What’s next for Gov. John Kasich — and for Ohio?
Today is John Kasich’s last day as governor of Ohio.
I wonder what he’s thinking about?
At 66 years old, the term-limited Republican Kasich probably isn’t ready to retire. I have met the governor on several different occasions during his two terms in office, and I have the strong impression he is an energetic person with plenty of ambition.
This isn’t the first time a political stint has come to an end for Kasich. Born in the Pittsburgh area, he has spent much of his life as an Ohio resident, and he represented our state’s 12th District in Congress from 1983-2001. He also has worked as an investment banker and as a TV show host.
Kasich grabbed the national spotlight when he ran for president in 2016 and then refused to support Donald Trump once he was selected as the Republican nominee. Although he has not publicly committed to another run for the nation’s highest office, many people expect Kasich to challenge Trump for the nomination again in 2020.
Kasich is a bold person. As a freshman at Ohio State University he already had an interest in politics. That prompted him to write a letter to President Richard Nixon in 1970, and he was granted a 20-minute meeting with the president as a result. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and started working in the field.
In 1978, Kasich became the second-youngest person ever elected to the Ohio Senate, where he was known for going his own way. That is no surprise to me. In small meeting rooms with editorial boards and in large auditoriums filled with reporters, I have seen Kasich do just that. I once saw him set aside a question from a reporter I know about the potential PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant during a press conference, instead telling the reporter he wanted to talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Kasich has held many traditionally Republican positions on a variety of issues, but some analysts consider him to be somewhat moderate. On the topic of climate change, for example, he has differed from many in his party and acknowledged it as a real problem. Still, he has made many moves in support of the coal industry and opposing broad regulation of it.
Kasich also has been an advocate for the natural gas industry, and he has insisted on using money generated by gas production in our region to fund a statewide tax cut instead of allowing the money to return to our area where it is needed for infrastructure upgrades and repairs. He has been a vocal supporter of the PTT plan to build in Belmont County and surely hoped a final announcement about the project would be made before he left office.
PTT and its partner, Daelim, recognized his efforts with a special message on the project website this week:
“As he wraps up two successful terms as Ohio governor, PTTGC America and Daelim extend our sincerest gratitude toward John Kasich for his strong leadership and close partnership on the proposed world-scale petrochemical complex in Belmont County,” the message states. “While PTTGCA and Daelim continue to pursue a final investment decision on the project, the consistent support from the Kasich administration, JobsOhio and numerous other partners at the national, state and local level has been of great benefit to us. We have been inspired by Governor Kasich’s vision of economic prosperity for all the people of Ohio, and it has been a pleasure to work with him and his outstanding team. We wish Governor Kasich all the best in the future.”
In addition to his interest in the energy sector, Kasich made headlines with his stance on labor issues. In 2011 he signed Senate Bill 5 into law, restricting the collective bargaining rights of public employees including teachers, firefighters and police officers. It prohibited them from striking and limited their ability to negotiate benefits. Democrats and unions protested the law and placed a referendum to overturn it on the ballot. Voters rejected SB 5, and Kasich responded by saying he respected the people’s decision, ending his efforts at broad labor reforms.
Kasich and his wife, Karen, have twin teenage daughters, Emma and Reese, so he has plenty to keep him busy even if he doesn’t run for office again. The couple opted to remain at their home in Westerville, not far from Columbus, throughout Kasich’s term, rather than moving into the Ohio Governor’s Residence. Still, Karen truly appreciated the governor’s mansion as an important Ohio site, and she once invited me to come tour the mansion and its gardens — an opportunity I unfortunately failed to take advantage of.
That invitation came during a telephone interview I conducted with Mrs. Kasich just before the 2016 presidential primary in Ohio. We talked about what kind of first lady she had been for the Buckeye State and what the people might expect from her if her husband were elected president.
While John Kasich was in office, his wife focused largely on issues that affect children – and she spent much of her time at home with their twins. She worked to promote literacy, physical fitness and a drug-free lifestyle, using online tools and working directly with schools. She said if her husband were to be elected president, her areas of focus would not change.
On Monday, Mike DeWine becomes the 70th governor of Ohio. Already serving as the state’s 50th attorney general, he is no stranger to our region and has made many visits here. The Republican is a former U.S. senator, lieutenant governor, congressman, prosecutor and state senator.
As attorney general, DeWine filed a legal challenge to a portion of the federal Affordable Care Act. He also sent letters to drugstore chains asking them to stop selling tobacco products. One major initiative of his office has been to ensure that thousands of untested rape kits being held in storage across the state were processed and the results indexed. About 700 indictments resulted.
DeWine also has worked to combat the opioid crisis. Due to his efforts, more than 100 doctors and pharmacists lost their licenses because of their improper prescribing practices.
While both are Republicans, DeWine and Kasich are very different people. DeWine seems to be a more traditional Republican and, unlike Kasich, has pledged he will support the GOP’s nominee for president in 2020. It will be interesting to see how things change with DeWine at the helm in Ohio.
Like PTT and Daelim, I wish Gov. Kasich and his entire family well as he departs our state’s top office. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with our new governor and his wife, Frances, and I can’t wait to see what Kasich will do next.