GOFFSTOWN — Returning to New Hampshire for the first time in more than a decade, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday morning told a packed house at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics that he’s unorthodox in politics, “because I’m normal.”
The outspoken Republican, who briefly ran for President during the 2000 campaign as a U.S. House member before dropping out, told a Politics and Eggs breakfast event that during his tenure as governor, he has moved his state’s economy from an $8 billion budget deficit to a $2 billion surplus over four years. He said he turned a 350,000 job deficit into 340,000 jobs “to the good.” And he said he did it while addressing the needs of the poor and the disabled and while working to rehabilitate prison inmates and return them to the community.
Kasich, now 62 and considering another presidential run, was accompanied at the NHIOP by some old colleagues: former Sen. Judd Gregg and former Sen. John E. Sununu, as well as former U.S. Rep. Dick Swett and former Connecticut U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, all of whom served with Kasich on Capitol Hill in the 1990s.
Following the breakfast, Kasich was headed for a business roundtable at Nashua Community College, hosted by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. He was slated to meet with state Senate President Chuck Morse and House speaker Shawn Jasper before addressing a “Politics and Pie” event hosted by the Concord City and Merrimack County Republican committees.
At Politics and Eggs, the governor focused on the debt and deficit, in states and the federal government. And he said that there can be fiscal responsibility while addressing the needy.
While other potential GOP candidates have regularly taken verbal shots at President Barack Obama and likely presidential contender Hillary Clinton, Kasich did not mention them in his talk.
“There is no excuse for not giving people a chance to get up on their feet and become independent people again and realize their God-given dreams,” Kasich said, promoting what he said was his “welfare reform 2.0” program.
“I understand the pain of unemployment,” Kasich told the group. “It creates uncertainty in the minds of those who lose their jobs. It creates fear in the lives of the children in the family,” Kasich said.
He said that while was able to pull his state out of an $8 billion deficit, “almost half the states in this country are in structural imbalance, some of them run by Republican governors.”
And, he said, “We cut taxes by more than anybody in the entire country. Three billion in tax cuts. And we’re going to have at least another $500,000 million tax cut in this budget.” He suggested that budget cutting can be done without “slash and burn” techniques, but rather through innovation.
Kasich said that through economic growth in Ohio, “We have reached those people who have unfortunately lived in the shadows for far too long – the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the developmentally disabled, the working poor, people who have been in prison and of course we put a lot of emphasis on raising opportunity for minorities.”
He said Ohio has a low recidivism rate in its prisons “because we give people an opportunity to remake themselves.” Ohio has “made a promise to the mentally ill” to address their needs in community-based settings, he said.
Kasich said his state also works to help prisoners deal with drug addiction, “and take them from the prison setting and move them into the community. And what we estimate is that we will have a 10 percent recidivism rate for those we are able to treat. Give them their lives back.
“We do have set aside programs,” he said. “I want entrepreneurship in our minority communities. I want our kids in our minority communities to have heroes who are entrepreneurs, who change the world, who create the future.
“Folks, one of the things we have to do is to make sure that when somebody is down, we not only give them the temporary help to lift them up, but then we need to give them the tools they need to become fully successful in life,” Kasich said. He said welfare workers in his state are ordered to be deeply involved in individual cases, and businesses are encouraged to provide training for welfare recipients.
“Leaders,” said Kasich, “don’t take polls.” He said his early approval rating in his state was 31 percent, but, “It just didn’t bother me. I wasn’t in it to be popular. I was in it to try to fix the state.”
Last year, he said, he was reelected winning 86 of 88 counties. He said he won Cuyahoga County, in which Cleveland is located and which was won by 40 percentage points by President Obama in 2012. He said he received 26 percent of the African-American vote and 60 percent of the women’s vote.
“People felt better,” he said. “They felt Ohio was going in right direction.”
On the federal level, Kasich said he has been “on a crusade” for a Balanced Budget Amendment – “a logical Balanced Budget Amendment with exceptions for war and exceptions for economic calamity.”
“Our children are at risk,” he said. “Our grandchildren are at risk,” and, he said Congress and the President have “no intention” of dealing with it.
A Balanced Budget Amendment, he said, “will change the culture in Washington.” Doing nothing, he said, “is like saying I have to stay in a building that’s on fire because if I walk outside I might get hit by a meteor.”
“This needs to get done, plain and simple,” he said.
“Aren’t you sick of all the divisions in America?” Kasich asked. “Rich and poor, black and white, Republicans and Democrats. I’m right, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve got all the answers.
“America is strong when we’re together,” Kasich said. “We’re too divided….We need more empathy, more understanding of someone else’s point of view.”
He also called for personal responsibility, saying, “Everybody shouldn’t get a trophy just because they show up.”
“There’s a real attack on welfare, to just dismiss these folks,” Kasich said. “Do you know what it would be like to live in a single family home with a couple of kids, where you get up in the morning and you don’t want to leave you house because you hear gunshots? You never knew who your father was? You never had a role model?”
Democrats, however, said Kasich’s empathetic message is a ruse.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Holly Shulman said Kasich throughout his political career “has only proved himself to be on the side of the wealthy special interests, leaving hardworking middle class families behind. No number of trips to New Hampshire or any early primary state will change this.
“Kasich’s record as governor makes it clear that he is not interested in helping the middle class, and that’s the record and attitude he would bring to the White House,” Shulman said. “As governor he gutted funding for local governments that put stress on small towns – something that may sound familiar to Granite Staters watching the Republican push in Concord right now.
“We know what Kasich would be like in Washington because he’s already been there,” she said. “As a congressman, he was an architect of the original government shutdown in the 1990s, calling it ‘one of the greatest moments of my career.’ Kasich was a Republican obstructionist before it was cool to be a Republican obstructionist.
State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley added, “John Kasich should’ve checked the facts before coming to New Hampshire to tout his ‘Ohio story’ of putting special interests first while making middle class families pay the price.
“Under Governor Maggie Hassan’s leadership, New Hampshire is moving in the right direction, with an unemployment rate that’s a full point lower than Ohio’s. Not to mention that New Hampshire’s median household income in 2013 was the highest in the nation, and more than $25,000 greater than Ohio’s. If John Kasich thought that Granite Staters would be impressed by his failed ‘Ohio story,’ he’s going to be sorely disappointed,” Buckley said.
Boots on the ground
On foreign policy, Kasich said the United States “has retreated in the world.”
“I think I was the first leading Republican in the country to say if you want to fight ISIS you can’t just do it from the air.” He called for a coordinated effort with allies, “and if it means that there will be U.S. boots on the ground are necessary, so be it.”
“We’re not there to change the way these countries work,” he said. “We’re there to restore order.”