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Can Gov. Kasich's Record Indicate What Kind Of President He Would Be?


Let's be clear about one fact - Ohio Governor John Kasich is conservative. But he's also pragmatic - not so strident as some other presidential candidates - and that has given him virtually a lane to himself in the campaign. In his five years as governor of Ohio, Kasich's record suggests a complicated governing style. And from member station WKSU, M. L. Schultze has more.


JOHN KASICH: Government is a last resort, not a first resort to come in and tell us what to do.

M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: John Kasich was in Congress for 18 years, but it was the tea party wave of 2010 that brought Kasich to the governor's mansion. Since then, he's battled public sector unions, repeatedly cut taxes, privatized much of the state's job creation efforts and signed strict antiabortion laws - all solid conservative credentials. But, some say, not solid enough. Since placing second in the New Hampshire primary, Kasich's record has been attacked in TV ads by some conservative super PACs.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Common Corps, Obama's Medicaid expansion, tax increases - Barack Obama? No - John Kasich.

SCHULTZE: Yet in his first year of his first term, Kasich took on the bargaining rights of the state's public-sector unions.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Kasich, no; unions, yes. Kasich, no...

SCHULTZE: As unions protested, Kasich confidently asserted he was just trying to help Ohio's battered economy.


KASICH: This bill is about restoring a balance so that employees can bargain over things like their wages. But when it comes to preserving pensions or health care, that's something that we think management ought to control.

SCHULTZE: Ultimately, Ohio voters overturned the law, and Kasich's governing style changed. Demetrius Falconer is a Democrat leaning strongly for Hillary Clinton. But she respects the way Kasich has dealt with changing political circumstances.

DEMETRIUS FALCONER: A lot of politicians entering the realm, they have this run over you or, you know, get on my bus, but the realities are we have to do a lot of giving and a lot of taking. There's a lot of negotiating. And I think that's probably what most people are seeing now with the governor.

SCHULTZE: Still, Kasich has remained the driver of conservative bus in other ways. Saying government must operate at the speed of business, he created a publicly-funded economic development agency - Jobs Ohio - and exempted it from most public oversight. Critics say his tax cuts have severely hurt local communities. And he signed more than a dozen laws that closed half of the clinics in Ohio that provide abortions. At a recent rally to support Planned Parenthood, Jaime Miracle of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio says there's no overstating the impact.

JAMIE MIRACLE: We stand here for people who need access to this care and for all of those who have lost access under Governor Kasich's witch hunt of abortion providers.

SCHULTZE: Perhaps the issue that rankles conservatives most is Kasich's expansion of Medicaid via Obamacare. Henry Gomez has covered Kasich closely for five years with cleveland.com. He says the Medicaid decision shredded a key political partnership for Kasich.

HENRY GOMEZ: And that was his big breakup with the tea party. It's also become, though, the keystone of his presidential campaign. He talked about how he was the guy who wasn't willing to ignore the, quote, "people in the shadows" in Medicaid expansion.


KASICH: But the Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those that don't have what we have. I mean, that shouldn't be hard for America. That's who we are.

SCHULTZE: But who John Kasich is, and what Ohio has been under his years as governor, is the subject of a lot more debate. For NPR News, I'm M. L. Schultze. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.
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