“You have a public opinion that I think is at best chaotic,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and message-crafter. “It’s this really dangerous cocktail of cynicism and immediacy. They recognize there’s a crisis out there, and they want politicians to solve it. But they don't like any of the solutions.”
Flexibility and choices
A former nine-term congressman known as a brash, sometimes hot-headed conservative, Kasich is plowing ahead in speaking engagements around Ohio to sell what he says are the upsides of his plan.
Deep cuts in aid to local governments, combined with a proposal to limit collective bargaining for public workers, would give cities and counties more flexibility to balance their budgets, Kasich says. Privatizing liquor sales and prisons would free up assets. Cutting Medicaid spending on long-term care would give patients “more choices” in where to live. Increasing spending on public school vouchers and charter schools would give parents more choices to suit their children’s needs.
The governor’s opponents don’t quite see it that way. Officials with the Ohio Education Association, for example, which represents 128,000 teachers and support staffers, said Kasich’s plans to boost charter schools and voucher programs would come at the expense of public schools. The group pointed out that his proposal would reduce overall spending on Ohio public schools by more than $3 billion over two years.
“We don’t feel he gave the full effect of its impact on school districts in his presentation,” said Matt Dotson, the group’s lobbyist. “We think the presentation and the budget proposal itself is a sleight of hand.”
He added: “When legislators start hearing from all of these key public-service providers and the citizens that they serve, they’re going to see the provisions and measures in this budget as going too far.”
If Kasich makes the sale, he could become a model for other Republican fiscal hawks. If he falls short, it could make life difficult for the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio.
“Ohio is the most important state for the GOP in the entire nation,” Luntz said.
Kasich seemed to appreciate the peril during his town hall performance Tuesday. The strongest applause of the evening came as he walked onto the stage.
“You obviously haven’t seen the budget yet,” he quipped. “That could be the last standing ovation I ever get.”
Staff writer Aaron Blake, polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.