Ohio's Kasich Balances Out GOP Governors Meeting with Moderate Views
By Darrel Rowland
If Ohio Gov. John Kasich really is running for president, he accomplished one goal yesterday at the Republican Governors Association meeting.
He stood out from the crowd.
In his first public appearance at the two-day event, Kasich wound up getting both the first and last words before hundreds of GOP backers in a ballroom of the gated Waldorf Astoria resort during a high-profile panel discussion involving four other governors mentioned as potential presidential candidates.
And he wound up as the only one to defend Common Core, advocate Medicaid expansion and say he is open to the possibility of eventual citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally.
The panel with Kasich, moderated by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, included Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana, Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
The other four all questioned stances advocated by Kasich -- while being careful to add that they weren't criticizing any governor doing the best for his state.
But because Kasich's policies are generally more moderate than the others' on the stage, Todd often went to him to get a different point of view -- and the Ohio governor usually delivered.
For instance, while the others were bashing President Barack Obama's reported plan to change the legal status of several million immigrants, Kasich called on GOP leaders to work with the president to find common ground -- even with his mistaken plan to effect change unilaterally.
Kasich told Todd he wouldn't oppose eventual citizenship after a "laborious and tough process" because "We've got to think about what's going to bring about healing. ... Everybody in this country has to feel as though they have an opportunity."
Nobody else on the panel used anything close to that language. Perry called Obama's plan " unconstitutional," Jindal labeled it "the height of arrogance," Walker characterized it as a " cynical ploy" to divert Americans' attention away from GOP electoral successes, and Pence criticized the president for moving "without the consent of the governed."
With Todd spending about half of the 75-minute session on immigration, Kasich took issue with some of the sharp-edged comments.
"We don't need to poison any more wells," he said. "We've got to be careful with the rhetoric because you get too far out on it and people don't want to deal" like he and other GOP leaders did with President Bill Clinton to balance the budget in the late 1990s.
Kasich called the immigration controversy "emblematic of the overall tone we hear in America today. The country is just too divided. It's 'You got your stuff and I got my stuff.'??"
Kasich also chided critics who label Common Core as "Obamacore." He said it is local school officials who are developing the curriculum -- with parental input -- to bring students to the national education standards at the heart of the program, which was sparked by the governors themselves.
"There's nobody from Washington or in Columbus telling the local school districts what the curriculum ought to be," Kasich said. "I think it makes common sense."
On the expansion of Medicaid -- which funds health care for the poor and disabled -- Kasich said the billions in federal money that Ohio got through Obamacare has freed up state and local cash to help additional people.
"I'm proud of what we've been doing for people who've been living in the shadows, living under a bridge," said Kasich, while adding that he strongly opposes Obamacare itself.
Pointing out that President Ronald Reagan also expanded Medicaid, Kasich said health care has improved in Ohio since the expansion about a year ago to those making up to 38 percent over the federal poverty level.
"Go try living on it for a while. It ain't great," Kasich challenged his fellow governors.
He drew laughter and applause from the audience when he panned Todd's final question -- about when the governors think the 2016 presidential campaign should start -- by cracking, "It's kind of not a great question to finish this."
(c)2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)