I have not written much about John Kasich in the last year. This was not a conscious decision on my part; but more because I had a “wait and see” mentality throughout the campaign. Until I made my final decision in early October to vote for Libertarian Ken Matesz, my jury was always out about Mr. Kasich.
I respect him, his passion, and his ability, but I do not trust him. As my Congressman (12th District), I admired his willingness to tackle the Washington insiders with his work on alternative federal budgets. On the other hand, his relationship with Lehmann Brothers troubles me, because I have to wonder how much he was influenced by Eastern Establishment values. In short, Gov. Strickland’s charge resonated with me.
His actions since the election make it clear that he will not pussyfoot around about resolving the $8 billion deficit. We all know there really is not much fat in state government today given the missions it has been asked to take on by the feds and the General Assembly. Yet a deficit that size (approximately one-seventh of the entire biennial budget) will have to cut a lot of muscle. When coupled with his desire to reduce the tax burden in Ohio, he will need both guts (which I know Mr. Kasich has) and creativity (which remains to be seen). A surgical approach won’t be good enough. Mr. Kasich will have to wield the meat axe.
His warning to the Statehouse lobbyists last week is a good start, as long as he is sure the Republicans in the General Assembly are solidly behind him. The pork barrel is just as ingrained in the culture of state government as it is in the federal. Changing that culture will take a great deal of courage and determination from our state legislators.
Mr. Kasich will defeat his own purpose if he thinks that state government services can simply be turned over to private contractors. Contractors usually cost more than state employees, and if my twenty years’ experience in state government is any indication (and I have had considerable exposure to contractors in my work), their efficiency rarely justifies the added expense. Furthermore, Ohioans have legitimate concerns about contracting out functions related to public safety, including prison management.
To successfully achieve his objectives, Mr. Kasich will have to risk losing “federal funds” for a while, so that he can redesign the safety net in an affordable manner. He will have to support a legislature that is willing to practice nullification aggressively, especially where the feds attempt to mandate additional state spending. He will need to aggressively lobby the Congress not just to scale back, but eliminate most of its fiscal demands on state governments.
Mr. Kasich will have to communicate a vision that will inspire the people of Ohio to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. No politician in recent memory has even attempted to do this, but the next four years are going to be very hard ones with the best of policies. Part of that sacrifice will be for already cash-strapped Ohioans to help their neighbors in need – personally and through their churches and community organizations.
This approach is the only one that holds with it the hope of preserving and strengthening a free society in hard times. Failure to act boldly will result in the destruction of our state government – and all of our freedom. On the other hand, success will bring us out of this crisis greatly strengthened, both materially and spiritually.