SANDUSKY — Republican Gov. John Kasich urged Ohioans on Tuesday to set aside their political divisions and the “age-old fear of change” to help move the state and nation forward.
In his penultimate State of the State address, the Republican governor and former presidential contender said modern Ohioans should look to the great innovators of the state’s history for inspiration, including Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.
“We were at the center of the Industrial Revolution because so many people dove head first into new ideas,” he told a crowd of about 1,500 at the ornate Sandusky State Theatre. “Think about this: The Industrial Revolution. New ideas about what to make and how to make it, and they accepted no limits. It was all about risk taking.”
Ohio’s cities and small towns once overflowed with factories and blue collar jobs, but a shifting economy has left behind many frustrated workers.
Their angst showed up in November’s presidential election when working-class voters in what once were manufacturing and Democratic strongholds threw their support to Republican Donald Trump and his promises to bring back fair trade and jobs.
Kasich, 64, said his administration’s efforts to expand the former manufacturing powerhouse into high-tech areas, such as big data, smart transportation and drones, are already paying off — but there’s more to do.
“People say, can’t we take a break? Can’t we slow down? Yeah, if you want to lose,” he said. “We cannot slow down. This is the 21st century. You’ve got to put your foot on the gas.”
He called for devoting $20 million — and Ohio’s famous ingenuity — to scientific breakthroughs in opiate addiction and pain relief. The Third Frontier Commission, which develops the state’s research and technology economy, would spearhead the effort. Created in 2002 by Republican Gov. Bob Taft, the panel is guided by an advisory board and would use existing funds.
As accidental overdose deaths remain at troublingly high rates across the state and country, many of Ohio’s top tier medical and research institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic and Ohio State University, already have such research underway. Kasich mentioned as an example a device that connects to someone’s ear that can relieve pain and block the effects of opiate withdrawal.
The governor also said he’s creating a task force of business leaders, focused on opening lines of communication and cooperation between Ohio’s schools and employers needed to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
Kasich’s proposal earlier this year to require school teachers to intern at local businesses was met with much resistance, but he insisted Tuesday that people must move outside their comfort zones for the state to thrive. “Change is coming,” he warned.
“If we aren’t prepared for change, people are going to find themselves out of work,” he said.
“Change is coming whether we like it or not, so let’s accept the change but reject the fear and the hesitancy and the unwillingness to prepare. We must get ahead of this coming tsunami. We have to act and not react.”
Kasich delivered the speech in the Lake Erie city of Sandusky, home to Cedar Point, which touted its contributions to the state’s $42 billion tourism industry during the day of promotional events and Cabinet member appearances that has become a tradition.
In another yearly ritual, Kasich handed out his Governor’s Courage Awards. They went to Dan Rogers, who leads a Toledo mission helping the hungry and homeless; Judge Paul Herbert, who saw victims of human trafficking as needing help not punishment; and Damone Hudson, a Dayton bus driver who stopped a woman preparing to jump off a bridge.
The address was timed for within weeks of Kasich’s new book, “Two Paths,” reflecting on his experience as a candidate in last year’s election. It expands on a campaign speech in which he warned against “vicious” campaign tactics as undignified and playing on hate and fear.
On Tuesday, he said people of varying political beliefs can find common ground around many issues, including tackling drug overdose deaths, hunger and infant mortality and finding jobs for military veterans.
He said rising polarization is being driven by people only exposing themselves to ideas they agree with, not listening to how others think.
“This is not acceptable. Nor is it sustainable for the good of our country and the good of our children,” he said.
Ohio state legislators of both parties said after the speech that they are working to reduce partisanship, and are working together despite Republicans holding strong majorities in both Ohio’s legislative chambers.