Ohio Politics

A Monthly Blog

Compiled By Marty Kich

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AAUP-WSU blog page

December 2011

[Click the links to pdf’s of the full articles.]

The end of Governor Kasich’s first year in office did not occasion a large number of controversial pardons, but it did occasion a flurry of bill signings—thirteen to be exact. None of the bills has much to do with improving the employment picture in Ohio, often declared to be this administration’s top priority. One of the thirteen is the third bill passed by this legislature and signed by this governor restricting access to abortion providers. Regardless of one’s views on this issue, one has to question what such a cluster of bills on this single issue suggests about the priorities of this administration and this legislature. Another of the thirteen bills makes the Clerk of the Miami County Common Pleas Court the Clerk of the Miami County Municipal Court as well. Two other bills focus on identifying and intervening more effectively with students who have dyslexia—a worthy cause for certain, but given this administration’s major funding cuts to public education, one cannot help but wonder who has taken up this cause and how much actual funding is involved. Still another bill overhauls Ohio’s laws concerning power of attorney, a concern that may have been heightened by the Kasich administration’s elimination of inheritance taxes. And another bill designates February 20 as John Glenn Friendship 7 Day, which may be the most notable bipartisan accomplishment of Governor Kasich’s first year.

Given the forceful agenda that Governor Kasich announced and pursued during his first year in office and the overwhelming rejection of the anti-labor provisions of Senate Bill 5 in this past November’s referendum ballot, it is not surprising that the state’s major newspapers and other media sources devoted a great deal of space to evaluations of the governor’s first year in office. Writing for the Columbus Dispatch, Joe Vardon led with five major accomplishments of Governor Kasich’s first year, asserting that typically any one of them would have been enough to “define the entire year” as a success. But Vardon then added: “Whatever his accomplishments, [his] first 11 months as the state’s 69th governor were ultimately overshadowed by the introduction, mass protest against, and ultimate defeat of Senate Bill 5—legislation that Kasich championed to severely curb collective bargaining for the state’s public employees.”

Writing for the Lima News, Jim Krummel posited that the referendum vote shows that Ohio is simply “not ready for ‘In John Kasich We Trust.’” Krummel suggested that Kasich’s outsized ego caused him overestimate the power of his office and to escalate or even create antagonisms over elements of his legislative agenda that could have been introduced in a much less confrontational manner in order to mute the predictable opposition to them.

Reporting for WKSU, an NPR station affiliated with Kent State University, Karen Kasler combined the approaches in the previous two articles. In “John Kasich’s Extraordinary First Year,” Kasler offered a balanced but very lively summary of Governor Kasich’s accomplishments and defeats, while highlighting the elements of his personality that drove both.

Not surprisingly, Governor Kasich himself has tried to shift the focus away from Senate Bill 5. The headlines of several news reports reflect this effort. The headline in a Christmas Day article in the Mansfield News Journal was “Kasich Touting Jobs Record,” and the headline in a December 27 article in the Plain Dealer was “Ohio Governor John Kasich Reintroduces Himself as a Job Creator.” Although it is true that Ohio’s unemployment rate has improved over the past year, that drop may not reflect as much good news as the governor would like. In a December 16 report for Policy Matters Ohio, Hannah Halbert provided a detailed analysis of how a “dramatic drop in the labor force” and “minimal job growth” have combined to “undercut the good news about the unemployment rate.” Likewise, in an article for the Columbus Government Examiner, John Michael Spinelli reported that in 2011 “Ohio ranked 39 in the EMSI Job Growth Competitive Effect by State study.”

In a December 4 article for the Plain Dealer, Reginald Fields reported that Governor Kasich was “happy with his accomplishments” but felt that he needed to “improve his image.” In many respects, this self-assessment reiterates Jim Krummel’s argument that the problem was less with the governor’s proposals themselves than with the way in which he -- and, by extension, his proposals -- were perceived by the public. This interpretation seems a convenient way to sidestep the reality that the proposals provoked such fierce and broad-based opposition. Moreover, if the presentation of the proposals, and not the proposals themselves, were the major issue, the implications would actually seem much worse for the governor. For that reading of events would suggest that he is an abysmally ineffective proponent of his own agenda, and that sort of weakness would not seem something that might be remedied by any sort of quick fix.

Given the national attention to the referendum on Senate Bill 5, it is not surprising that Kasich’s stature in the wake of its overwhelming defeat should have been the focus of articles in national publications. Writing for the Daily Kos, Kenneth Thomas wondered, “Whatever Happened to John Kasich?” In the National Review, Brian Bolduc reflected Kasich’s shifted emphasis to his jobs record in a December 22 article titled simply “Kasich Reboots.” Part analysis and part interview, the article has an optimistic, if rehabilitative tone.

In a December 27 article for RealClear Politics, “Why Ohio Is the Most Muddled Swing State, Erin McPike surveyed the many reasons why the 2012 presidential vote in the state remains so unpredictable. Very convincing Democratic victories in 2006 were followed by seemingly decisive Republican victories in 2010, which were followed by the resounding defeat of Senate Bill 5 in 2011. Yet, the equally wide margin of support for Issue 3 in November suggest that the unpopularity of Governor Kasich is equaled in the state only by the unpopularity of President Obama. In both cases, the rejection of the centerpiece legislation of each leader has frequently been framed in very personal terms. In addition, McPike considered the ways in which the ongoing conflicts among the state’s Republican leaders—in particular, the antipathy between Governor Kasich and GOP State Chairman Kevin DeWine. Those conflicts have led to a chain of denunciations that have been all the more ugly for their having been publicly aired. (Three news reports on these conflicts are available here: one from the Plain Dealer, another from the Columbus Dispatch, and a third from WKSU.)

To close with a focus on Ohio jobs, although the Kasich administration offered $400 million in tax incentives in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Sears to move its corporate headquarters from Illinois to Ohio, an article by Joe Guillen in the Plain Dealer revealed that “nearly half of the companies statewide that received Ohio economic development awards didn’t keep their promises.” The Dayton Daily News reported that more than half of the regional firms that received tax deals failed to reach promised employment goals and that the three worst offenders received $3 million in incentives.

Across the nation, increases in private-sector employment have been mitigated by cuts in public employment, particularly at the state and local levels. In Ohio, dramatic reductions in Medicaid payments have led to a loss of 2,800 private sector jobs for nurses who work in the state’s nursing homes.

In December, four of the state’s prisons were sold to private operators. A December 15 report from Policy Matters Ohio, written by Bob Paynter, suggested that “prison privatization [actually] risks higher costs for Ohio.” In any case, the total annual savings anticipated from the sale of these four prisons is $7 million. That sounds like an awful lot of money, but it represents only .0259% -- less than three one hundredths of one percent -- of the state’s $27 billion annual budget. To put that in everyday terms, if a store offered you twenty-five cents off the price of a $1000 item, would you rush to the store to buy it? In “How Private Systems Game the System,” published on December 1 in Salon, Rania Khalek presented a thorough exposé of why the increasing movement to privatize America’s prisons is problematic in terms of how the justice system operates, is not nearly as cost-effective as its proponents have claimed, and reflects a political agenda much influenced by business interests.

An equally dubious development has been the attention to the exploitation of shale gas deposits in Ohio. Beyond the earthquakes associated with “fracking”—most recently in the Youngstown area—there are real questions about whether the development of these resources will produce anything close to the number of jobs that its proponents argue will more than offset any issues with the industry’s environmental impact. I myself was cheered by the news that because of our geology and governmental friendliness to the shale drilling industry, Ohio is positioned to become the world’s largest importer of wastewater produced by “fracking.”