COLUMBUS — There are undoubtedly philosophical differences between Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the late John Joyce “Jack” Gilligan, the unabashedly liberal Democrat who held his job four decades earlier.
But there’s at least one thing on which the two likely would have agreed: Ohio should expand Medicaid eligibility under President Obama’s health-care law.
As Ohio paid tribute Thursday to Mr. Gilligan inside the Ohio Statehouse, a long-planned rally was held outside by advocates for those with mental illness and addictions who view Medicaid expansion as a way to increase access to treatment.
Mr. Kasich was inside at the memorial service, but he has taken on conservative elements of his own party previously to side with many of the same players outside backing Medicaid expansion. In the process, he’s made some of the same arguments once made by Mr. Gilligan to create an income tax to meet government’s “moral” obligation to help the mentally ill and provide health care for the poor.
A key difference between the two governors’ positions, however, is who pays the bill. One reason cited for Mr. Gilligan’s narrow loss for re-election in 1974 against Republican James Rhodes was the incumbent’s successful push for Ohio’s first income tax to help pay for education and other government services.
Mr. Kasich has a mission to cut, if not end, the income tax, heralding just last week the first paycheck withholding adjustment under a recently passed 10 percent cut to be phased in over three years.
With the Medicaid expansion debate, the federal government has pledged to pay 100 percent of the tab for the first three years, with the reimbursement gradually dropping to 90 percent after that.
“The tragedy is that his own party isn’t supporting [Mr. Kasich] on that,” said Peter Ujvagi, chief of public policy and legislative affairs for the Lucas County Board of Commissioners and a former Democratic state representative who attended the Gilligan memorial. As a young man starting out in Toledo politics, he worked on Mr. Gilligan’s unsuccessful 1968 race for U.S. Senate and his successful 1970 gubernatorial run.
“I think the governor [Mr. Kasich] to some extent is making that decision on a pragmatic basis, and quite frankly, the legislature is making its decision on an ideological basis,” he said. “And that is not the way that we should be governing this state.”
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said he’ll leave it to others to make comparisons. “The governor’s service in the General Assembly didn’t overlap with Governor Gilligan’s term, so that’s commentary we’ll have to leave for others to make,” he said. “Leaders always have their differences and similarities, and at the end of the day it’s the efficacy of their policies in lifting up Ohioans that matters.”
Eli Miller, state director for Americans for Prosperity Ohio, noted the organization supported Mr. Kasich’s recent income tax cut while fighting his proposed Medicaid expansion. “We do not believe that expansion of a bloated and broken program is in the best interest of the fiscal health of our state or the physical health of our residents who would be placed into the program,” he said.
Mr. Gilligan’s former gubernatorial assistant, Bob Dailey, said this week that if his late boss were alive, “He’d be on the steps with” those rallying outside.
“I'm sure he would,” said Mr. Gilligan’s daughter, Kathleen Sebelius. As U.S. secretary of health and human services, she’s in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.