Kasich has firm handle on issues

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, making a swing through the area Friday, wouldn’t discuss his election opponent’s personal life. He doesn’t have to. Other people are doing plenty of talking about it.

Kasich is firmly in the driver’s seat as the November election approaches. Public opinion polls have shown the Republican governor in the lead against Democrat Ed FitzGerald for months.

If anything, Kasich may be gaining steam. The most recent major poll, by Quinnipiac, showed him with a 12-point lead over Fitzgerald (48-36). That poll concluded July 28.

It’ll be interesting to see results of the next poll. The Quinnipiac poll concluded just before revelations about FitzGerald’s longtime lack of a regular Ohio driver’s license surfaced.

It’s a long story, but suffice it to say FitzGerald did not have a full driver’s license for about five years ending in 2012. He held only temporary permits. One restriction for those is that holders can drive only when at least one other licensed driver is in the car. FitzGerald appears to have broken the law on that at least once.

But why FitzGerald let his regular license lapse for so long is a question. He’s stopped answering questions about it.

That information surfaced after a press report that two years ago, police in Westlake were asked to check on a car parked for about half an hour in an empty lot very late at night. In the car were FitzGerald and a woman, not his wife, described as a family friend from Ireland. Both say nothing untoward occurred. Police reports also contain no reference to anything inappropriate.

Again, Kasich won’t discuss the reports. But he already had plenty of material on which to campaign – his record as governor.

It seems long ago and far away now, in view of the state’s solid fiscal situation, but the Buckeye State budget was a train wreck already occurring when Kasich took office on Jan. 10, 2011.

Under former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, the General Assembly was facing an $8 billion gap between revenue expected and spending planned for the state’s two-year budget. That is a lot of money – but in short order, Kasich and lawmakers eliminated the gap and enacted a balanced budget.

During his term, the governor also has overseen tax reductions totaling more than $3 billion.

When spending cuts needed to accomplish that were revealed, a great hue and cry arose that, in effect, critical state services would be slashed and funding for local governments would be cut to the bone. Ask most Ohioans if they’ve noticed much difference in government services. Most will reply in the negative, I suspect.

At the same time Kasich was leading lawmakers in getting the state’s fiscal house in order, the governor was embarking on other initiatives, including economic development.

When Kasich took office, the unemployment rate in Ohio was slightly above 9 percent. It’s 5.5 percent now. During the governor’s term, the state has gained nearly 263,000 jobs. Ohio seems to be recovering from the Great Recession substantially faster than many other areas of the country.

Now, as I’ve pointed out many times, politicians don’t really create jobs, as much as they want you to believe they do. But they can create a government tax and regulatory environment that makes it easier for the private sector to put people to work – and clearly, that happened under Kasich.

While Kasich is a Republican, his pragmatic approach will serve him well on the campaign trail. To anyone claiming the GOP is in bed with big business, he can point to a record that includes at least one request (rejected by legislators) for major tax increases on some energy companies.

To those who try to sell the old falsehood about Republicans not caring for poor people, Kasich can point to his quick embrace of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid – something many governors did not do. One estimate is that about 354,000 Ohioans will get health insurance free of charge because of the Medicaid expansion.

So Kasich can campaign on issues that should resonate with Ohioans – including many staunch Democrats.