By Bill Kaplan,
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are both conservative Republicans with presidential ambitions. In November Kasich was easily reelected with a whopping 64 percent (won in 2010 with 49 percent), while Walker won a hard-fought reelection with his usual 52 percent. Kasich appealed to Democrats and also received 26 percent of the black vote. Walker only deepened the ideological divide, receiving scant Democratic or black support. Why?
Kasich, like Walker, began his first term by eviscerating collective bargaining rights for public employees. But a landslide referendum - 62 to 38 percent - overturned the punitive Ohio law. Kasich got it. He congratulated his opponents and said: "It's time to pause. The people have spoken clearly." Walker was lucky: Wisconsin does not have a binding referendum process to repeal an onerous state law. Instead, there was a recall election, a remedy seldom successful anywhere. Walker won and he tacked right.
However, Kasich embraced compromise, negotiation and a willingness to work with the Democratic minority in the legislature. He stiffed the Tea Party and implemented Medicaid expansion. Kasich, unlike Walker, showed fiscal common sense in taking the 100 percent federal funding. Most importantly, Kasich has a heart, saying: "I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them....We can help them."
It's the same on other issues. Walker is opposed to increasing the minimum wage, saying: "I don't think it serves a purpose." Meanwhile no-drama Kasich issued a press release indicating that the state minimum wage would increase in 2015 as mandated by the Ohio constitution (29 states will have minimum wages higher than the paltry federal minimum of $7.25). Or take so-called right-to-work legislation aimed at weakening private sector unions. Kasich says: "I got the message" from the failed attempt to end collective bargaining for public employees. But Walker has learned nothing. He ignores retiring GOP state Sen. Dale Schultz who said: "How much pain do we have to dish out in this state to one another before we finally realize that we have to get along and we have to compromise with one another?"
Finally, there is redistricting. In 2011 Walker approved redrawing state legislative and congressional districts designed to minimize competitive districts and maximize GOP pickups. A federal court later said GOP leaders were responsible for a "shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny." Compare to Ohio in December, 2014. The New York Times said: "But in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which many blame for the polarization of state and national politics, Ohio took a step in the opposite direction....With the support of both parties (House 80- 8, Senate 28-1),....gave final approval...to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive." Go Buckeyes!
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.