A conversation with John Kasich
00:40 Douglas Blackmon: Welcome back to American Forum. Our guest in this episode is Ohio Governor John Kasich who is seeking the Republican nomination for President of the United States. He was a member of the U.S. Congress for 18 years, ran an Ohio office of the investment bank Lehman Brothers until 2008, and is now midway through his second term as Governor of the 7th most populous state, and one of the most critical swing states in every recent national election. He is also the author of three books, and all politics aside, obviously, a very smart guy. Governor Kasich’s campaign is grounded in his economic record, and the strength of the recovery in Ohio. He says there was an $8 billion deficit when he became governor, now turned into a two billion dollar surplus. Governor Kasich, thank you for joining us.
FACTOID: The Question: Can John Kasich win Republican nomination?
Kasich: Thank you.
01:30 Blackmon: So, we’re finally at the part of the presidential campaign when there, when the people get to be involved, not just the media and the candidates. And so far we’ve had two primaries and a caucus, you did quite well, surprisingly well to a lot of people in new Hampshire, not as well in the other places, but in south Carolina you kind of came from nowhere and had a surge there at the end, but now it’s a couple weeks away before you get back in your home territory of Ohio and the Midwest, and in between a gauntlet of southern primaries that look a bit like south Carolina, many of them. Are you going to make it to Ohio? And are you gonna win the nomination? And how are you going to do it?
Kasich: Well, first of all, there’s, we do have an election coming up in, oh, it’ll be on March the 1st, and it’ll include uh, places like Vermont, Massachusetts, Virginia, where we think we can well here, in Massachusetts, and uh, a number of other states, and uh, look, I, it, the business is staying in here and being able to accumulate delegates, I don’t have to win every place, I just have to stay in, and then we’re gonna get to, deeper south, places like Mississippi, which I’m really excited about, of course, coming up soon, Tennessee and Georgia. We have people all over, uh, in all
of these states. And at some point it turns, it turns north, it goes to Illinois and Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut. I, you know, I, honestly, I don’t even know all the sequence, cause I’m a candidate, and I have people around that, uh think about the primaries and, uh, frankly I just get on my bus and I drive around, and half the time I don’t even know where I am, they just tell me, hey get off! We stop, get off the bus, and go talk, but, this, what’s interesting now, uh, in this election is for at least a solid year, I was completely ignored by the media. I think people thought my name was governor of Ohio because Kasich was too hard to say. But now what’s happening particularly because of new Hampshire, I’m now coming out into the light, and uh, and look, I’m the last governor standing, there were 16 people in the race, they all said I wouldn’t even get in, and now I’m one of four or five standing, so it’ll give me a chance to be heard, which is what I‘ve always asked for.
Blackmon: Are you the moderate in the race?
Kasich: Well, you know, it’s interesting, I think it, the answer to that question, of course I’m not a moderate, I’ve been a conservative all my life, and when you talk to people who have known me over the years and they call me a moderate, that, the, including the press they burst out into laughter. Look, who, you tell me, who was been for stronger defense yet reform the pentagon, uh, at the same time, who was involved in trying to pass that welfare reform which we finally got, I took it through my committee into the house, uh, you know I was, I fought for ten years of my life to balance the budget, to shrink the government, to cut taxes on uh, risk taking investment capital gains, uh family tax credit, and, and when I left Washington we were booming jobs, we had a balanced budget four years in a row, uh, we paid down a half a trillion of the national debt, and then I go to Ohio, where we’re 8 billion in the hole, 20 percent of our operating budget. I’ve cut taxes by five billion, more than any governor, we’re reforming welfare, uh, we’ve balanced the budget to the point where were ru- uh, we’re now running a two billion dollar surplus and we’ve gone from a loss of 350,000 jobs to a gain of 400,000, and I’ve been one of the most strongest advocates of school choice. But here’s the thing. Um, I do have a heart for people who live in the shadows. I do think that when you have economic gain, you shouldn’t leave anybody to behind. It doesn’t mean a hand out, but it does mean a hand up. So my, my record of conservatism can stand against anybody’s, um, in, but, because I have a nice tone, or because I, I care about people who, the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the working poor, of the, the developmentally disabled, or friends in the minority community, who you know, I think need to understand and develop stronger entrepreneurship, if that, I mean, that’s a new definition, that’s, somebody said, are you a Reagan Republican, are you a Romney Republican, what are you? I said I’m a Kasich Republican, okay? We’re in the 21st century and I have a right to define things as, the way I see them.
05:25 Blackmon: You’ve just signed this bill in Ohio that will cut off funding for Planned Parenthood which was passed in response to the controversy around these secret videos that were taken, that ostensibly showed Planned Parenthood selling the, uh, fetal tissue, uh, with, what would have been an illegal act, since that all came out, since that controversy, we’ve now, a lot of questions have been raised about the video itself, the people who made the video have been criminally indicted, same grand jury decided that pla- found that Planned Parenthood didn’t break the law. And in the end these were things that, uh, there was no, no Ohio funding was going to abortions to begin with, sale of fetal tissue was already illegal in Ohio, I mean in the end it looks a little bit, like, a bit, uh, a fairly political sort of act to go ahead and sign this bill that, that in the end doesn’t have much to do with what it was originally said to be about.
Kasich: I just think that the organization has not, has lost credibility. And um, at the end of the day it’s about women’s health, and I’m for robust funding of women’s health, I’m just not doing it through Planned Parenthood. And uh, you know, I can respect people who disagree with me on this. But at the end of the day, uh, you know, I felt that it was better to move the women’s health out of that organization, put it into federal health centers and hospitals and other entities where people can get, uh, can get the health they need, and, uh, and the health that they need.
06:44 Blackmon: With the passing of Justice Scalia, we’ve had lots of discussion about, uh, and you’ve already spoken publicly, your view on whether President Obama should nominate and that person be confirmed, but if you end up being the president that gets to fill that, fill that spot, would there be an abortion litmus test?
Kasich: No, we don’t have any litmus tests, I appointed over 100 judges, in fact, just recently agreed to two more appointments in our state. Uh, I also was involved in appointing a woman, turns out a woman to the Ohio Supreme Court and we don’t have litmus tests. I want to know are they conservative, if they’re going to make law or interpret the law, cause I don’t want them to make the law. And secondly are they of high character and beyond reproach.
07:24 Blackmon: Another issue that we’re deeply polarized about, and that the news has brought back up to us again, was that there was another mass shooting in the last few days, six people dead. You also talk on this issue a lot about the crisis in health care, and the need to . . .
Kasich: Mental health. So in our state we expanded emergency beds, we’re in a position where we now have the resources on mental health and if you look at the shooters, if you look at all of them there basically is this, is this string that attaches all of them, and it is the issue of mental illness. And, uh, the country ignores it, and you know why the country ignores it? Because there is no lobbyist for the developmentally disabled or the mentally ill. So when legislatures have to make tough decision about, you know, resources, they just run right over those people.
08:09 Blackmon: But so, why is then then the, and I by the way, I’ll just say, that I joined the NRA when I was 10 years old, I’m not a member today but I was in, I joined, I was in the NRA for a long time ago. You’re very open, unlike some conservatives and unlike some republicans you’re very open to a much more expansive government role in those kinds of health services for the mentally ill, but why is it, that it’s, it’s so difficult to imagine some sort of, uh, some sort of more robust regulatory apparatus that the government, through which the government might in fact, uh, have some effect on the proliferation of guns?
Kasich: Cause I don’t think it’ll work. I mean you’ll just be putting laws on the books that will have no impact.
08:46 Blackmon : Just because the, I think it was 32,000 gun deaths in the United States last year. So many more people are killed that way than by ISIS, or any of these terrible things we spend so much, focus so much attention on, but I’m always struck when anyone says that while there’s nothing that could be done to-to- in any manner affect the flow of guns. It’s almost as if they grow in the backyard, like marijuana. But guns don’t really grow in the backyard, and my guess is that if you called up the head of beverage control, alcohol and beverage control folks in Ohio right now they could tell you how many cans of Budweiser there are in the state of Ohio. So with the manufactured things, object like a gun, why wouldn’t it be possible to come up with some sort of a regime that would, that would affect . . .
Kasich: You’re gonna ban this set of guns, ok well we’ll just re-engineer it a little differently. That’s what’s will happen. And look, why are there so many guns in the country, one: we have a second amendment. Secondly, people want to defend themselves. And thirdly, they want to use it for hunting or collecting. Look, it’s not, you know that old bumper sticker, “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” I mean if you take a look at what’s going on, I mean, if, uh, we’re gonna take guns away from my next door neighbor, and that’s what is gonna solve the problem? I don’t believe in just putting laws on books that have no affect and no impact, and look, we have to enforce the laws we have, if you’re gonna buy a gun, there’s an instance check. The states need to be able to upload the data they have on mental illness so that, uh, in fact we’re not selling guns to people who are, who are unstable. And, you know, deal with this, deal with the issue of mental illness and carry out the current laws we have. But more laws I don’t believe are going to fix this. I don’t believe that’s the root cause of it.
10:31 Blackmon: You’ve rejected Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act, but you did take the funds, federal funds available for the expansion of Medicare. So . . .
Blackmon: Medicaid, sorry.
Kasich: I would send Medicaid back, I would take a few of the federal resources currently available and be able to cover the working poor, so tens of millions don’t lose health insurance. But we have to have a deeper solution to this, and that is to have total transparency and all of health care, hospitals and all the providers. And then what we need to do is to incent them is to drive lower prices with high quality. You know like my doctor does, an internist, internal medicine, and if he can keep me healthy through the year and keep me you know, in good quality, I want to give him or her a financial reward. So I want to drive healthcare with the market. That would begin to put the consumer in touch with total transparency so we can pick high quality lower prices to slow down, uh, the growth of healthcare. But here’s the thing, my Medicaid program went through a ten and a half percent growth in my second year as governor to two and a half without cutting one person off the rolls or cutting one benefit. That’s kind of like magic isn’t it? No, it’s not magic, it’s magic in the government, uh, but you know the fact is that most things in society today are driving costs down with higher quality, and that’s exactly what we’ve done and think about this. Instead of the mentally ill living in a prison at a cost of $22,500 a year, many of them are working now. You take the drug addicted, when we treat them in the prisons and release them to the community the recidivism rate is an astounding 20 percent. So 80 percent don’t come back. And with the working poor there are, at least one third of them that had serious illnesses who didn’t get treated, we pay for them anyway.
12:18 Blackmon: But if the program that you’re undertaking, the approach that you’ve taken in Ohio is working as well as you say and it sounds like it is, just to push back a little bit on this idea that this will work better if every state was able to make their own decisions.
Blackmon: Wouldn’t it make sense to just take this successful Ohio model and that become a national model?
Kasich: No because what we know is whether its welfare, education, programs for the poor, or infrastructure; let’s give it to the states where it belongs so we can innovate, so that we can begin to drive the kind of change we want. Because Washington is too big, it’s a dinosaur, it’s too, it’s too big and it’s not responsive, so the more that I can move things out and into the states and as the president, be able to travel to the states, talking about the innovations that are occurring across the country. I mean that’s excitement.
13:03 Blackmon: But so if you were president and you were undertaking exactly what you just described pushing all pushing these dollars back to the states.
Blackmon: And freeing them to be innovative. Would you, would that simply be a potentially a block grant, here’s the money or . . .
Kasich: Well . . .
Blackmon: Would there be some?
Kasich: With healthcare with uh healthcare it’s a little bit different because it depends on the population you have and their… each population is different. But there would be guardrails, I mean, you’re not going to take Medicaid money and pave roads, you’d take Medicaid money you’d treat you’d treat the population you’re supposed to treat. But let’s take education. When I grew up where you take this great town we’re in today, nobody waits on a person on a white stallion to gallop in and fix all of our problems. A big part of the American spirit rests in our neighborhoods with our people doing their jobs. The teacher dedicating their life, the nurse, putting in more time, the kid down the street who helps the lady who is widowed, to be able to do some things that she can’t do for herself. It’s, it’s a lot of things about us as communities and people hanging together to lift ourselves up, while hopefully the people in Washington straighten out the mess and give us some jobs. To me, it’s both, its not just responsiveness in a faraway place like Washington, but it is what we do in our homes with our families and our neighbors and our communities.
14:16 Blackmon: There is an argument to be made that the collapse in care for the mentally ill actually began in the Reagan era when there was a big movement to say people shouldn’t be in these government funded.
Kasich: Yeah, I agree with that, yeah.
Blackmon: Institutions and lots of people ended up on the street who were
Blackmon: On the streets who were mentally ill.
Kasich: That’s right.
Kasich: The idea that we would move the mod of institutions into the community is absolutely the right thing to do. We’re trying to do that with the developmentally disabled right now so that they can live there together and be in a position where they can work and, and grow old uh and where their parents are secure in the knowledge that their okay. The problem is, we don’t fund. We never funded the programs. I mean you know this, if you are weak in our society, people run over you and it, and its only the Jewish and Christian ethic that underlays our culture, our society, our nation that says wait a minute, do not run over the widowed, the poor, the neglected. It’s at your risk if you do that. So I do believe that community is the answer here, but they’ve got to have some resources.
15:21 Blackmon: Why not Judeo-Christian-Islamic? I mean why those two for instance?
Kasich: Well that’s not who the U.S. is fundamentally, but we want to have our, our umm Muslim friends involved in, in the fabric of our country. I wouldn’t say it’s a religious test you can’t come into our country. Umm but it, look I’ve, I’ve actually suggested that we revive both our ability to project to the world who we are and I don’t believe that it ought to just be western values. Those moderate Muslims, uh Arabs that want to contribute to talk about civilization, society, the role of uh you know a rising role of women, education. We want everybody in the civilized world to begin to talk to those who represent fundamentally a culture of death to the west, or a culture of death to civilization, to stand out uh stand up and speak out. But look let’s not be confused, we’re fundamentally based on the Jewish and Christian principles, but everybody is welcome in America.
16:17 Blackmon: Another topic that uhh that you’ve expressed your uhh opposition to I guess is the right word is gay marriage. Your disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage but also saying that that’s not something that needs to be relitigated or addressed further, and, in fact, interestingly, at least at one point, you specifically said we should move on to working on other more urgent things rather than relitigating that. One of which is healing the division between the races in the country in terms of the uhh all the turmoil in the past couple of years
Kasich: I just believe that everybody ought to have a sense that they can rise and there are a number of people in the community who think not just that the government doesn’t work for them but against them, and that’s just not healthy in our society. In my state we brought re, we brought a very liberal democrat who’s done a fantastic job. She’s a strong partisan, a woman state senator who headed a task force with my head of public safety who used to run the highway patrol. The two of them convened meetings with religious leaders, community activists, law enforcement, and have come up with a series of recommendations to help build trust in the community so that community understands the challenges of police and police understand the challenges of community. So we now have a state-wide, uh, regulation on the use of deadly force, on hiring and recruiting practices, inside the police agencies across the state and now an ability to bring people, people like this whether it’s dinners, lunches, rides in the car, let’s do that and then on top of it we’ve reformed the Cleveland public schools. I work with the African American democrat mayor of Cleveland who’s really a terrific guy, um, uh, I say that more than he says that about me no we’re actually, actually friends and we trust one another and, we fixed those schools and, um, we’ve actually been able to pull out our set-aside which gives minority opportunity to get 15 percent of all state business. And, um, and we’ve also eliminated the box where if you’re a felon, you know you’re a kid you’re 19, you broke into somebody’s dorm room and stole their stereo and now you’re a felon, you, you put your time in you pay the price for that but you can’t get a job, your cutting hair for the rest of your life. So we’ve, we have eliminated this business of, of uh, of collateral sanctions.
18:25 Blackmon: With the demographics of the country changing in the way that they are, the Republican Party is, is imperiled if it isn’t able to begin attracting more non-white voters to actually support republican candidates. Why is it that, do you think, or why would you say is it, that African Americans, even today, remain so disinterested in the Republican Party?
Kasich: I can’t speak for anybody else, but I was, I received 26 percent of the African American vote which is kinda like earth shaking. We’ve now started mentoring programs in the state. If you, if you are a business and you wanna mentor, adopt the school and mentor them with a faith based or value based organization, we will for every dollar you spend to train people, we’ll spend three. Here’s why I did it. In Cincinnati and the public schools there is a 63 percent graduation rate, is what I’ve been told, but in one high school where western and southern insurance and some other businesses go in they spend an hour per week for a year, the graduation rate is 97 percent. Okay, so I believe that mentoring works and telling kids about what can be, about their future, about, about how they can be what they want to be is so important with our young people. And not just young people who are poor, but young people who are rich.
19:38 Blackmon: Uh, in Ohio, tho, those rates have gone down, the unemployment rate is now under five percent in Ohio and steadily come down, uh, particularly during your second term, uh, nationally it’s also come down to 4.9 percent. The, and is also the lowest it’s been for African American males in a very long time, uh, you . . .
Kasich: It’s not good enough. None of it is good enough, and look, you’ve written a book on the problem of segregation. You’re writing another book on the impact of schools. If there’s anything we need to fix in this country it’s the K through 12 education system, to make it flexible, to make it dynamic, to get kids excited about what they want to be by allowing them to have real world experience so that they can understand the purpose of learning, to do the mentoring programs, to keep kids drug free. Stop waiting for Washington to do this. Go to your school board, run for school board, make a change, don’t wait for somebody else. And you know what, you know this, it is the hardest thing to reform is your local public school, and we have to get it done for the sake of our kids, cause they must have the skills to take the jobs of today and the skills of tomorrow, and many times they don’t have those skills.
20:53 Blackmon: But isn’t there also a little bit of a contradiction in this idea that the way to make government work the best is to push it out to the states and localities, but then to hear school boards are the most local kind of government that we have and we are uniformly unhappy with them.
Kasich: Well, because, but the d- difference is, try to fly to Washington and talk to a guy or a woman in the department of education. You can’t even get in the door.
21:15 Blackmon: In uh a recent debate in South Carolina, Donald Trump rather controversially attributed 9/11 to to the George W. Bush administration. Very succinctly do you agree with that?
Kasich: No. I served I served on the defense committee for 18 years and I also was called into the Pentagon by Secretary Rumsfeld after 9/11 and I was able to lead technologists in and out of the Pentagon for two or three years. And the key to national security is you gotta rebuild the defenses and reform that Pentagon. Cause it is it is it is really inefficient and they waste so much money. I mean I found the hammers and the screwdrivers along with a few other people that cost tens of thousands of dollars. That was not acceptable.
21:56 Blackmon: You sound like Al Gore now, be careful.
Kasich: Well look I, I limited the production of the B-2 bomber to 20 rather than 132 cause it was an outdated weapons system and there are better ways to defend ourselves. But at the same time I don’t believe in getting the middle of civil wars but when our direct interests are threatened, we have to go. And that involves ISIS and a coalition like we had in the First Gulf War. But civil wars are a prescription for a long, drawn out, bloody, costly situation that we should not be in. Russia, tell Putin we’re arming the Ukrainians, you attack NATO, you’re attacking us. The Chinese, let me tell you, stop the cyber attacks cause we will come back at you. You don’t own the South China Sea and we don’t need to make these people into enemies. We don’t need to rattle sabers but we better be firm about who we are and what we believe so that our allies can begin to trust us.
22:45 Blackmon: Whether this is about national security or something else, I think you, we’ve . . .
Kasich: This is really fun by the way.
Kasich: God, we’re really covering.
Blackmon: It’s like speed dating.
Kasich: We’re covering a lot, a lot of things here you know? Be careful of who else you have at this table, I mean I’m not sure how they’ll do.
Blackmon: Well that was uh um uh, would we uh.
Kasich: That’s not a hit on anybody. I mean that in a positive.
23:09 Blackmon: Of course not, absolutely not. The uh, going into your presidency should that come to pass, uh the you’re aware that we have a special project here at the Miller Center called First Year. That is all about looking at the first years of presidency and identifying where presidencies go wrong, where they make good decisions and we’d be happy to tell you more about that. But the, as you look forward and you try to imagine your first year as president, if you were going to name two, three things that would be the very highest and hardest things you would have to do at the very beginning of your presidency, what would they be?
FACTOID: Visit FirstYear2017.org for more advice for the next U.S. president
Kasich: Well I’m not thinking about the first year, I’m thinking about the first 100 days. You don’t have the year, you got 100 days. What would I do? Freeze on all federal regulations for one year except for health and safety. I would force the Congress to vote on any regulations over a 100 million. And the vice president of the United States, instead of just going to funerals is gonna unravel federal regulations.
23:58 Blackmon: I believe the last time that an Ohio governor was elected president was William McKinley in 1896. And that was a pivotal election in American history and the beginning of really kind of a 30 year war in American politics between different views that are a little bit like the polarization that we have in the country now.
FACTOID: Gov. William McKinley won 1896 vote, was assassinated in 1901
Kasich: Part of it is to be patient with people, it’s one of the things you learn with experience being an executive. Sometimes you just want to knock the pieces off the chest board, and when you do it the game is over. But if you stay patient and you look for the good in people, and you encourage them and you forgive them for things you think were transgressions or whatever, you’re better off. And I think it’s tone, it’s maturity, it’s experience. In politics we’re always forced to take a position and we have to be patient with people who don’t always take the same position that we take. And you know what? Life’s short. Live as best you can. And isn’t it great that I have the chance to talk about these things and maybe, just maybe it will influence somebody in a positive way.
Blackmon: Well governor, good luck to you. And no matter what happens let’s hope that the kind of civility and empathy that you’ve expressed to today becomes a bigger part of the conversation the whole country is a part of . . .
Kasich: Thank you very much.
Blackmon: Ohio Governor John Kasich. We hope you’ll join this conversation on the Miller Center Facebook page, or by following us on Twitter @douglasblackmon or @americanforumTV or @johnkasich. To send us a comment, watch other episodes, download podcasts or read a transcript visit us at millercenter.org/americanforum. I’m Doug Blackmon. See you next week.