By Len Lazarick
“If you did not like me today, don’t tell anybody,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich told a crowd of 600 after talking and taking questions for 75-minutes Wednesday afternoon at the Savage Mill in Howard County.
For most of the audience, it was the first time seeing a man who’s had a hard time making an impression giving 30-second responses in more than a dozen Republican presidential debates over the last eight months.
Clearly a skilled practitioner of the political arts, Kasich is folksy and funny, knowledgeable and pragmatic, able to think on his feet and improvise. He is unwilling to engage in the politics of anger and exclusion that have played so well in the GOP primaries.
“I will never take the low road for the highest office in the land,” he said to applause.
Kasich is the last of six governors and former governors who entered the GOP contest, the second to last man standing out of 17 candidates who started the race being won by Donald Trump.
Voters not buying experience
Republican voters have not been buying what Kasich has been selling — governing experience, four year years in the Ohio senate, 18 years in Congress and five years as Ohio governor.
For Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who introduced Kasich and endorsed him, that’s too bad.
“I think experience matters,” Kittleman, in his 17th year in elected office, told MarylandReporter.com. “Actions speak louder than words… I know there’s some anger out there, but people have to know what they’re doing” in office.
Kasich talked about his upbringing in a working class family and town near Pittsburgh, but he was clearly a young man of ambition. As a freshman, he wangled a meeting with the president of Ohio State University, leveraging it to a 20-minute meeting with President Richard Nixon in the White House at the age of 18.
He admits to being nerdy, bemoaning the absence of his traveling “debt clock” ticking the steady rise of $19 trillion in national debt that he believes weighs down the economy and kills jobs.
He touts his experience as chairman of the budget committee and balancing the federal budget in the 1990s.
Ridiculing Trump’s positions
With hardly a mention of Trump’s name, he ridiculed Trump’s stands on immigration, building a wall with Mexico, deporting millions of aliens, and “the lame-brained idea of excluding Muslims.”
“We’ve got respect each other,” Kasich said. “We have to be patient with one other …. We don’t have to hate anybody.”
As Kittleman did in the introduction, Kasich emphasized choosing him for his electability over Democrat Hillary Clinton, otherwise “We’re going to get killed in the fall.”
The candidate took unfiltered questions from the audience to touch on a wide range of issues, from budget cuts and ISIS, to immigration and veterans affairs, and how to deal with Congress
On taxes, he wants to lower them, especially for businesses, and reduce all the regulations that stifle business.
He preached a culture of innovation for the federal government, bringing “an attitude in government of Uber-izing everything,” making an analogy to the innovative ridesharing service that battles with legacy taxi owners.
Kasich offered snippets of policy pronouncements on foreign affairs, care of veterans, university coaching salaries, cancer research. urban poverty, rural poverty, intelligence and the military. (He served 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee.)
On student debt, Kasich said college should be made more affordable by controlling costs, on which he has an Ohio task force working. Colleges and universities also need to make sure students get the skills to find a job.
On ISIS, he said anybody who promised to send U.S. troops in “was not qualified to be president. “We’re going to need those Muslim countries,” he said.
Asked about immigration by a naturalized Venezuelan, Kasich said we need to control the borders, allow guest workers, and provide a path to legalization but not citizenship for those who came illegally, but paid their taxes and didn’t commit crimes.
On education, he said, “We are running a school system that is operating in the last century.”
Asked about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a 27-year-old with rare forms of debilitating arthritis, Kasich said, “I want to get rid of it, but you just can’t take it away from 18 million Americans who never had [insurance] before.” He would replace it with federal resources combined with Medicaid for the uninsured.
Going to the convention
Kasich has only won his home state of Ohio, but “We’re now starting to get the word out, and we’re going to go to an open convention,” Kasich said as he wrapped up the afternoon.
At the convention, “They’re going to try to figure out who can actually win in the fall.”
Louis Pope, long-time Republican national committeeman from Howard County who will be an automatic convention delegate if he gets re-elected to his post at the state GOP’s May convention, said he was in the audience as a neutral observer. A member of the convention rules committee, Pope had met with Kasich earlier in the day.
Pope will be bound to vote for whoever wins the Maryland primary on the first two convention ballots, as will the other Maryland delegates based on who wins their congressional district. Pope admitted that you could not be more a member of the Republican establishment than he is.
Kasich or someone else still has a shot to defeat front-runner Trump, because “if he doesn’t get it on the first ballot, he doesn’t get it.”
When he started his talk, Kasich had spied the hand-lettered sign that said, “Please Join Us @the Adults Table w/Kasich.”
Robin Williams-Beers of Kingsville in northern Baltimore County had made the sign. She said she had liked Kasich from the beginning, but “I didn’t get to see much of him” because he got so little air time at the TV debates. She liked Dr. Ben Carson too.
“I looked at all of them. I looked briefly at Trump before he turned crazy.”
Kasich is “the only one that can unite us,” said Williams-Beers. “Right now the country is so divided.”