Ohio Governor John Kasich visited Richland County on Tuesday to speak with a crowd of around 250 guests at a luncheon held at the Deer Ridge Golf Club in Bellville.
Just a few minutes after noon on July 15, the event got underway with Richland Area Chamber of Commerce President Jodie Perry leading all in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Dr. Frederick Finks, chancellor of Ashland University, gave the invocation, and after lunch was served, Governor Kasich was given the floor.
Kasich is among the number of seated Governors seeking reelection in the U.S. gubernatorial elections of 2014. He spoke of the State’s progress over the last four years.
“I’m not here for politics,” he began. “I’m here to tell you where we are as a state.”
When Kasich took office in 2010, Ohio was still suffering from the effects of the Great Recession. It had an $8 billion deficit, the largest in the State’s history, and it was 48th in the country for job creation. Kasich stated that his strategy in remedying these issues had been to evaluate State government programs, to eliminate ones that weren’t working and to lower income taxes. He expressed his view that income taxes cripple business growth. He compared raising taxes to fix a broken economy similar to raising menu prices in a restaurant without customers. He affirmed successful governments are run like businesses, and successful businesses are constantly self-evaluating and innovating.
According to the governor, Ohio now enjoys a $1.5 billion surplus and 250,000 more jobs. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor show that the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent as of May 2014, compared to 9.1 percent in January, 2011, when Kasich took office.
The governor attributed many factors to the State’s economic and social improvement. He cited income tax cuts as a stabilizing force in the economy and one that draws companies to Ohio. He also asserted that restructuring regulatory processes for businesses has helped the economy, saying that burdening companies with “overkill” regulations is like beating a business owner over the head with a sledgehammer.
The governor also discussed social programs that benefit both the youngest and most vulnerable Ohioans. While K-12 education suffered the loss of federal stimulus money with his 2011 budget, state funding did increase. Incentives are being offered to those who pursue degrees, and students are being encouraged to gain skills via vocational training as early as middle school.
More opportunities are also becoming available to disabled persons through Employment First. The Executive Order, signed by Kasich in 2012, created the Employment First Task-force Advisory Committee. The committee is a collaboration between five state departments and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. It seeks to provide the disabled with jobs that bring them satisfying work at a level consistent with their skills and abilities. The governor also mentioned efforts to fight human trafficking and to humanize the welfare process.
“The question (for welfare applicants) should be: Why are you here? What can we do to help you? What kind of skills do you need?” he explained.
Following his address, the governor answered questions from audience members, with topics concerning small businesses, the current highway construction project and government involvement in welfare. When one chamber member argued that aid for the poor should be left to private charitable institutions, Kasich defended the government’s actions.
“We want charitable organizations to be significantly more involved,” he responded. “But (private charities) don’t have the capacity to feed all the hungry people in this State.”
In regards to Education and criticism of the Common Core, Kasich stated that decisions concerning curriculum is ultimately up to the local school districts, and he urged parents and businesses to become involved with local schools.
When asked how much of the State’s surplus would be reinvested in helping local governments, the governor replied that many local governments are experiencing surpluses of their own and that the money would be held back for a “rainy day fund.”
“The biggest thing we can do for local government is to create jobs because that creates more revenue,” he stated. He argued that the state capital is not to serve as fallback for local governments because doing so would recreate the debt problem that has so recently been fixed. “Government at all levels needs to figure out how to tighten its belt and become efficient and effective.”
Throughout the presentation and question-and-answer session, Kasich repeatedly encouraged individuals with concerns to contact his administration as well as JobsOhio, a private, non-profit corporation developed by Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly in 2011. According to its mission statement, JobsOhio is “designed to drive job creation and new capital investment in Ohio through business attraction, retention and expansion efforts.” The governor frequently expressed JobsOhio’s desire to help entrepreneurs and business owners achieve their goals.
“If you have a strategy…we’re here to help you,” he declared.
The governor concluded the session by reiterating his faith in Ohio’s future.
“Ohio is on its way up, whether Lebron’s here or not,” he joked. “It’ll be the top of the heap.”
The event was held through the combined efforts of five local Chambers of Commerce (COC), including the Ashland Area COC, Bucyrus Area COC, Clear Fork Valley COC, Galion-Crestline COC and Richland Area COC. Eric Snyder, Chair of the Richland Chamber’s Business Advocacy Committee, said the Chamber invited multiple candidates for state offices to speak to Chamber members. Among those invited were State Auditor candidates Dave Yost (R) and John Carney (D) and Kasich’s competitor, Ed Fitzgerald. The goal, according to Snyder, was to give chamber members the opportunity to see how certain political candidates would impact their businesses, while remaining politically impartial.
President/CEO of the Ashland Chamber, Barbie Lange and Perry, stated that this was the first time the chambers had partnered for such an event and that they were pleased with the results.
“It’s good for the business owners to get together,” affirmed Perry. “I would say it’s something we hope to continue.”
“Together we’re able to bring in speakers that we wouldn’t be able to alone,” stated Lange.
The event was catered by the Sand Wedge Grill staff in the lower dining room at Deer Ridge.
“I was very excited and impressed,” said Shelli Street, the new restaurant manager. While Street acknowledged that it was former manager Denise Conrad who planned the event, the Club’s new employee beamed with pride at hosting the State’s highest government official.
“A lot of people in the community were like ‘Wow, the governor’s going to be at Deer Ridge,” observed an enthusiastic Street. She said that the dining room was at maximum capacity.
“It went great,” said Larry Obhof, majority whip of the Ohio State Senate. Obhof believes events like the luncheon are important because they give Governor Kasich a chance to “interact with people and talk to the average Ohioan.” He added, “I think it shows that he’s more interested in hearing from us than us from him.”
Voters will decide whether Kasich will serve another term this Fall; elections are slated for November 4, 2014.