percent, matching the state’s just-announced rate in December.

“We've got a great story to tell, and I know Governor Kasich has an incredible record and vision to share in this important address,” Mr. Faber said. “This is how government ‘of the people’ should work.”

Moving the location of the State of the State address will require approval of both chambers of the General Assembly. There was resistance to breaking with tradition last year, and in the end the approval to move the speech barely passed the House.

Republicans now have an even stronger hold on the General Assembly, so approval is expected.

“The moving of this address significantly destroys a historical tradition of Ohio and needs to be stopped before another tradition is lost,” Rep. Ron Gerberry, a Youngstown area Democrat, wrote recently in a letter to House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina).

“As long-serving members, it is our responsibility to educate newer members in Ohio legislative history and tradition so future generations will enjoy them as we have,” he wrote.

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said he will support the resolution changing the location of the address.

“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “I like the tradition of the Statehouse, but I also respect that the governor gets elected with votes in 88 counties. I think it’s his decision.”

Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court are traditionally front and center at State of the State addresses when they’re delivered at the Statehouse.

The justices, however, did not make the trip to Steubenville last year. Neither did many of the lobbyists and representatives of special interest groups that typically attend such events.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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