MARIETTA — Republican Gov. John Kasich sounded a unifying message during his annual State of the State address Wednesday, saying his state “is getting stronger every day” and is setting an example for the nation by solving tough problems with ingenuity and cooperation.
Kasich might be off the presidential campaign trail temporarily, but some of the scenes at the speech weren’t far removed. Kasich walked onto the stage at the historic Peoples Bank Theatre carrying a legislator’s baby. He then posed for a selfie with Republican legislative leaders before beginning his address.
Kasich returned to the familiar theme of his efforts to pull Ohio from economic hard times when he took office in 2011, and he said the state is leading the way with its innovations in education, Medicaid expansion, job creation and training, police-community relations and supporting legislative redistricting reform. Kasich said he’d like to see the Ohio Legislature take up congressional redistricting, too.
“Ideas and merit should be what wins elections, not gerrymandering,” he said. “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. Haven’t we had enough of that?”
Republican legislative leaders were lukewarm on the idea.
Kasich said the credit for Ohio’s accomplishments extends beyond the governor.
“Make no mistake, it’s not just me behind the steering wheel,” he told a crowd of about 1,000. “We’re all in this together, and we are all responsible for keeping Ohio moving forward toward our goal.”
He said everyone has unique gifts and should be encouraged to find his or her greater purpose “to literally live a life better than ourselves and to make a commitment to lift the world.”
Kasich has trailed New York businessman Donald Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Democrats expressed skepticism over Kasich’s moderate tone in the speech.
“John Kasich can keep pretending he’s different from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but the fact is that his governorship has been a failure and his policies have always been just as extreme as the rest of his party,” said TJ Helmstetter, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats in the state Legislature said Kasich’s policies have disproportionately shifted the state’s tax burden to local communities and school districts, hurting fire, police and other services. They called on Kasich to specify ways that he plans to pay for his proposals, such as more arts classes and guidance counselors in schools, while once again cutting taxes.
Senate Democratic Leader Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, said he was still waiting to see the kind of governor that Kasich portrays himself to be on the presidential campaign trail.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “And we have a few years left to see if John Kasich, our governor, is the governor that he’s been for the past six years or if he’s this new governor-slash-presidential candidate that wants to really, truly do work across the aisle and build consensus and work in a collaborative process. I hope he is and I hope he does. And I hope we do it immediately.”
Kasich announced plans during the speech to propose by early next year a comprehensive set of changes to the state’s tax code. He said his new plan will include more tax relief and changes that better align Ohio’s tax code with the modern economy. Separately, he will also pursue accelerating the state’s income tax cut by the end of calendar year 2016.
He also laid out a series of steps for dealing with the opiate abuse epidemic that’s plaguing the state, including registering pharmacy technicians to track bad actors.
He said the state also needs to restrict high-volume painkiller prescriptions. Each prescription should be filled within 90 days and any prescription that hasn’t been taken to the pharmacy within 30 days should be invalidated, he said.
His plan also calls for intensifying scrutiny on new drug treatment clinics.
Further, Kasich said he wants to extend more help to the children of active duty military families.
He said a new Military Family Opportunity Scholarship will help these families attend private elementary and secondary schools if that’s what they deem best for their children, noting the state will review ways to expand the new scholarships to children of veterans and to children of members of the Ohio National Guard and the Reserves.
About a dozen people protested outside the theater before the address.
Demonstrator Phyllis Reinhart stood gripping a sign that read, “Fresh Water Not Frack Water.” She said she lives about 1,800 feet from an injection well in Athens County and the noise and vibrations from the state are disruptive. She wants the Kasich administration to impose more regulations on the sites.
“We want him to see us,” Reinhart said. “We want him to hear us. We want to matter.”
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