Ohio governor's speech offers energy, few details

John Kasich
John Kasich
Protestors gather outside the Ohio statehouse on Tuesday
Protestors gather outside the Ohio statehouse on Tuesday

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio must undergo a transformation that won't always be popular if the state is to reverse its decline and have a 21st-century renewal, Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday in his first State of the State speech that came a week before he introduces his plan for what's expected to be a painful and tight two-year budget.

Kasich said the upcoming spending plan will not raise taxes, will change the state's prison sentencing laws to reduce repeat offenders and will overhaul the education system. But he offered few details and relied mainly on his energetic off-the-cuff speaking style honed as an outspoken congressman and former Fox News TV commentator.

Kasich said he's going to stop the state's downward trend with help from both Republicans and Democrats. "We are going to stop this trend, if I have to drag Democrats across the aisle," Kasich said in one of several remarks that seemed passionate but unscripted.

He spoke without a teleprompter and did not provide any advance copies of his remarks. The speech came as Kasich has angered Democrats and state workers with his push to cut back the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Crowds gathered outside booed and chanted "Recall," "Shame on you," and "Turn him off" when part of speech was broadcast from indoors, then many moved inside to crowd the Rotunda. In the chamber where Kasich spoke, public employees in the gallery shouted out, interrupting Kasich at times.

When the governor said he respects differences, one yelled "But you don't respect us." Gregg Dodd, a spokesman for the board that manages the Statehouse, estimated that 3,200 people were onsite inside and out. "I respect them, but they need to respect those that don't always agree with them," Kasich said of the protesters, to Republican applause. Such protests were unprecedented in recent memory at a State of the State speech, where most disagreements are usually limited to post-speech news conferences.

Kasich addressed the opposition head-on, saying everyone must work together to solve Ohio's problems.

"We are not Republicans, we are not Democrats," he said. "We are Ohioans and together we will climb the mountain and make Ohio great."

During the hour-plus speech, one of the longest in years by an Ohio governor, Kasich said the state can't tax its way out of its economic problems or cut its way out through budget reductions. The Republican elected last year also said he'll propose government restructuring in his budget proposal to be introduced next week, though he didn't provide details.

"The enemy in Oho right now is joblessness. The enemy in Ohio right now is poverty. It's up to all of us to defeat that enemy," Kasich said.

The rousing address jumped from point to point without offering many concrete examples of what changes Kasich plans to make. Kasich said he'll make changes to Medicaid such as addressing the problem of low birth-weight babies, but didn't say how. He also said he'll allow more seniors to stay out of nursing homes, but didn't say how.

He proposed microloans - a type of loan common in Third World companies - for inner-city businesses, again without details. He also promised comprehensive education reform but didn't give examples. Kasich paid special attention to the state's prescription painkiller overdose problem, singling out an Ohio county plagued by high levels of addictions.

"The devil had been running Scioto County. These people were alone," he said. "Guess what? The cavalry has arrived. You will not stand alone and this Legislature will not let you stand alone."

Kasich recognized a woman in the Senate chamber, Barb Howard, who lost a daughter to a painkiller overdose in 2009, and Ed Hughes, who runs Scioto County's largest addiction rehab center. He concluded by urging lawmakers not to give in to fear of change.

"Don't let fear clog your mind or have you wring your hands," he said. "We're going to meet these challenges for this century. But it does require strength, determination and a lot of change."

State Senator Eric H. Kearney (D-Cincinnati) issued the following statement Tuesday after Governor John Kasich's first State of the State:

"Governor Kasich failed to provide any meaningful detail about how he will create jobs and increase opportunity in Ohio. I grow tired of Governor Kasich's continued and singular focus on the prosperity of Cleveland. What about Cincinnati?"

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)