What You Need To Know About John Kasich

Terrance Heath

Ohio governor John Kasich, the 16th candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, is neither the moderate Republican nor the “compassionate conservative” he pretends to be, but he still won’t get the Republican nomination.

John Kasich - Caricature

Image via Donkey Hotey @ Flickr.

This isn’t Kasich’s first time at the rodeo. He served nine terms in the House of Representatives, rising to prominence as chair of the House Budget Committee in 1997. He made a bid for the White House in 2000, after brokering a deal that balanced the federal budget for the first time since 1969, but dropped out. In 2001, Kasich left Washington for New York City, where he spent a decade working as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers. In 2010, he staged a political comeback, by defeating incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.

Upon considering his official campaign launch (his unofficial campaign launched somewhat earlier), Kasich seems to have gotten it backwards. Kasich made empathy for struggling Americans a central theme in his launch speech at Ohio State University (from which Kasich’s campaign allegedly disinvited several liberal OSU students the night before). Typically, Republican candidates run hard and fast to the right if they want to secure the nomination, and then spend the general election trying to get close enough to the center to convince voters they’re really not that bad. That’s because, as Ed Kilgore puts it, “the dominant conservative faction in the party just cannot tolerate leaders who don’t share The True Faith.”

There are a few things in Kasich’s record as governor that make him seem moderate, compared to the rest of the GOP candidates.

Kasich is one of the few governors to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Just ask him, and John Kasich will tell you he doesn’t back Obamacare and believes it should be repealed as soon as possible. Yet, Kasich bucked his party by embracing the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act, at a time when opposition to Obamacare was at a fever pitch. He did it because the money was there, and because political opposition didn’t hold water “against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.” (In an interview with the Associated Press, Kasich admitted that a repeal of Obamacare is “not gonna happen,” and said he also supported another key feature of health care reform: prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.)

In other words, Kasich embraced the Medicaid expansion because it was the right thing to do for hundreds of thousand of the working poor in his state. Doing the right thing for struggling Americans won’t win points with the Republican party faithful. If Kasich didn’t know it, he figured it out when fellow Republicans blasted him for, “hiding behind Jesus.” (Because Jesus would never heal the sick and help the poor. Wait….) In fact, Kasich’s Medicaid expansion is the main reason he won’t even get close to being the nominee.

That’s why Kasich is emphasizing his support for repeal. While it seems obvious that repeal would undo the good that Kasich did for over 400,000 Ohioans who became eligible for coverage, it’s alright, because Kasich has convinced himself that the Medicaid expansion is entirely separate from Obamacare. The GOP base isn’t going to buy that nonsense, and Kasich’s Republican opponents are unlikely to let him get away with it.

Kasich is not a climate change denialist. He’s a climate change “do-nothing.” Again, Kasich is trying to have it both ways. When it comes to climate change, it seems Kasich can’t go all-in on denialism. Instead, Kasich admits that he believes climate change exists, but he just doesn’t want to do anything about it. “I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it,” he said in a 2012 interview.

There are a couple of good reasons why Kasich has to take the position that a potentially disastrous event is probably happening, but nothing should be done about it. Climate change is anathema to two major segments of the GOP’s base.

  • It gives the religious right the vapors, because it requires them to accept earth science, which says the earth is billions of years old, and not a biblical age of a few thousand years old. That’s what they have to believe, or their world will stop making sense.
  • It makes the business wing of the party break out in hives, because acceptance of climate change means that greenhouse gases have to be drastically reduced. The best way to do that would be government regulation, something businesses can’t stand, because it would cost them money.

Ohio is the biggest producer and user of coal in the country. It’s America’s biggest source of carbon dioxide, and ranks fifth nationwide for carbon emissions. Fossil fuel companies have major power in Ohio. That’s why Ohio became the first state to move backward on renewable energy in 2013, when Kasich signed a law pushing back the state’s renewable energy goals, and delaying the 25,000 jobs and $1 billion in private sector investment renewable energy would bring to the state.

Kasich has waved the white flag on marriage equality. When Indiana governor Mike Pence signed off on “religious freedom” legislation in preparation for a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Kasich said that Ohio had no need for such a law. Kasich’s state (Ohio) was one of those states whose same-sex marriage bans were overturned by the Supreme Court last month. Shortly afterward, Kasich said during an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Kasich reiterated his belief in “traditional marriage,” but said, “It’s time to move on,” and for the Republican party to shift its focus away from same-sex marriage and focus on solving problems.

Kasich waged war on women in Ohio at every opportunity. As if boasting about his “hot wife” at home “doing laundry,” while he’s on the road giving speeches wasn’t bad enough, Kasich waged unceasing war on women’s reproductive freedom.

Kasich has waged war on public education in Ohio. As governor, Kasich has pushed for many tenants of corporate school “reform.” He expanded charter schools, even though Ohio’s charter sector is the most troubled in the country. Under Kasich, funding for public schools — which educate 90 percent of Ohio’s students — while funding for charter schools increased 27 percent. Charter schools now get more state money per student than public schools. Kasich extended his privatization agenda by expanding the number of school vouchers, which use public money to pay private school tuition.

David Hansen, Kasich’s chief for school choice and charter schools, resigned after admitting that he had withheld failing scores of charter schools in the state’s evaluation of the schools’ sponsor organizations, so they wouldn’t look bad. Hansen ignored state law when he left off F grades for online and dropout recovery schools off evaluations or charter school sponsors, because he feared the bad marks would “mask” successes in other areas. The omission raised the ratings of two state sponsors, making them eligible for more state perks and rewards.

Hansen has close ties to Kasich. His wife is Kasich’s chief of staff, and recently took a leave of absence to run his presidential campaign.

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