The State Of The State In Steubenville

Today Ohio Governor John Kasich gave the State of the State speech.  He broke with years of precedent and gave the address at a school in Steubenville, Ohio.

Amazingly, Kasich got ripped for deciding to give the speech away from Columbus.  Some groups said it was a waste of time and money.  One liberal “think tank,” ProgressOhio, criticized him for “breaking 200 years of tradition and running away to a small venue in hopes that no one will make the effort to travel there.”

ProgressOhio’s status as a “think tank” must be self-proclaimed, because there clearly wasn’t much thought given to their knee-jerk opposition to Kasich’s decision to take the State of the State speech on the road.  Since when does ProgressOhio care about “200 years of tradition”?  There’s nothing magical about having the State of the State speech in Columbus.  If you asked most Ohioans about the issue, they wouldn’t care where the speech is delivered — or even whether it is given at all.

Steubenville is one of many Ohio cities that has struggled in the past few decades.  Why not give Steubenville some time in the limelight?  Why not do something simple that brings visitors to town, causes them to spend some money at local restaurants and businesses, and focuses some attention on the Steubenville story?

I thought Kasich’s decision to give his speech in Steubenville was a small, but inspired, action on his part.  The reflexive opposition of ProgressOhio and similar groups, on the other hand, reflects nothing but the tiresome partisan politics as usual that most of us have grown to despise.

Turnpike Turnoff

As you would expect from the party out of office, the Ohio Democratic Party opposes just about everything proposed by Republican Governor John Kasich.  The Democrats have had some victories — but I still think they need to learn how to pick their battles.

The latest howls of outrage are directed at the decision to study possibly privatizing the Ohio Turnpike.  Is the opposition due to the fact that Ohio taxpayers will be paying more consultants to produce more studies?  No, of course not!  According to an email from Liz Walter, the Political Director of the Ohio Democratic Party, the problem is that privatization might cost public employee jobs.  Her email statest:  “Over a thousand employees – many of them union workers – could lose their jobs if he’s successful. That’s why our Congressional Democrats are doing everything they can to stand up for these workers and stop Governor Kasich’s latest assault on our middle class.”

So, any “loss” of a public employee job — even a conversion of a public employee job to a private sector job — is an “assault on the middle class”?  Doesn’t anyone in the Democratic Party realize how ludicrous that sounds?  If that attitude had prevailed throughout American history, we would still have flatboat operators and Erie Canal mule drivers on the public payroll.  If Ohio is to be competitive in the dynamic modern world, we can’t be saddled with the cost of paying workers to fill unnecessary legacy jobs.

I don’t think the Turnpike is some grand asset that we need to keep under government control as a matter of Ohio pride.  If privatizing a toll road through northern Ohio makes sense from an economic standpoint, we should do it.  Conditions change, and if those changed conditions result in the elimination of government jobs, so be it.

 

The Party That Cried Wolf

Some years ago I contributed money to a friend whose Mom ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Ohio General Assembly, and won.  I’m glad I was able to help her out, but ever since I’ve been on the email list of the Ohio Democratic Party.  I have to confess that I have read just about all of the over-the-top emails from Ohio Democrats that I ever care to read.

The emails come about once a week.  Their tone is always the same — just this side of outright hysteria — and the message is the same too:  John Kasich and the Republicans have just proposed something, and it is so grossly offensive, so fundamentally outrageous, and so palpably nonsensical that the Democratic Party will fight to the death to defeat it — and they need my contribution to do so. From the emails, you’d think that, under Kasich’s horribly misguided leadership, all of Ohio would be aflame right now.  Of course, that hasn’t happened.

The emails suggest that the Democrats immediately oppose everything Governor Kasich proposes, without even taking a reasonable time to consider his proposal and develop some kind of reasoned response to it.  Perhaps that kind of unrestrained resistance is welcomed by the “base” of the Democratic Party, but I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried “wolf.”  After he falsely cried “wolf” on many occasions and saw neighboring shepherds run to his fields in vain, he cried “wolf” in earnest and realized that his calls were ignored.

When every proposal seems to be greeted with the same extravagant response, it’s hard to attach much credibility to those responses.  When the Democrats really want people to listen to what they have to say, will anyone outside of loyal party members pay any attention?

The President’s Golf Outing, And Rules Of The Game

Today President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker John Boehner, and Ohio Governor John Kasich tee off for a round of golf.  They say they will talk about deficit reduction and other political issues as they travel around the course, and also will use the round as a chance to get to know one another better.

Golf can be a good bridge-builder between people who don’t know each other very well, but it also can reveal things about your playing companions that aren’t very positive.  For example, some golfers like to bet on the game every time they play.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you do you’d better have been honest about your handicap and you’d better play by the rules.  There’s nothing worse than a sandbagger with a phony handicap who mysteriously manages to shoot a “career round” every time a bet is on the line, or a cheater who drops a ball to avoid a lost ball penalty or kicks his ball into better position.

There are other bad things to watch out for, too.  Is the guy you’ve been paired with a chatterbox, a braggart, or a bore?  Is he a slow player, or an incessant waggler?  Does he give unwanted advice about your swing?  If he is playing poorly, does he give tiresome post mortems about the surprising crappiness of his game?  Does he concede putts that reasonably should be conceded, or does he take “gimmes” that really aren’t “gimmes” at all?  If betting is involved, how does he perform when the match is on the line?  And if he does not prevail, is he a sore loser?

Golf can tell you a lot about a person whom you don’t know very well.  It would be interesting to know what perceptions get formed as a result of today’s leisurely match.

Senate Bill 5 Moves On

By a one-vote margin, the Ohio Senate today passed Senate Bill 5, the controversial legislation to modify the collective bargaining rights of public employees.  The vote came as pro-union demonstrators again flooded the Ohio Statehouse and its grounds to try to stir up opposition to the measure.  The union protesters manage to get six Republicans to break ranks with leadership and vote against the bill — but they needed seven defections to kill the bill.  The measure now moves to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.  Governor John Kasich supports the bill and would sign it if it makes it to his desk.

I respect the public employees who came to Columbus to exercise their free speech rights and oppose Senate Bill 5, but I believe it is a necessary measure.  Ohio is facing a huge budget deficit, and many Ohio municipalities also are facing budget shortfalls.  A significant part of the state and local governmental budgets are devoted to public employees compensation and benefits.  Senate Bill 5 seems like a reasonable step to deal with those costs.  Public employees could still bargain about wages, hours, and working conditions, but not health care, pension benefits, or sick time.  Public employees also would not be able to strike.  The move should allow Ohio state and local governmental entities to bring public employee health care and pension benefit contributions in line with the prevailing approaches in the private sector, and the savings produced as a result will help to make up the budget shortfalls.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves, however.  Senate Bill 5 is not going to fix Ohio’s budget gap by itself.  Our legislators need to roll up their sleeve and continue to look carefully, and skeptically, at state programs, state departments, and state agencies and decide whether they truly are needed, and if so at what funding level.  What services are critical, and which provide non-essential services that we simply cannot afford any longer?  Public employees in Ohio should not be the only group that bears the brunt of necessary budget cuts.

 

At The Ohio Statehouse Union Rally

A view from the Statehouse steps onto the northwest lawn

Today, after lunch, Richard and I walked over to the Ohio Statehouse to check out the big union rally against Senate Bill 5, the bill that would affect the ability of public employees to engage in collective bargaining rights.  I had been hearing the hubbub outside my office window and was eager to see the turnout.

We got to the Statehouse about 12:45 and entered at the Third Street entrance.  There were some union folks out on Third Street and milling around the entrance.  We saw people wearing public employee union t-shirts, jackets and buttons in the map room and in the Atrium above.  Rows of chairs had been set up in the Atrium, facing each other across a center aisle, and as we walked through a large, leather-lunged woman was leading the crowd in “We want respect” chants.  I would estimate that several hundred people were in the Atrium, and they were in good spirits.

Signs at today's Statehouse rally

We crossed through the Statehouse Rotunda and exited out the Broad Street entrance, which was where the real action was.  A temporary stage had been erected and two singers with guitars were singing union songs.  The crowd covered about two-thirds of the west lawn and sidewalk, with people sitting on the benches and standing on parts of the McKinley memorial.  There were lots of union t-shirts, hats, and some very creative signs criticizing Governor Kasich.  Some of the signs seemed to be generated by outside forces.  For example, we saw several signs referring to Governor Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Walker as “Koch-heads” or “Koch addicts,” and I’m not sure most union workers would focus on the Koch brothers as sign material without some kind of prompting.

The people at the rally were pleasant and friendly, and the whole gathering had an upbeat open-air feel.  The Ohio Highway Patrol had officers at points in the Statehouse, and they were professional and friendly as always.  We later heard an estimate that 8,500 people were at the rally.  I’m not sure it was that large when we were there, but there definitely were thousands of people in attendance.  We did not see any counter-protest.

Regardless of your politics, if you are downtown restauranteur you have to like these protests.  We saw lots of protestors crowding into the Tip Top, Dunkin Donuts, and other restaurants in the core downtown Columbus area.

Illinois Ups The Ante

Last week Illinois passed legislation to significantly increase its income taxes in order to help solve its dismal budget deficit problems.   Personal income tax rates in Illinois will go from 3 percent to 5 percent — a 66 percent (!) increase — for the next four years.  Corporate taxes also will increase.  Legislators passed the bill only hours before a new legislature was sworn in, and coupled the tax increases with a promise that, during the four-year period, spending increases would be limited to 2 percent a year.  Given that Illinois has a $25 billion annual budget, the “strict limits on spending increases” means the Illinois legislature will have to scrimp by on only $500 million in new spending every year.

The actions of the Illinois legislature and Governor are precisely why “tea party” candidates were successful in the 2010 election and will be probably continue to be successful so long as government spending is out of control.  It will always be easier for politicians to defer hard choices on spending, so as to avoid upsetting any constituency, and then seek tax increases imposed by lame-duck lawmakers who are leaving office and, perhaps, seeking jobs with the same constituencies who are trying to avoid spending reductions.  I’m sure, however, that Illinois residents will appreciate the brave actions of their elected representatives and will be happy about paying even more taxes in a down economy where families have already engaged in significant belt-tightening.

I’m hoping that Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly don’t follow the lead of the Illinois legislature.  The path to a balanced budget lies in spending cuts, not tax increases imposed on struggling citizens and businesses that are expected to produce jobs.  And if the Ohio government can resist the urge to raise taxes, it may find that Illinois residents and businesses may look favorably on Ohio as a more tax-friendly place where they can relocate and leave corrupt, spending-addicted Illinois politics behind.

Kasich Takes Charge

Today John Kasich took the oath of office as Ohio’s Governor.

His first order of business will be to work on the state budget and to develop proposals that will deal with a budget deficit estimated to reach as high as $8 billion.  He has pledged to do so without raising taxes, in part by restructuring government and making Ohio more “business-friendly.”   He will have two months to develop his budget proposals, and Ohio citizens and legislators will then have time to evaluate them before the budget must be passed.

Our new Governor faces large challenges — in developing a budget, and in other areas as well — and already the opposition is mobilizing.  For example, I received an email today soliciting opposition to Governor’s Kasich’s agenda and asking for a pledge to resist his initiatives.  How sad for our state!  Before the new Governor even has an opportunity to begin the difficult process of governing and to develop and explain his proposals to address the challenges facing the Buckeye State, his opponents are already lining up to do battle, come what may.  With that kind of reflexive reaction, is it any wonder that we have problems with gridlock in our political systems?  In view of the dire problems facing Ohio, can’t the two parties at least try to work together to come up with some consensus solutions?

Learning Lessons From President Obama

We’re in a transition period in Ohio, going through the end of the Strickland Administration and preparing for the beginning of the Kasich Administration.

In certain ways, Kasich’s situation is similar to that of President Obama when he took office two years ago.  Like President Obama, Governor Kasich will enjoy large majorities in both houses of the legislature.  Every state-wide office also is in Republican hands.  When he takes office, Governor Kasich therefore will face the same political landscape that President Obama surveyed two years ago — one in which he should be able to accomplish his policy goals with cooperative legislators.

Obviously, as the 2010 election confirmed, the first two years of the Obama Administration did not turn out well for the President or his Democratic allies.  What lessons should Governor Kasich learn from President Obama?

First, focus is important.  The most important issues in Ohio right now are the state budget shortfall and the economy, and it is in those areas that Governor Kasich should concentrate his efforts.  Second, as the “health care reform” legislation process demonstrated on a national stage, it is crucial to avoid actions that are easily depicted as overreaching.  In Ohio, Governor Kasich won by a relatively small margin, and he shouldn’t interpret his victory as a sweeping mandate to overturn every aspect of state government.  Third, humility and discretion go a long way.  I think President Obama has suffered from overexposure.  Governor Kasich would be wise to resist the temptation to regularly appear on national news shows or engage in other high-profile activities.  Voters decided to go with Kasich because they thought he could address Ohio’s budget and jobs issues.  Every minute Governor Kasich spends in a TV studio will be seen is a minute that he isn’t working on those issues.

The Casino Rolls Ahead

Slowly, but surely, the casino on the west side of Columbus is moving toward completion.  Recently the developer unveiled plans and architect drawings for the Hollywood Casino, which is what the casino will be called.  Nearby residents apparently were impressed.  The casino will be a 300,000 square foot, one-story structure that will have thousands of slot machines, dozens of table games, a poker room, and restaurants.  From the architect renderings, it looks about what you would expect a casino to look like, both inside and outside.  It is currently slated to open in mid-2012.

In the meantime, City of Columbus officials and the casino developers are scrapping about whether the city made certain promises when the casino moved from the Arena District to the west side of town — a move that city leaders desperately wanted.  Each side thinks it has leverage.  The casino developer’s west side land is in Franklin Township, not the city of Columbus, and if the casino developer doesn’t seek annexation Columbus would lose $24 million a year in casino taxes.  On the other hand, Columbus says it won’t provide water to the site unless it is annexed.  The areas in dispute seem to revolve around tax breaks and some form of compensation for the losses the casino developer apparently incurred when it agreed to move the casino location.

Another issue to be resolved is the membership of the state commission that is supposed to regulate the casinos.  The members nominated by outgoing Governor Ted Strickland have not been confirmed, and Governor-elect John Kasich wants to make his own appointments to the body.  The individuals appointed by Strickland, however, say that if they don’t move forward deadlines will be missed and the construction of the casinos could be delayed.

There are always going to be some snags when you are starting up a new, heavily regulated business in a place like Columbus, Ohio — and casinos are no different.

Rail Rejection

They say elections have consequences, and in Ohio we are beginning to see that.  One of the consequences of John Kasich’s narrow victory over Ted Strickland in the race for Ohio Governor will be the rejection of plans to establish a passenger rail corridor between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  Kasich has declared that the project is “dead,” and with Republicans in control over both Houses in the Ohio General Assembly he undoubtedly will get his way on that point.

The “3C Rail Corridor” project was going to be funded, in significant part, with $400 million in federal funds, as well as by ongoing state contributions.  Kasich’s point is that the project is a white elephant that will require future state budget expenditures that Ohio simply cannot afford in its current budget predicament.  The return of passenger rail to Ohio has long been a dream of many people, but others raised serious questions about the viability of the project because the trains would have been slower, costlier, and less direct than driving from Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland.

The federal funds are earmarked for the project, so  the $400 million must be returned to the U.S. government.  Wouldn’t it be a good start on our federal budget problems if other newly elected governors followed Kasich’s lead and returned federal funds for costly projects that don’t really make sense in their states?   In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, $400 million doesn’t seem like much, but — as I say when Kish and I discuss household budgeting — every little bit helps.

An Ohio Sweep And A National Message

Although there are still some races that are too close to call, the general outlines of the 2010 election are clear. It was a bad night for Democrats at the hands of voters who wanted to send a message — and did.

In Ohio, the entire slate of statewide offices went RepublicanJohn Kasich ousted Governor Ted Strickland in a very close contest.  I think Strickland was generally perceived to be a good man who was caught up in larger forces not of his making, and the fact that the contest was as close as it was reflected that.  Now Kasich will need to grapple with the state’s pressing budget issues.  The Republican sweep means that Republicans will control the state redistricting process and also means that other capable officeholders, such as Attorney General Richard Cordray, will be leaving office.

In federal races, the results in Ohio mirrored those in America as a whole.  The Republicans handily won the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio and knocked off a number of Democratic incumbents in contests for seats in the House of Representatives.  Nationally, the Republicans picked up at least six Senate seats and 60 House seats.  Although some Democratic Senators, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, managed to hold on to their seats, a series of long-time Democratic Representatives went down to defeat.

The voters have served their message to their representatives, and the ball is now in President Obama’s court.  He will begin to respond at a press conference today, although the real test will come when the talking ends and the governing begins — and that includes the decisions that are made in any post-election, “lame duck” session of the current Congress.

I hope the President avoids the temptation to rationalize the results as a reflection of a “know-nothing” electorate or to blame the results on economic conditions caused by others and instead sincerely accepts the undeniable fact that American voters are not happy with the direction in which the President is steering this country and want him to change course.   They think he has overreached.  His challenge now will be to find areas of common ground with the voters and members of Congress who are worried about overspending, explosive growth in our national debt, and intrusive government.

Ohio, The Swing State

As the night progresses, we’ve seen significant swings in the Ohio Governor’s race.  In early returns, Republican John Kasich led, then incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Strickland surged into the lead, and now Kasich has moved into a slight lead.

In Ohio, the issue of where the votes have been counted can be highly significant.  Although Ohio, as a whole, is a swing state, the Buckeye State really is a bunch of enclaves.  When you consider interim statewide results, you must consider whether it is Democratic strongholds that been counted or Republican areas that have been tallied first.

Here in central Ohio, the Stivers-Kilroy case in the 15th District has not been called, although Stivers has a significant lead with more than half of the votes counted.  In our district, the 12th, about a third of the votes have been counted and Republican incumbent Pat Tiberi has a surprisingly small lead over Democratic challenger Paula Brooks.

As of 10:20 p.m. Eastern time, there is still a lot to be decided.

An Election (And A Map) In The Balance

We’re now less than a week from Election Day, and the furious last-minute push of radio and TV ads, mailings, and get out the vote calling and canvassing is underway.

In Ohio, the marquee races are a gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican challenger that appears to be close and a U.S. Senate race between Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher that polls are indicating will be a Portman blowout.  Along with those two headline races, Ohioans will vote for a full slate of statewide offices, Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court, the U.S. House of Representatives, and members of the Ohio Senate and Ohio House.  It will take a while to complete our ballots come Tuesday.

Although they haven’t commanded as much attention, two statewide races, for Secretary of State and Auditor, will have great long-term significance.  The occupants of those two offices, along with the Governor and one representative each of the Republican and Democratic parties, will form the Apportionment Board that will redraw the map of Ohio’s legislative districts after the 2010 census results are released.  The results of the Auditor’s race and the Secretary of State’s race therefore will determine whether the Ohio legislative districts are gerrymandered to benefit Democrats, or gerrymandered to benefit Republicans — or maybe, just maybe, drawn to reflect logical geographical and social factors in a way that results in more fairly competitive races for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate.  (But who am I kidding?)

Edited to correct my mistake in the original post, which stated that the Apportionment Board redraws Ohio’s congressional districts.  Instead, it redraws Ohio’s state legislative districts.  The redrawing of congressional districts is reserved for the Ohio General Assembly.  Thanks to the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor for steering me in the right direction on an embarrassing error.

The Bloom On The Education Rose

In Ohio, at least, a common charge by Democratic candidates is that their Republican opponents would cut spending on education, resulting in the layoff of thousands of teachers.  Governor Strickland’s supporters have made such arguments about John Kasich, and similar charges have been made against the Republican candidate for the Ohio House District that includes New Albany.  I expect that, at some point, focus group testing indicated that, if you wanted to oppose spending cuts, a safe way to do so was to claim that the cuts would hurt teachers and education.

I wonder whether that perception still holds true.  We know that teachers are highly unionized and very active politically.  We know that, at least in some areas, teachers receive subsidized health care benefits and pension benefits far beyond what is available to most employees in the private sector.  We know that, for the most part, adding more teachers apparently hasn’t resulted in any meaningful improvement in how the children who are the product of public schools perform in science and math.  We have heard about incompetent and disinterested teachers, and we’ve read about the so-called “rubber rooms” in New York City where teachers who have been accused of misconduct draw paychecks while doing nothing.  (More recently, the bad publicity about the “rubber rooms” has caused the teachers to be assigned to menial clerical work, for which they will nevertheless be paid their full salaries.)

I wonder whether these kinds of stories, coupled with the crushing budget deficits that are looming in Ohio and many other states, have taken a bit of the bloom off the education rose.  When significant cuts must be made to bring the state budget into balance, why shouldn’t education and teacher positions be on the table just like every other budget item?  And given the oppressive budget reality, is it really advisable to elect candidates who are so beholden to teachers’ unions that they won’t even consider such cuts?